Jets set to fete fantastic Finns Selanne, Numminen remember River City as a great place to play
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Teemu Selanne played in 1,451 National Hockey League regular season games over his 21-year Hall-of-Fame career. Only 27 men over the NHL’s 104-year history have played more, and even fewer have eclipsed his 1,451 points.
A majority of those days were spent in sunny California, split between the Anaheim Ducks, where the speedy winger spent 15 seasons, including a Stanley Cup-winning campaign in 2007, along with a three-year stay with the San Jose Sharks. Mixed in between was an even briefer stretch with the Colorado Avalanche, a stint that lasted just one season.
Selanne has fond memories of everywhere he’s been as a professional hockey player, with he and his family still living large in the southern parts of The Golden State. While he reached incredible heights over his long and illustrious career, there’s an argument to be made that had it not been for his time in Winnipeg, who knows if it would have played out as well as it has.
“I’m so happy I started my career there, where I could feel the love for the game and how friendly the people there are and how much the hockey means to them,” began Selanne during a Zoom interview Friday with reporters when asked by the Free Press what his fondest memories are of playing in Winnipeg. “There’s a reason why they call it Friendly Manitoba.”
Teemu Selanne set the NHL’s rookie scoring record as a Winnipeg Jet with 76 goals in the 1992-93 season.
It was in Winnipeg that Selanne, who is affectionately known around those parts as The Finnish Flash, took the league by storm in his first season. He set a new NHL record for most goals by a rookie, scoring a seemingly unbeatable 76 tallies over 84 games across the 1992-93 season.
Selanne, who was selected by the Jets with the 10th overall pick in the 1988 NHL Draft, played four seasons in Winnipeg, between 1992 and 1996. He finished his time in Winnipeg with 147 goals and 159 assists over 231 games, before he was traded to Anaheim near the end of the 1995-96 season — the last in the prairies before the Jets packed up and moved to the desert to become the Phoenix Coyotes.
It’s in Winnipeg that Selanne will be honoured, along with fellow Finn and Jets teammate, defenceman Teppo Numminen, as the latest inductees to the Jets Hall of Fame. Selanne and Numminen join a Hall of Fame that first recognized The Hot Line — consisting of Swedish forwards Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, as well as Bobby Hull — as the inaugural class in 2016-17, and includes Thomas Steen and Randy Carlyle (2019-2020); Ab McDonald and Lars-Erik Sjoberg (2018-19); and Dale Hawerchuk (2017-18).
A formal induction is scheduled for Nov. 17, with a small ceremony planned ahead of puck drop against the Ducks at Canada Life Centre.
“I’m so happy I started my career there, where I could feel the love for the game and how friendly the people there are and how much the hockey means to them.”–Teemu Selanne
“When I look back, I think, obviously, on the ice, the first year, when I broke Mike Bossy’s (goal) record… actually, the greatest moment was probably the whiteout in the first playoff game,” Selanne said. “I heard the stories about how great it is and how loud the building is and everybody’s wearing white. That really hit me.”
He added: “I always say how lucky I was to come into Winnipeg at that time. I felt that the table was ready for me. First of all, Teppo was there, who has been huge help for me all the years and he was like a bigger brother for me there.”
Numminen, who was drafted in the second round (29th overall) of the 1986 Draft, had already spent years with the Jets before Selanne arrived. He’d end up playing eight of his 20 NHL seasons in Winnipeg, before moving with the team to Phoenix, lasting seven seasons there, with stops in Dallas (2003-04) and then Buffalo, where he played the last four years of his career.
“Winnipeg has always been a great place and starting point for my career and my family,” Numminen said over the same Zoom session. “The fans and the city really showed us how things are done… we saw that, and we carry that through our careers, because playing there you really feel it and it was nice to feel at home right away.”
Jets defenceman Teppo Numminen chops at Vancouver's Serio Momesso in playoff action at the Winnipeg Arena on April 29, 1992.
Though drafted in 1988, Selanne would spend the next few years playing in Finland. He recalled the first time he visited Winnipeg, as a young prospect, and how it proved to be a pivotal moment in his pro career.
He had broken his leg while playing hockey back home and still had months before he would be fully healed. It was also his first taste of watching NHL hockey and a stark reminder of what was to come and, more importantly, what was required to play at the game’s top level.
“I always remember how I was scared. It was just so violent and so physical, and it was almost like a war out there. I was shaking,” Selanne said. “I remember I called my dad and I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to play in this league. These guys are animals here.’ And then I went home, and I said, ‘You know what, I better be ready. I have to get better.’”
As for the 76-goal season, Selanne said it wouldn’t be until years later that he understood the significance of what he achieved. While he knew the city was behind him, building on the momentum with each goal, he never read the newspapers and never added any pressure onto himself.
“I remember I called my dad and I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to play in this league. These guys are animals here.’ And then I went home, and I said, ‘You know what, I better be ready. I have to get better.’”-Teemu Selanne
Selanne credits his coaches and teammates for putting him in the position to succeed and is acutely aware that while the record recognizes the individual, it was a team achievement.
“It was almost like a snowball going down the hill,” he said. “I got hungrier the more (goals) I got.”
While Selanne was known for his talents on the ice, he was also beloved for his visibility off it. There are stories of how he’d often show up unannounced to play street hockey with kids and frequented popular spots around town, always willing to sign an autograph or spend time to chat.
That’s what ultimately made him a big deal in a short time in Winnipeg. Though that openness is something he’s carried with him his entire career, Selanne admitted there was no better connection with the community and its fans than during time spent with the Jets.
Selanne played in 1,451 National Hockey League regular season games over his 21-year Hall-of-Fame career.
“The hockey thing is one thing, but I always try to treat people well and I hope they can treat me the same way,” he said. “We are very lucky that we are able to do things, what we love to do, but it doesn’t make you a better person. You just have to treat everybody well, doesn’t matter what you do, and I think that’s a key for the success for their lives and your happiness, that you can share that goodwill.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.