When the NHL schedule came out last summer, Teemu Selanne marked off one date – Dec. 17. That’s when Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks play the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre.
For Selanne Saturday’s game will have real significance. He was a first-round draft pick of the old Winnipeg Jets in 1988 and became a local hero during his first season with the team in 1992-93, when he broke the NHL’s rookie records with 76 goals and 132 points.
“All the memories that I have there, it’s just so awesome,” Selanne, 41, said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.
“I’m very excited...I knew it was going to be very special to have a chance to come back there and play. But I don;’t really know what to expect. It’s a long tiem when I played there the last time. The emotions I have, I’m very excited.”
When told the MTS Centre crowd booed Shane Doan, another popular ex-Jet who plays for Phoenix, Sealnne laughed: “That’s funny, hopefully they are not going to boo for me.”
Selanne said he still has a lot of friends in Winnipeg. “There’s a reason why the [licence]plates on the cars have Friendly Manitoba, because it’s a really friendly city and unbelievable fans,” he said. “When I got traded I didn’t really have a chance to say goodbye to the people and the city...That’s why I’m really looking forward to going back there.”
The Jets traded Selanne to the Ducks in February, 1996, just before the club moved to Phoenix. He still vividly remembers the phone call. He’d been told just days earlier by Winnipeg’s owners that he wouldn’t be traded.
“I was shocked,” he said Tuesday. “I remember that phone call it was tough....That first trade is always hard because you almost feel that you have failed.”
Selanne said he was approached last summer by the Jets’ new owners about playing in Winnipeg. He said at the time he wasn’t sure if he would be playing at all this year, but if he was going to play he wanted to stay with Anaheim. “I was very honoured that they called, but it’s too late to move,” he said.
Now in his 19th NHL season, Selanne has nine goals and 29 points this season, which leads his team. But the Ducks have been underperforming and are second-last in the Western Conference at 8-16-5. Head coach Randy Carlyle was replaced earlier this month by Bruce Boudreau, just days after he was fired by the Washington Capitals.
“There are a lot of things missing and obviously the confidence is the biggest issue right now,” Selanne said referring to the Ducks woeful start to the season. “I think we can all do it but for some reason our team is so fragile right now and one bad mistake and it seems to me that every time it’s in our own net so we can’t even get any breaks. It has been a tough road so far, it’s a big challenge for us right now to turn this around and go in the right direction.”
He said Boudreau has been a good spark and is introducing a new system to the team.
“He’s a really positive guy,” he said.
“So far so good and we know that we can be a good hockey team again. It’s a big challenge for everybody right now to find a way to turn this around. We still like what we have. just learn new system and stick with our game plan.”