ANAHEIM -- Give the nod to California where the weather and lifestyle are concerned, but Teemu Selanne says Winnipeg is tops for street hockey.
"They would just come up to the door and knock. I didn't have any kids so I would say 'sure.' It was fun. I liked playing street hockey," recalled Selanne, who had Winnipeg kids banging on his door back when he lived on Campbell Street in River Heights. "Here in California they can't even get close to the door. Gated communities and two Rottweilers. Winnipeg is such a safe place. You never worried about anything."
Selanne joined the NHL as a rookie with the Jets for the 1992-93 season and gave a memorable jolt to a fading franchise, scoring 76 goals and turning the attention of the hockey world on Winnipeg.
A few seasons later, the Jets were gone and Teemu-mania was viewed as the last of the good days of the Prairie version of Hockey Camelot. The Jets left Winnipeg for Phoenix in 1996 and NHL hockey stayed away for 15 years.
But Selanne and many of the old Jets were still front and centre in the memories of many Winnipeg hockey fans.
Selanne returned to Winnipeg with the Jets during the new franchise's inaugural season and it was one of the more memorable games of that season including an in-game standing ovation as well as a tearful curtain call following the game.
Selanne said he expected to have some similar emotions on Monday.
"I'm trying to take this just as a normal game but obviously I know it's my last game against Winnipeg," said Selanne, who had 684 goals and 1,455 points in 1,445 career NHL games prior to Monday's match with the Jets. "It's always special to play Winnipeg and I'll try to enjoy it. But it's one game and the mode now is to peak heading into the playoffs."
At the age of 43, Selanne's production has finally slipped and he has just nine goals in 58 games. But, as he showed at the Olympics where he was named tournament MVP, he can still find his game for flashes.
"I have more energy than last year at this time. Last year was the hardest of my career with the lockout. But I feel good," said Selanne. "But it's time. You can't play forever. I still love playing the game and coming to the rink. But it's time."
One Winnipegger on Selanne's mind Monday was the late Don Baizley.
"Absolutely. Absolutely, he would have been here. Don was like a second dad for me. Coming to Winnipeg, Don was always there and always supporting me," said Selanne, who hired Baizley as his agent prior to leaving Finland for the NHL. "Whatever I needed, he was there. He would be here if he could and he would be enjoying this moment with me and my family. It's a tough loss."
Selanne admitted the thought of playing the Jets for a final time and going to all of his favourite rinks in the NHL for what could be last visit has amped up his personal nostalgia meter.
"I've been thinking about this game, and that it would be my last against Winnipeg, for a few days. I'll let my mind wander a little bit... there are so many great memories," he said. "When you know it's the last time and you're getting near the end you see everything a little different. You try to take everything in and enjoy."
A good number of Jets fans have been following their team through this California swing. Selanne was asked if he would look for them in the stands.
"Especially if they're wearing the old jerseys. Have they played any games wearing them as third jerseys? They should. They're still one of my favourite jerseys in the NHL," he said.
Just like he's still one of Winnipeg's NHL favourites.