A perfect salute to a great man, career

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ANAHEIM -- All the adjectives that fit best -- classy, honourable, special, iconic, legendary and many, many more -- have been used a gazillion times in the same sentence alongside Teemu Selanne.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/01/2015 (2946 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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ANAHEIM — All the adjectives that fit best — classy, honourable, special, iconic, legendary and many, many more — have been used a gazillion times in the same sentence alongside Teemu Selanne.

And so if you’re searching for fresh, new superlatives here, a thousand pardons.

But in an often touching, occasionally humorous celebration of his career in a 90-plus-minute jersey-retirement ceremony at Honda Center Sunday night — it was dubbed For8ver Teemu — everything that is good about the man was served up again in style.

Alex Gallardo / The Associated Press Teemu Selanne waves to the fans during his number-retirement ceremony before the game against the Winnipeg Jets in Anaheim, Calif., Sunday.

It was the epitome of class, like the man himself. And it was perfect.

Not surprisingly, there were more than a few references to Winnipeg, where his Hall of Fame career began and each moment brought an enormous cheer from the many Jets fans who travelled south to be in attendance.

“I didn’t know too much about Winnipeg until I got there and I found out very soon what kind of city it is,” said Selanne during his speech prior to seeing his No. 8 raised to the rafters. “Two things come from Winnipeg: Hockey and great people. The way the fans treated me, there are no words.”

In an especially poignant moment, Selanne pointed to an empty chair that was reserved for his former Winnipeg-based agent, the late Don Baizley.

“There is an empty chair here for Don,” said Selanne. “He was a second dad to me.”

The festivities included Selanne’s parents and his family along with past teammates. Both teams playing in the game Sunday — the Jets and the Ducks — also took in portions of the ceremony before warming up wearing Selanne jerseys; Anaheim in all the variations of the Ducks uniforms over the years, the Jets in the 1.0 version Selanne wore before being traded in 1996.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was also in the house — and was predictably booed upon his introduction — prompting this response from the league boss: “I would get booed to be with Teemu any time.”

Added Bettman: “Hockey in southern California, certainly in Orange County, wouldn’t be where it is today without Teemu Selanne. On behalf of the entire hockey family, we can’t thank you enough for what you gave to our game. I’ve wondered over years how someone so talented and such a fierce competitor can be such a nice guy. But he is.”

Jari Kurri, Selanne’s idol — and later a teammate — called him the “greatest ambassador of Finnish hockey” while J.S. Giguère referred to him as the nicest person you’d ever meet.

Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli were gracious in their praise, stating: “We thank you, we love you, and we couldn’t be more honoured to recognize you tonight. You are permanently engraved in the soul of the Anaheim Ducks franchise.”

Selanne, not surprisingly, spent most of his speech thanking those who helped him along his journey, such as his parents and coaches. And in typical Selanne fashion, he also thanked the cleaning lady and Zamboni driver at Honda Center.

“I’ve been very lucky for so many different ways,” said Selanne. “This whole journey has been unbelievable. I’m so thankful and lucky to have experienced all this.”

Selanne met with the media during the first intermission, including a handful who had travelled from Finland. Asked about the decision to have a chair reserved for Baizley, Selanne was again gracious about his late agent.

“I was thinking about that earlier, in the days before,” said Selanne. “Luckily we found one more matching chair… that was the biggest problem. Don was such a huge part of my success and my life. I was really hoping he could be here tonight and he was… somewhere. It was a great idea and I’m very happy we did it.”

Selanne vowed not to shed any tears during the number-raising conclusion to the ceremony, but admitted there was a moment where he came close.

“The toughest part was when I was walking down the stairs… the whole thing just hit me so hard,” he said. “Plus, I had to concentrate to not fall down those. I was very proud. The first number goes up, and there’s a lot of history there. It was so special that I could share that with my family and a lot of other people, too. It was a proud moment.”

It was impossible for Selanne not to notice all the Jets fans in the crowd. And having the ceremony with that club in Anaheim wasn’t a coincidence.

“It means a lot,” said Selanne of the presence of so many Winnipeggers. “When we started planning this event, there couldn’t have been a better game than against Winnipeg. Seeing all those fans there… it was a perfect package. Everything was even more than what we were hoping.”

Just like the man and his career.

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

Teemu photo page, C7

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