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For one night, Jets will have to listen to their fans cheer the enemy

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Mention the name to Eric Fehr, the proud product of Winkler, and he turns the clock back to a time when he worshipped the man and the team.

Mention the name to Antti Miettinen and he thinks of a sporting superstar, a Finnish icon and a player he, too, idolized.

And mention the name to Evander Kane and he tells this story:

"My first NHL jersey was a Mighty Ducks jersey and it had No. 8 on the back, but it had KANE on it as well," said the Jets' burgeoning star. "He was one of my first hockey cards, too. Obviously he's a great player and it's going to be pretty cool to play against him here in Winnipeg."

Honestly, do we really need any further introductions?

'He' is Teemu Selanne and his return to Winnipeg for tonight's game has brought journalists from Finland and Sweden, Bob Cole and the Hockey Night in Canada crew and just as many media requests as the team's historic opener against the Montreal Canadiens back on Oct. 9.

And so this isn't just a regular game in the long December homestand, it is an event. And it's arguably the most coveted ticket in the Jets' rebirth.

"This is one of the most anticipated games for Jets fans," said Fehr, trying to provide some perspective. "Obviously the home opener was huge, but I think having Selanne back will almost be right up there for the fans.

"He was the Winnipeg Jets' best player and I was a huge Jets fan so he was somebody obviously I watched. He was just so fast... I like to think of myself as a goal scorer and he was one of the best goal scorers around. He's definitely one of my favourite players."

"Obviously he meant a lot to the city," added captain Andrew Ladd. "He played some great years here and did some exceptional things, like the 76 goals. Any time a special player like that comes back it's a big event, so I'm sure the fans will be happy to see him."

But here's where this story twists and turns, especially for those in Jets uniforms.

Selanne isn't Ovechkin or Stamkos or Pronger -- the stars from other visiting teams who were roundly booed by Jets' faithful every time they touched the puck. He's not Shane Doan or Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean, former Jets who were politely honoured during breaks in the action during their stops in Winnipeg.

He is, to this day, sporting royalty in this town.

And so this Jets team hoping to rebound after Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Washington Capitals -- many of them who were just toddlers when Selanne scored 76 goals as a rookie in 1992-93 -- will be watching a different scene unfold tonight. Selanne will be, should be, cheered every time he steps on the ice.

But the Jets, now 14-13-4 and still staring up at a pile of teams in the Eastern Conference, can't be caught up in all the adoration the Selanne lovefest will bring. Yes, it's tough to see the puck with stars in your eyes.

As Miettinen, a fellow Finn and the newest Jet, said Friday: "When he's on the ice he's just like any other guy on another team: he's the enemy."

"That's the thing: as a team his return doesn't mean anything to us," said Blake Wheeler. "Our job is try and earn two points. It'll be a special thing for him and the community, but we have bigger things on our plate. We had a disappointing game against Washington and now we have to bring our 'A' game and if that means beating a local hero then that's the way it is. We can't worry about the extracurricular stuff, we have to worry about taking care of business.

"I mean, what he's done -- what he's still doing -- is amazing. I played with Mark Recchi the last couple of years and he was kinda the same thing: over 40 and he was still one of our top players in Boston.

"But if we just give (Selanne) an easy pass and let him skate around and have time and space he's going to chew us up all night.

"It's sure going to be a little bit different, though, having their best player being cheered instead of booed."

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

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2011 C1

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Updated on Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10:21 AM CST: added photo and related stories

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