In the end, as I walked back to my car in the Portage Place parking lot after another Jets’ defeat, it was just another NHL game at the MTS Centre.
It was the first time I had seen Teemu Selanne play since 1995 in a game against the LA Kings, the last of the lockout shortened 1994/95 season.
Going to that game had felt like a funeral. The old Jets’ weren’t gone yet, but there was this great feeling of impending doom in the old Winnipeg Arena. The crowd viscously booed the American national anthem that night. At least when things went wrong, we all knew who to blame.
I remember being in Wiseguys in University Centre at the University of Manitoba when I found out that he had been traded, for Oleg Tverdovsky and Chad Kilger. I had no idea who those people were. Easily the worst trade in Jets’ history – this includes the much-lauded Dave Babych for Ray Neufeld trade.
With the return of the NHL a new sense of optimism returned to the city. I really noticed it when I came back from Korea. I had been away when it was announced the team was coming back and felt left out as I watched the video of people at the corner of Portage and Main celebrating, from my small apartment in Korea.
A little while later, I was one of the lucky ones to score half-season tickets. One of the games on our ticket block that year was the first return of Teemu Selanne, in December, 2011.
The only problem was that I wouldn’t be able to watch the game in person. I still had a contract until February, which meant I had to sell my ticket for December.
Even worse than missing the announcement or the team’s first game, I missed the return of Teemu Selanne.
Who knew that two years later he’d still be playing and I’d get another chance?
During his rookie season I had gone to over ten games. I had seen him get at least three hat tricks.
I didn’t see him break Mike Bossy’s record, but I was at the game before that when he scored four against the Minnesota North Stars to become the third rookie to score fifty goals in a season.
I was also at the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs when he broke Peter Stastny’s points record, on a power play goal by Alexei Zhamnov (Phil Housley got the other assist).
It was really great seeing him skate out for the opening. During the first period whenever he touched the puck the fans would cheer and then boo when anyone else from the Ducks touched it. (This got old by the second period and people stopped doing it.)
They took a break during the first to recognize Teemu, and along with the other 15,0004 fans I stood on my feet.
I stood later after the game was over when Selanne was named the game’s first star. He hadn’t done anything special other than show up, but after all the hockey fans in Winnipeg have gone through that was more than enough.
During his final game in the City we all got to say thank you and goodbye to a player who means so much to us.
Maybe it wasn’t just another game after all.