Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teemu brings own fans

Selanne family returns to the place they once called home

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The focus of Saturday night's Jets game against the Anaheim Ducks has been Teemu Selanne, but this is Sirpa Selanne's homecoming, too.

The wife of the Finnish Flash and mother to their four children spent nearly four years of her life here and she had no desire to leave back in February of 1996. That's when her husband was traded to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and she was nine months pregnant with their first child, son Eemil, now 15.

"Teemu left and came back and we delivered Eemil here. We lived here for one week and then moved to California," she said, noting her eldest is the only member of the family with Canadian citizenship.

"The trade was the worst thing that ever happened. There were some rumours, but we were told they were just rumours. We didn't really believe them. It was a really big shock. The timing was so bad for our personal (lives). It was a sad time for hockey here, the team was moving away. The whole spring we were thinking we were going to have to say goodbye," she said.

Sirpa was looking forward to being met by some old friends at Winnipeg's new air terminal building, but they weren't the only ones who greeted her and her three other kids, too, sons Eetu, 14, Leevi, 11, and daughter, Veera, 4.

"The customs guys were recognizing us. They were so friendly. It was a really nice welcome," she said.

She said her husband thinks there won't be much fuss made over him and his return to Winnipeg but she knows better.

"I'm telling him it's going to be overwhelming. I'm here because this is huge, huge for all of us. Teemu started playing hockey here and he did so well. We loved it here. I couldn't stay away from this game. I'm so glad for Winnipeg having a team again and seeing Teemu back here. It's going to be awesome," she said.

Sirpa said when the new Winnipeg Jets contacted her free-agent husband last summer, she was open to a possible move.

"I told Teemu, 'no matter where you play, it's OK for me.' I'm more adventurous. I always believe things happen for a reason. I think Teemu was thinking since the kids are so old, it's harder to move the whole pack now. There are six people and you have to think about everybody's life. He loved it here, but he's also loyal to the Ducks. He was honoured that Winnipeg was interested," she said.

The family has also been joined by Selanne's mother, Liisa, who spent a lot of time in Winnipeg in the early 1990s and still has many friends here. In fact, none of the Selanne clan is staying in a hotel for their three-day visit. Sirpa and the four kids are staying with the Leipsic family, with whom they hung out so many years ago.

Leevi, decked out in a new Winnipeg Jets T-shirt, said he'll be dressed in Jets gear for the game. When asked who he'll be cheering for, he paused for a minute before replying, "I'm going to cheer for my dad and the Jets."

"Even though I like Anaheim, the Jets are still my favourite team. I always wanted them to come back. I love the team. The (retro) logo is so sick and the new one is pretty cool, too," he said.

Leevi said it didn't take him long to get an appreciation of what his dad's return to Winnipeg means for so many fans. "I have a feeling they're going to give him a standing ovation," he said.

Sirpa said she has been going to all of her husband's games for the last four years because every season could be his last. She's not one to ever put pressure on him, but she secretly hopes this one is his curtain call.

"I'm ready to have him home and help with these crazy teenagers. But I'm glad he's still playing, because he's still playing well," she said.

All three of their boys play hockey, but they haven't seen a game in a Canadian rink. Sirpa is anticipating they'll have a little culture shock.

"Hockey is way bigger here than in the U.S.A. I'm excited for them to see how fun it is going to be to go to hockey games in this country," she said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2011 A15

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