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NHL Heritage Classic

Teemu Selanne thrills Winnipeg crowd in return

Forward scores game-winner, five points to help lead Jets in alumni game against Oilers

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

WINNIPEG -- Teemu Selanne said he had nothing to do with the script. Of course he didn't. That's his story, and he's sticking to it.

But even if the Finnish Flash was indeed an innocent party to what was cooked up at Investors Group Field on Saturday, how could one not suspect him of at least having a chuckle at the screenplay?

Selanne's five-point afternoon - he had two goals, opening and closing the scoring on penalty shots, the second the game-winner in the final seconds, and three assists in between - lifted the Winnipeg Jets alumni to a delightful 6-5 victory against a team of former Edmonton Oilers before an elated crowd of 31,317 at the 2016 Rogers NHL Heritage Classic Alumni Game.

Of whether he had any involvement in the script, Selanne said with a laugh, "Actually, nothing. But I got a little help there. Obviously, it was a great ending, too. The whole weekend has been unbelievable. First of all, coming back here and meeting all my old teammates and guys I haven't seen in 20 years [and] playing against those Edmonton legends. Getting back to the Winnipeg people is something special. It was amazing. I've always had a great relationship with the fans and people here."

With that, a sly grin and laughter, his own and that of his media audience.

"And I knew I'm going to score, too, so it's a good feeling."

Video: Heritage Alumni: Selanne's game-winning penalty shot

Indeed, it was a feel-good afternoon in many ways, the Jets' last-gasp victory not the least of the fun for the partisan crowd after the home team had blown an early 3-0 lead.

On Friday, Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman presented Selanne with the key to the city. A day later, as two teams of legends skated onto a pristine sheet of outdoor ice, it was clear that Selanne also had the key to the heart of everyone in the stadium.

These greybeards didn't warm up to the skeleton-rattling arena rock you hear in modern NHL buildings, but rather to "Young Turks" by Rod Stewart, and 1970s and '80s tunes by Elton John, Isaac Hayes, ABBA and more.

There was the subplot of Wayne Gretzky, statistically the greatest hockey player who has ever lived, suiting up with iconic former Oilers teammates Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Glenn Anderson.

On the other side of the ice, it was mostly about the homecoming of Selanne, the sharp-shooting forward who broke into the NHL with the Jets as a flashy 22-year-old in 1992-93, playing three seasons and change in this city before moving on to Anaheim, San Jose and Anaheim again, ending his illustrious career with the Ducks in 2013-14.

If hockey was blinded by the radiance of Gretzky, Messier and Selanne in each of their primes, Saturday's noon-hour sun was threatening, with a strong, distracting glare of its own. But then the afternoon grew perfectly overcast, with a temperature of 52 degrees and not a breath of wind, providing ideal conditions for an outdoor game.

The greatest pregame ovations went to Coffey, then Messier, and then Gretzky, who almost lifted the roof off an uncovered stadium.

And then came the greeting for Selanne, a thunderous roar.

Which led us to Page 2 in the script, with Selanne being awarded a penalty shot 4:38 into the first period. He cruised in on goalie Bill Ranford, shifted quickly then cut to his left, backhanding the game's first goal into the Oilers net.

Interviewed on the bench during a TV timeout, Selanne suggested he'd celebrate later at a legendary Winnipeg bar, which the crowd loved.

Video: Heritage Alumni: Selanne scores with slick backhand

In the waning seconds, Selanne was tripped in Edmonton ice by the Oilers' Craig Simpson and awarded his second penalty shot of the game. This time he beat goalie Curtis Joseph, which pretty much brought the house down.

"I played well here but I'm a very social guy," Selanne said later. "It's easy to come talk to me, I like the people. If I were shy, it would never happen. I'm lucky. Everywhere I've played, the fans and people have been very nice. It's also how you treat them. If you treat them well, they'll usually treat you well, too. Everything comes very natural and easy for me."

Selanne, clearly the best player on the ice, was speaking about his silky ways with the public, though he just as easily could have been referring to the game at which he still excels.

Kris King scored twice for Winnipeg, and Messier scored two for Edmonton. Blair MacDonald, the second captain in Oilers history, was the oldest to score at age 62, Selanne the youngest at 46.

A useless stat that somehow seems relevant in an alumni game: the average age of goal-scorers for the Jets was 49.7, which was 6.1 years younger than the average of the Oilers who scored.

The result wasn't precisely a measure of revenge for the Jets, who lost all six Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Oilers from 1983-1990. Four times the Oilers won in a sweep; head to head they have won 22 playoff games to Winnipeg's four.

But in this hockey-mad market, it was a final score that will be enjoyed until Sunday afternoon's "real" game between their Jets and the visiting Oilers, two young, fast, exciting teams with enormous potential that might well develop a new rivalry.

Both alumni teams used the same dressing room Saturday afternoon, the cavernous football quarters of the University of Manitoba. And as they shuffled around, generally in the direction of the tubs of beer, there were no enemies here.

Messier had joked after Friday's practice at MTS Centre that the trainers and medical crew might be the most valuable members of the teams come game day.

"Everybody took it easy out there so I don't think it will be too bad," Messier said. "But I'm sure there will be a few sore backs in the morning."

At the end of the day, Selanne considered an afternoon that, with or without a script, was one he won't soon forget.

"Those guys are the players (whose) pictures I had on my wall when I was young," he said of the Oilers he had just skated against. "If you look at what they've done in hockey, it's something unbelievable. Those guys have been great role models for me and a lot of people.

"And getting them here, playing against us, it was really special."

For every player, and every fan who came to enjoy them.

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