Fin­nish Flash made his mark

The Beacon Herald - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

The chill­i­est big city in Canada was once home to the hottest scorer in the NHL.

Teemu Se­lanne burned out many a red goal light, but it was also the way he melted hearts that made him so beloved. Any frost bit­ten skin on the way to old Win­nipeg Arena in the grip of win­ter was a small price to see Se­lanne and his 76-goal rookie record run, part of four years in the city and his first step to Mon­day’s Hockey Hall Of Fame in­duc­tion. By the time he departed in 1996, just as sad as the orig­i­nal Jets’ move to Phoenix soon af­ter, Se­lanne must have shaken ev­ery hand in town and no one’s au­to­graph book was empty. When he came home from prac­tice or be­fore leav­ing for a game, he would some­times in­vite him­self to join road hockey games with the lo­cal kids, still wear­ing his dress suit.

“To be hon­est, that whole year was like a dream,” Se­lanne said of ’92-93. “I don’t think I had re­al­ized what I had done un­til a cou­ple of years later.

“But the whole time, al­most four years there was spe­cial and I think the rea­son is the fans. If you’re a hockey player, you play well, you treat peo­ple well, you’re like a king there. The pas­sion that the peo­ple have for hockey there, it’s just amaz­ing. It’s a cold city and the fans were wait­ing hours and hours below 30 (de­grees) out­side and wait­ing to get a chance to see their favourite player for at least two min­utes. That’s why Win­nipeg is so spe­cial.”

Wayne Gret­zky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull had scored more than 76 in a sea­son, Phil Es­pos­ito and Alex Mogilny reached that num­ber, but no first-year player put that many away since. Now they strug­gle to reach 40 or 50 in a no-fly NHL.

“Ob­vi­ously, the whole city of Win­nipeg and the fans were so ex­cited,” Se­lanne said of the streak. “I didn’t read the pa­pers (but) I felt the pas­sion and the ex­cite­ment. I didn’t really pay too much at­ten­tion. I was just so hun­gry on the ice, I just wanted more and more and more.

“I was play­ing with great play­ers and the con­fi­dence kept get­ting big­ger and big­ger. I think you re­al­ize more now what you have done, some­thing un­be­liev­able.”

The Fin­nish Flash flashed a huge smile ev­ery­where he went, even when go­ing to the dirty ar­eas when adding to his goal to­tals.

“One of the most dy­namic play­ers who has ever come into the game,” agreed Hockey Night In Canada play-by-play man Jim Hugh­son. “What I al­ways think about is how much he ab­so­lutely loved to play, a fast player with real joie de vivre. He was also a won­der­ful per­son to talk to about the game. I don’t think there were many bad days in his life.”

The ‘dead puck era’ had yet to take hold when Se­lanne not only broke but det­o­nated Mike Bossy’s pre­vi­ous mark of 53 goals by a rookie. The night he passed Bossy, Se­lanne threw his glove in the air in cel­e­bra­tion and pre­tended to blast it with his stick. It came in Game 64 and the home rink went wild.

“There was no such thing (as the trap) with Teemu in the game,” Hugh­son added. “I’m not sure, look­ing back, we re­al­ized how spe­cial that years was. There was a lot of scor­ing in the ‘70s, the ’80s and the ’90s and we just sort of took it for granted, but it was pretty spe­cial for him to come on the scene and neat to see it hap­pen in Canada, in Win­nipeg, a place that really needed some ex­cite­ment. It was ter­rific.”

The Jets made up a num­ber of com­mem­o­ra­tive T-shirts for the scor­ing feat for fans and me­dia, not that Se­lanne needed the help to win the Calder Tro­phy ahead of Joe Juneau.

Ana­heim was a new chap­ter for Se­lanne, an ideal am­bas­sador for the game in that part of Cal­i­for­nia, but he also be­came one of the most ef­fec­tive play­ers in that team’s his­tory. A num­ber of club records fell to him and when the NHL cre­ated the Rocket Richard Tro­phy in ’9899 for most goals scored, Se­lanne was its first win­ner with 47.

In the course of his 15 years in Or­ange County, he had a 52-goal year among set­ting many of­fen­sive records. He and Paul Kariya meshed beau­ti­fully and Se­lanne re­turned af­ter a side trip to San Jose to win the 2007 Stan­ley Cup.

At that stage, he had logged more than 1,000 games with­out hoist­ing the cov­eted tro­phy. He had 15 points in 21 play­off games that sea­son and an even 44 goals and 44 as­sists in 88 over­all ap­pear­ances with var­i­ous clubs.

When he came back for the first time against the ‘new’ Jets, fans blew the roof off the MTS Cen­tre. One DIY sign said it all: Teemu, please come home.

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