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For Selanne, road to Hall of Fame included street hockey in Winnipeg

2017 honoree recalls joining kids for games during years with Jets

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

TORONTO -- There are probably dozens, by now maybe hundreds in Winnipeg and elsewhere, of long-ago kids who are bragging to this day that they stopped Teemu Selanne on a road-hockey breakaway.


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"They've told me many times," Selanne said with a laugh Friday, surrounded by reporters in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Almost mythical are the stories of Selanne, a member of the Class of 2017, coming out to play road hockey with the local kids who banged on the door of the Winnipeg Jets forward in the early and mid-1990s.

"Absolutely," he said brightly after the ring ceremony. "A lot of times, when I came from practice and saw kids playing street hockey -- I didn't yet have kids of my own -- I took my stick and went out to play with them.

"They looked for 10 seconds at each other, 'Oh my God,' and then we played. Sometimes, if we'd had an afternoon game, I still had my suit jacket on, so I went out and played with nice clothes."

Selanne puck-handled his way seamlessly and entertainingly through a lengthy media session in the Great Hall of the Toronto hockey shrine, from his native Finnish to English and back again.

His Hall of Fame election comes with that of dear friend Paul Kariya, and those of Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Danielle Goyette and builders Clare Drake and Jeremy Jacobs. The 47-year-old Selanne, a fabulously fit native of Helsinki, at times Friday seemed almost weak-kneed at where he was standing.

Video: Memories: Selanne sets new rookie record for goals

"There's always a lot of great things that happen [as a player] but overall, I think the most satisfaction I got from my career was that I had the chance to play for 21 years and was almost 44 years old when I retired (in 2014) and was still playing [at] the top level," said Selanne, who played for the Jets, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim/Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. 

"There's so many great things -- the 2007 Stanley Cup (won with Anaheim) was the crown for my career and I'm so thankful for that. When I look back, I always feel how lucky I was to be around so many great people, in so many different ways. I could never do this by myself.

"As a player, this is the highest honor you could get," he said. "I feel very humble to be here this week. It's great to share this with those other guys. After all, I think we all have the same kind of background -- our parents, so many teammates and coaches … we've been around great people. I feel that we've all been very lucky."

Selanne looked back wistfully at his ridiculous 1992-93 season, when he had 76 goals and 56 assists in 84 games to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

"That whole year was like a dream," he said. "Honestly, I don't think I realized what I'd done until a couple of years later. It didn't feel like anything too special at the time. Obviously, the whole city of Winnipeg and the fans were just so excited. I lived with that. I didn't read the papers [but] I felt the passion and excitement from the fans.

"I was just so hungry on the ice for more and more and more. I played with great players and the confidence just got bigger and bigger. You realize more now what you have done. It was something unbelievable."

He joked that advance scouting by opponents perhaps wasn't what it might have been, and said he took advantage of the fact "that a lot of lot of teams didn't do their homework. We surprised them night after night."

In a way, Selanne is almost a rookie again; he recalls having visited the Hall of Fame at this location once before, and once in its former spot (it moved in June 1993).

Video: Teemu Selanne scored record 76 goals as rookie

"The whole place is like a little candy store, even for me," he said, beaming. "I'm so excited to see the whole history and all the players who are here."

At some point in the next day or two, he expects to work on the induction speech he'll deliver Monday night when he and the rest of the class are formally enshrined.

"I haven't really done my speech yet," he said, grinning again. "I have some PowerPoints about what I'd like to say but it's not done yet. When I start thinking too much, it will be hard. We're so thankful for everything that's happened. When you thank your parents, and close friends and those who are a big influence in your life, if you let feelings come too much, you can't do it."

There will be more than a few observers on Monday who won't be thinking about Selanne's 684 NHL goals (11th in League history), or the incandescent playmaking of a forward who has earned hockey immortality.

They'll be the long-ago goalies thinking about the man they outguessed on a Winnipeg street, foiling a legend whose road-hockey ball couldn't find the net behind them.

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