Every Winnipeg Jets fan has a story about Teemu Selanne.
And most of the time, those stories don’t directly pertain to his play on the ice.
Whether it was an encounter at Earls on Main, a game of shinny that happened back in the 90s, or a brief conversation with Teemu, most fans have a story involving not just Teemu Selanne the player, but the person and ambassador he is for the city of Winnipeg. Teemu’s engaging and genuine personality continues to leave a mark with everyone that he converses with in Manitoba’s capital, despite the fact that Selanne hasn’t donned a Jets jersey since 1996.
Most player’s, even some of the very best in the game, very rarely leave a mark like the one Selanne has in Winnipeg. But Winnipeg doesn’t just love Teemu Selanne the player; they love Teemu Selanne the person.
Last night, Selanne was in Winnipeg to serve as the guest speaker at the Rady Jewish Community Center’s annual Sports Dinner. Hours before the event, Selanne went to the JCC to tour the community centre’s programs, events and new facilities that the Rady has to offer.
Before the ‘Finish Flash’ even stepped foot in the door, he was signing autographs and taking pictures with enthusiastic Jets fans that had been waiting for his arrival. As each of those fans interacted with Selanne, many had a story that they were dying to remind Selanne of, while others were speaking to Selanne for the first time; hoping to create a Teemu story of their own. twenty years later, those genuine, authentic and meaningful encounters with Teemu continue to stick with the people of Winnipeg.
“It’s always a special feeling coming here,” said Selanne during our lunch interview. “It’s priceless to see the faces of people when they see [me] and how happy they get.”
Once Selanne finally entered the building, he was met with a room full of middle school kids, eagerly waiting to meet Teemu, take pictures and get autographs. Plenty of those young kids told Selanne that he wasn’t just their favorite player, but their parents’ as well. The current generation of young Jets fans continues to idolize Selanne, as Winnipeg’s love for Selanne continues to be passed down by generation.
During the course of Selanne’s hour and a half visit to the facility, the Finnish native never turned down a picture with a fan, nor did he ever try to maneuver around the fans as the number of them increased.
Selanne embraced the attention and affection.
Teemu Selanne continues to get the rock star treatment when he returns to Winnipeg and I’ll reiterate this once again; he played for the Jets twenty years ago.
“I’ve always said that I’m so happy that I got to start my career here,” said Selanne. “If you play hockey here, [you’re] going to be treated well… the people here make you feel so special.”
Right from the start of his career, Selanne made it known how much he loved the city of Winnipeg.
When he wasn’t crushing rookie scoring records, Selanne could be found playing street hockey with the kids on his block, or serving as a public figure for the countless amount of charity events or even just striking up a conversation with a group of locals, perhaps even hanging out with them for a couple of hours.
It’s not hard to understand why Teemu is so loveable.
Even as he spoke in front of 1400 people at the Rady Sports Dinner, Selanne was speaking in an honest, relaxed and heartfelt matter to the people of Winnipeg, many of whom he still keeps in touch with to this day. Selanne recounted old stories of his time in Winnipeg, many of which were humorous, interesting and heartfelt for many Winnipeggers.
Selanne will be the first one to tell you that when he first returned to Winnipeg to play against the Jets in 2011, he didn’t expect such an outpouring of support.
“When I got traded in ’96, everything happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to say goodbye to the fans.. the next day I was gone,” said Selanne. “I didn’t know what to expect, 15 years is a long time, but the way the fans [reacted], made for a very special night.”
As fun as it was for Jets fans to see Teemu return in an NHL game, seeing Selanne don a Jets jersey while playing in the Heritage Classic alumni game brought back a wondrous sense of déjà vu for everyone. While attending the Heritage Classic festivities, Selanne took the opportunity to bestow some of his wisdom upon the next Jets core.
“The [Jets] are excited and they look up to the [alumni] and want to learn the history and the culture of the [Jets] and I’m excited I was part of that,” said Selanne.
To no surprise, Selanne continues to endorse the city of Winnipeg in any way he can. When the Jets selected Patrik Laine second overall at last summer’s entry draft, Selanne was one of the first people to call Laine and tell him just how special Winnipeg is.
“I [tell] Laine and those guys, obviously hockey is the biggest thing here and it’s a small community where everyone pulls together,” said Selanne. “It makes a city strong to be proud of a hockey team.”
Winnipeg will never be the team to pry the big fish from the free agency market and the odds are low they could get a player to waive a no-trade clause and come to Winnipeg anytime soon; the focus of this team is to develop the young talent they have. Thankfully, Teemu has embraced the role of a sort of ambassador to the city, selling players on just how special the city and the fans can be, and there are few better than Selanne for these young Jets to look up to and learn from.