After long wait, Teemu Selanne returns to Winnipeg


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More than 15 years after he left Winnipeg in a trade that shocked him, Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne will get a chance to thank fans in the city he thrilled as a high-scoring rookie.

Selanne became an immediate fan favorite in Winnipeg when he scored 76 goals and 132 points as a first-year player in 1992-93, rookie records that still stand. But the Jets, facing a financial crunch, couldn’t afford to keep him and dealt him to the then-Mighty Ducks on Feb. 7, 1996. His last game in Winnipeg was on Feb. 4, 1996.


The Jets left Winnipeg after that season for Phoenix, where they became known as the Coyotes, and Selanne built Hall of Fame credentials in a standout career that has continued past age 41. The NHL returned to Winnipeg this season after the Atlanta Thrashers were sold and moved north of the border, taking on the old Jets name and providing Selanne a much-welcomed chance to visit again Saturday.

“When I got traded, I didn’t really have a chance to say goodbye to the people and the city. It was the next day I am gone,” he said. “It’s pretty tough when you get traded. Everything is rushing and you have to be gone the next day. That’s why I’m really looking forward to going back there.”

He said he looked for the date as soon as he got this season’s schedule, even before he was sure he’d be physically able to play.

“That was my first NHL team and starting there, I always said hockey is so big thing and the whole city makes the players feel so special and everything,” he said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“It was a dream come true to start my career in Canada and all the memories that I have there are so awesome.”

During that last season with the Jets, he said he heard rumors he or two other star forwards, Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhamnov, might be traded but the team’s new owners assured him he would move to Phoenix with the team. “That’s why I really didn’t expect to get traded,” he said. “I remember that phone call. It’s tough. Especially your first trade is always hard because you almost feel that you have failed.

“But a couple days later I realized this is going to be a great, new opportunity for myself and it has been a great road down here too.”

Selanne said he has kept in touch with friends from Winnipeg and added that he hopes fans won’t boo him Saturday. There’s little chance of that. The affection between him and fans there was strong and mutual.

“Winnipeg was really, really special,” he said. “The people, there’s a reason why their plates on the cars have ‘Friendly Manitoba,’ because it’s a really friendly city and unbelievable fans and it was just a great 4½ years there.”


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-- Helene Elliott