Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teemu's rookie year one for the ages

Finnish Flash set league on fire, winning Calder with 76 goals

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It started off with a splash.

Remember Calgary's free-agent offer sheet to Teemu Selanne worth US$400,000 for each of three seasons plus the $1.5-million signing bonus?

Grumble though they did, the Winnipeg Jets had no choice but to match the offer and turned out to be very glad they did.

Eleven goals in October followed by six in November was a pretty nice start for a rookie.

But at 22 and having put off his NHL debut because of Finnish army service, the Jets' first-rounder of 1988 went way beyond a nice start.

The stats mentioned above were recorded while the 1992-93 Jets were a dreadful team.

When they got better, so did the Finnish Flash. He scored 59 goals from Dec. 5 to the end of the season, making 76, an NHL rookie record. And the Jets made the playoffs.

Following it around was something like a traveling circus -- pretty much the same act in every town from New York to Los Angeles, from Vancouver and Edmonton to Florida.

Selanne would be swamped by local reporters, electronic and print alike. In a visit to Tampa that season, Sports Illustrated rented a fast convertible for the day and let him drive it, all the better to help them get their story.

At the games, the fast driving and scoring was Selanne's regular show.

Fans loved it everywhere, and he loved them right back.

Among the highlights were not only the goals, points and games, but also instances like the Jets wives' carnival at the Convention Centre, where the lineup for Selanne's picture or autograph went outside the building and around the block.

He stayed something like two or three hours past the advertised hours to make sure everyone in line got an autograph. Who does that, then or now?

Other things that stand out in memory from the 1992-93 season:

-- Phil Housley. A talent in the right place and right time. Led all NHL defencemen in scoring that season, assisting on 26 of Selanne's goals and being on the ice for 56 of them.

-- Protection. The Jets, and stars like Housley, Selanne and fellow young bucks Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk, were abused by opponents in the front half of that season. When GM Mike Smith acted after Christmas, acquiring tough guys Kris King and Tie Domi for Eddie Olczyk, the team responded by going 11-1-2.

-- One corner of the league where praise wasn't so easy was Boston, where fellow rookie Joe Juneau was also having a great season. Don't recall whether it was a Bruin or a reporter who said, upon one Jets visit, that Selanne couldn't carry Juneau's jockstrap, but in the end that statement was folly. Selanne carried 50 out of 50 first-place votes for the Calder Trophy, obviously including those from Boston.

-- Many of Selanne's goals stand out, but one at the top for me was in Tampa, March 9, 1993, a penalty-shot dangle on Lightning goalie Wendell Young that was so ridiculous, it still leaves Young, now the GM of the AHL's Chicago Wolves, laughing (or crying) today.

-- Still vivid is the night Selanne scored four times against Minnesota, the game before he broke Mike Bossy's rookie goal record. The game had North Stars coach Bob Gainey enraged because his defenders didn't heed his pre-game advice, and if you know anything about the wise and sturdy Gainey, that's saying something.

-- After irritating Gainey on March 28, Selanne scored 20 goals in March of that season, which is still an NHL record for goals in a month.

-- Selanne inspired a lot of fans, but not as many here as you thought you remembered. Jets attendance that season was 13,556, best of the team's final nine years here before moving. But it involved just three home sell-outs that season.

Beyond the season of magic, Selanne experienced ups and downs here.

Selanne suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury in his second season and missed another half-year with the 1994-95 lockout, then was unhappily traded in early 1996, adding insult to the injury of knowing the franchise was leaving for Phoenix.

Karma may have caught up to the Jets in the matter of the trade. They couldn't beat lowly Anaheim in the last regular-season game they played, when a win would have given them the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs instead of the mighty Detroit Red Wings.

But on the whole, Selanne earned the revered status he holds today in Winnipeg by scoring 17 multiple-goal games and in an unheard of 53 separate games during that magical season.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

One and onlys

 

Teemu Selanne was the unanimous choice for the Calder Trophy in 1993. Other unanimous NHL individual awards since 1982:

 

1982 Wayne Gretzky, Hart, 63 of 63 votes.

1983 Pete Peeters, Vezina, 21 of 21 votes.

1990 Ray Bourque, Norris, 63 of 63 votes.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2011 C3

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