There is an undeniable connection between our fine prairie city and Teemu Selanne, aka the Finnish Flash.
He was drafted 10th overall in the 1st round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by the Jets 1.0 (six spots ahead of Jets 2.0 GM Kevin Cheveldayoff who was selected by the Islanders in the 16th spot) by Jets GM John Ferguson Sr. Due to required military service in his home country of Finland and injury he remained overseas until the 1992/93 season.
Of course the rest is history. He electrified the city with a rookie campaign of 76 goals and 56 assists for 132 points. He eclipsed Mike Bossy’s rookie record of 54 goals with one of the most famous goals celebrations we have ever seen! A record that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during the Selanne jersey retirement ceremony will likely never be broken.
Over the course of the next three seasons injuries limited him to approximately 50 games per year and while he never hit that almost goal per game pace he was on during his rookie campaign he continued to delight fans across the city of Winnipeg with his play.
Even more important than the relationship he had with fans on the ice was the way he handled himself off the ice. In addition to the 1000s of autographs he would sign for fans, many kids can recall playing street hockey with him on Campbell street in River Heights.
Fast forward to the inaugural season back in Winnipeg and there was little question which game the majority of fans had circled on their calendar as the return of Teemu to play in Winnipeg was one of the most unique hockey events I’ve ever seen. It was a chilly December 17th but the warmth of the fans reaction was enough to melt the cold as fans spent the entire game cheering every time Teemu touched the puck but booing his team mates.
The lockout in 2012/13 meant the Jets wouldn’t face the Ducks in year 2 of the return.
When Selanne announced with a funny golf video that the 2013/14 season would be his final one, fans here knew that it would be his last time coming to Winnipeg as a player. Once again it was quite the event that captured the hearts of Manitobans across our province.
Today in the Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless wrote an article Selanne’s time in Winnipeg deserves tribute here. I completely agree with Gary. I like the idea of an outdoor statue of Selanne shooting his glove which pays homage to the relationship the city had with the player but doesn’t necessitate hanging a banner to a team that no longer plays here. Of course the Coyotes hang banners to honour former Jets 1.0 players like Thomas Steen and Dale Hawerchuk within Gila River Arena so I would not be adverse to that either.
The question for fans of both the old and new Jets is how would you like to see Teemu memorialized in this city? Or do you think the relationship doesn’t require further recognition? As always your opinion is welcome.