ANAHEIM — If it weren’t for the palm trees outside the Honda Center, you might have thought the Winnipeg Jets were playing a home game Monday night.
Hundreds of Jets fans crammed the patios outside the Anaheim Ducks’ home rink and hundreds more streamed across the parking lot prior to the last opening face-off for Teemu Selanne versus the Winnipeg Jets.
On dozens of their backs were vintage Jets jerseys bearing No. 8 or No. 13.
Some of them were in southern California for Spring Break but many of them made the pilgrimage from home to pay homage to arguably the most beloved player in Winnipeg’s hockey history.
Schoolteacher Robert Kennedy flew down with a few friends to pay his respects to the Finnish Flash. He was sporting a 20-year-old Selanne jersey.
"I came to say goodbye. He’s a beautiful guy. Everything good that you want to have in hockey is Teemu," he said.
Kathy Vlaming might have been the only fan in the stands to have seen Selanne play in Winnipeg, California and Finland. During the 1994 lockout, she watched him play for Jokerit when she was an exchange student.
"It was awesome. The fact I was from Winnipeg basically made me a celebrity in Finland. They love him so much there," the North Kildonan resident said.
Her hand-written sign said, "Winnipeg loves Teemu. Thanks for the memories," in both English and Finnish.
"It’s an end of an era. Back then was probably the most exciting time for hockey in Winnipeg."
St. Vital resident Roger Klym and his wife, Judy, had mixed emotions as they walked into the rink. They were in the stands at the Winnipeg Arena on March 2, 1993, when Selanne shattered Mike Bossy’s rookie scoring record with his 54th goal of the season. He would go on to score 22 more to establish a record many hockey observers feel will never be broken.
"That was such a memorable moment. It’s a highlight you see time and time again on TSN and ESPN. It was like Donovan Bailey winning the gold medal (at the 1996 Summer Olympics)," he said.
One fan was seeing Selanne for the first and last time. Nicholas Gabrielson, 11, drove up from his home in San Diego with his mom, Cathy. His mom was in the stands when Selanne broke the rookie scoring record, too.
"This is my first game in more than 20 years. Because of Teemu, I thought it was important that we come and see him," he said.