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'It's fun to be here': Selanne

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WINNIPEG — Fresh from a pre-planned night off and energized by his return to the city where he started his illustrious career, Teemu Selanne will skate tonight for the Anaheim Ducks against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre (7 p.m., CT, TSNJets, TSN1290).

The Finnish Flash hinted this morning this game might be a little easier for him than his "first" return in December 2011, when adoring Winnipeg fans celebrated him, booed his teammates and cheered the Jets on to a victory that night.

"I had a chance to come two years ago and that was unbelievable," Selanne said after this morning’s skate downtown. "I don’t really expect anything like that tonight, but it’s fun to be here.

"I almost hoped I wouldn’t have to come back here because that was an absolutely perfect night. We lost, but it was something I was always going to remember.

"This place is so nice, the fans unbelievable. I’m very happy I have a chance to come back one more time."

At 43, Selanne has announced this will be his final NHL season.

Jets centre and fellow Finn Olli Jokinen playfully suggested on Saturday Selanne could play a while longer.

"No, no, no," he laughed. "Tell Olli, no."

Facing a throng of reporters this morning — "It must be Winnipeg," Selanne said to start his interview — Selanne was asked why he has insisted on signing so many autographers during his career.

This is regular season game No. 1,389, by the way.

"I think hockey players are pretty good overall with that stuff," he said. "I always say that’s the easiest part (for) hockey players or any atheletes’ job, to sign some authographs. That takes five, 10 minutes. Who cares? I’ve always had a special relationship with the fans.

"It’s been easy."

Selanne sat out Saturday’s game in Minnesota, the Ducks’ new plan to give him one night off when the team plays back-to-back games this season.

In his 24th NHL season, he returns to visit his first NHL home on one bittersweet note — his long-time agent and mentor, Winnipeg native Don Baizley, passed away earlier this summer after a battle with cancer.

Selanne was here for the celebration of Baizley’s life at the MTS Centre in early July.

"That was very sad, what happened," he said. "Me and Teppo (Numminen) and Jari (Kurri), we flew here to his celebration in July and it was just great. Great to see 2,000 people celebrate his life."

It was Kurri who long ago steered the Flash to Baizley’s positive influence.

"Obviously Jari Kurri was the guy ... .who put me and Don together," said today. "Don was Jari’s agent before and he said, ‘This guy’s the best,’ so Jari was my idol and good friend so that was an easy choice.

"Don was like another dad for me. When I came here, his support was unbelievable. He made sure I was only focused on hockey. He helped me so much. Very sad what happened to him."

In the end, Selanne said he’s still not feeling his age.

"It’s still young," he smiled. "I still enjoy the game and I still play well. That’s the biggest reason I’m still play. We have a good team, that’s very exciting..

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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