Jets legends Selanne, Numminen look forward to hall of fame return to Winnipeg

Two of Winnipeg’s most beloved hockey legends are coming back to the city where they started their NHL careers to be honoured by the current incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets.

Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen will be inducted into the team’s hall of fame in mid-November, and both players say they’re looking forward to revisiting their former home.

Selanne — also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and one of the highest-scoring players in history — played for the Jets for parts of four seasons and told 680 CJOB he’s always happy to return to a town that treats him as one of its own.

Of course, setting the still-standing rookie goal record in a Jets uniform and wowing fans with his on-ice prowess didn’t hurt, but Selanne said he had support even before he was rewriting hockey history.

Former Winnipeg Jet Teemu Selanne (13) waves to the crowd at Investors Group Field prior to the first period of the NHL Heritage Classic Alumni game in Winnipeg on Saturday, October 22, 2016.

Former Winnipeg Jet Teemu Selanne (13) waves to the crowd at Investors Group Field prior to the first period of the NHL Heritage Classic Alumni game in Winnipeg on Saturday, October 22, 2016.

John Woods / The Canadian Press

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“I was very excited to come to Winnipeg — the Winnipeg people and the fans, I felt like I’m their own boy. That’s why I’ve always had a special relationship with the fans. In Winnipeg, you’re like a king there,” he said.

“I think everyone remembers your first kiss, your first girlfriend… and I think Winnipeg was like that for me.

“I’ve always said I’m so glad I started there because you realize how much hockey means to the Winnipeg people and how they treat you and how friendly they are.”

The way the fans responded to him, Selanne said, is a story he’s shared with friends and family in the decades since, and something that still amazes him today.

“I always try to remind myself that I’m just a hockey player. I’m not better than anybody off the ice. It only matters how you treat people, and that’s how you measure people and that’s why I have so much fun in Winnipeg and have so much appreciation for the Winnipeg people.”

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When Selanne arrived in Winnipeg as a fresh-faced rookie, he had the good fortune of being taken under the wing of Numminen, a fellow Finn, who had been playing for the Jets since 1988.

For someone who was new to the culture, the language, and the North American game, it was a huge help. Numminen told 680 CJOB that Winnipeg’s history of signing Scandinavian players helped his own transition to the NHL as well.

“Coming to Winnipeg… it was just a place I didn’t know anything about,” Numminen said.

“But then arriving, seeing the history and the connection with the Scandinavian players — there was a lot of Finnish players before me, Swedish players, so there was always a connection with European players.

“I had Thomas Steen there, Freddy Olausson, Hannu Jarvenpaa was there from Finland — so there were people who had done the same thing, or coming from the same situation that I was in as a young player. You have to have those good people around you to show you the way.”

Numminen said he shares Selanne’s enthusiasm for the Winnipeg fans and the support he received from the community. As a Jet in the final seasons before the franchise relocated to Phoenix, Ariz., in 1996, he said the idea of leaving his home away from home was difficult.

“It was devastating, those two years — hoping there would be a way we wouldn’t have to leave — just to see the passion and the caring for the team, it was really tough.”

Winnipeg, of course, became home to its second NHL franchise in 2011, and those passionate fans will welcome both Finnish stars back to Manitoba with a ceremony at the “hall of fame game” Nov. 17, in which the Jets will take on the Anaheim Ducks — the team Selanne joined after being traded from Winnipeg in February of 1996.

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