WINNIPEG — Chants of “Teemu” started before the national anthems even began in Winnipeg.
When the scoreboard video camera zoomed in on the Ducks’ bench, Teemu Selanne stood up and turned around waving to the cheering Jets fans before Winnipeg’s 5-3 victory over Anaheim on Saturday.
“There’s always a big piece of Winnipeg people in my heart,” Selanne said. “That’s very important.”
Selanne was even cheered when he touched the puck while his teammates were booed, a testament to the fans’ adoration of the 19-year veteran whose career began with the old Winnipeg franchise.
“I think it’s great to see the city appreciate talent like that and to honour somebody that was a big part of the Jets history,” said Mike Krentz, one of many fans sporting a No. 13 Jets jersey with Selanne’s name on the back.
Fans then gave him a standing ovation when a video tribute was shown welcoming him back to Winnipeg, while one fan held up a sign that said, “Teemu we forgive you come home.” Another sign read “Psst … HEY … TEEMU WRONG JERSEY”.
“He was an all-round good guy,” said the 36-year-old Krentz during the first intermission. “Good skill, nice in the community, his smiling face.”
Selanne assisted on two goals for Anaheim in the loss. He said the game ranked up there as one of his best memories, along with playing this year’s first regular-season game in his native Helsinki, Finland.
“Every time when I was on the ice I really enjoyed it,” he said. “Obviously the support, it was awesome.”
Seeing the signs in the stand during the warmup, as well as people wearing his old No. 13 Jets jersey, brought back fond memories.
“I felt everybody’s watching me so it was special,” he said.
He said it feels like he’s come full-circle in his career.
“This was a dream come true to come back and play here one more time,” he said. “Like I said, it was unbelievable.”
Selanne’s wife and four children were in the stands. Selanne said it was good that his three hockey-playing sons could see a game where there’s a lot of “passion” compared to their home in California.
“We were pretty impressed with the way the crowd responded to him, and rightfully so,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said.
“It says everything that we already know about him. He’s one of the best humans that we know. It’s not just about the on-ice stuff, it’s about the way he is in the community and the way he is with his fans and friends. He’s a pretty likable guy.”
Added Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau: “That was pretty chilling. Take the game away and it was pretty emotional. I can only imagine what Teemu was feeling during the first 10 minutes of the game.”
The crowd was so electric during the game’s opening that the players on the ice had a tough time communicating.
“To be honest with you it was hard as heck to be out there,” Jets goaltender Chris Mason said.
“At the beginning of the game you’re trying to communicate with your D men, but it was kind of pointless because I could barely even hear myself. It was pretty cool, though, to see what (Selanne) means to the city and how high he holds Winnipeg in his heart.”
The 41-year-old right-winger began his NHL career with the Jets in 1992-93, setting rookie records with 76 goals and 132 points during a campaign fans have never forgotten.
Selanne said earlier this week he was looking forward to saying a proper goodbye to Winnipeg fans.
The Finnish Flash was traded to the Ducks in February 1996 and didn’t get to move with the Jets when they relocated to Phoenix at the end of that season and became the Coyotes.
Selanne was later traded to San Jose and also played for Colorado before returning to Anaheim in 2005.
Selanne leads the Ducks with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in what may be his final season before retiring.