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Farewell, Flash

You'll be a Jets legend forever

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Teemu SELANNE will always be hockey royalty in Winnipeg, right up there on the Jets' Mount Rushmore alongside Hull, Hawerchuk, Hedberg and Nilsson.

So, yeah, Olli Jokinen -- a fellow Finn who has trained, skated against and with Selanne during his own long NHL and international career -- is cranked up a bit for the return of the Finnish Flash tonight.

He's just not sure it will be Selanne's final farewell, though.

"I'll believe it when I see it that he's done," said Jokinen after Jets practice Saturday. "He's been saying this for seven, eight years now that it's going to be his last season.

"He's the type of guy that loves the game and is still able to play at a high level so why not keep playing? This could be the last regular-season game (here), but there's a possibility we'll see him in the playoffs.

"And," added Jokinen, with a grin, "there's a possibility he could still play five more years."

Not likely, although hockey fans have seen this script before. It was in late August when Selanne, now 43, announced he would return for his 22nd and final NHL season -- a career that began with the Jets in 1992-93.

His first visit to Winnipeg in the Jets' rebirth, back on Dec. 17, 2011, had fans lining up in the middle of the night to greet the Ducks' bus when it arrived at the team hotel. Selanne got a standing ovation in the warm-up and was cheered every time he touched the puck during the game, won by the Jets 5-3.

In a season that was all about comebacks and reconnections, Selanne's return ranked among the most memorable nights on a calendar full of them.

"That's what Teemu's wife was saying," said Jokinen, then a member of the Calgary Flames. "Sirpa was here with the kids. It was good for his kids to actually see where he started playing and how much the people here really love him."

Selanne's skills have been on display for over two decades in the NHL, and even longer to fans in Finland. But what Jokinen sees as the secret to his longevity is his zest for life and his pure love of the game. That approach, as Winnipeggers well know, is infectious.

"He's the player that any player can learn from every day. He never has bad days," said Jokinen. "He truly loves the game. Being 43 years old and playing this level... that's pretty amazing.

"The one thing he has is a passion about the game. Whatever happens the night before, he comes with a big smile on his face to the rink the next day. His attitude is whatever happened in the past doesn't really matter any more. It's a new day. That's probably one of the reasons he's still able to play.

"The last five, six, seven years I haven't really been to Finland that much, but the summers before he was always the guy -- and still is -- who organizes the skates back home. He's the one who starts sending you text messages the first week in July... 'Let's start skating.' It tells a lot that he wants to get better.

"Anyone who has been playing that long, you have to love the game, you have to have the passion. It's not rocket science... once you lose that you're not going to be able to compete. He wants to win."

Selanne sat out Saturday night's game against the Minnesota Wild.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

THREE JET TAKES ON SELANNE'S RETURN

 

"It's kind of cool. He's one of those guys that I watched when I was really young and he's still in the league and still a pretty good player. It's always fun playing against guys you looked up to and you watched as a kid. It should be fun and I'm sure the fans are going to make him feel at home out there, too." -- Bryan Little

 

"I'm not trying to be mean but me, personally, I couldn't care less about that now to be honest. It was kinda cool when he came back two years ago. But that means absolutely nothing to me now. It's about us winning the hockey game and playing well and getting the two points." -- Evander Kane

 

"He's been such a dominant player and had such an impact here in Winnipeg... he's a guy that has made a big contribution to not only the NHL, but the NHL here in Winnipeg. His numbers both internationally and in the National Hockey League speak volumes for the player. This is a guy that performs. You watch him play at his age... it's just a marvel. For me it's always been a pleasure to watch him play but even to continue to play at this level like he does it something else.

"I just hope we win the game as we marvel." -- Claude Noel

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2013 B4

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