In a Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne's final game in Vancouver arrives
Last week, the Anaheim Ducks visited Calgary, and the Flames faithful saluted the Finnish star (how many Fs can you get into one sentence?) with a tribute on the big screen.
My first thought was, "Well, that's weird."
I mean, so what? What does Calgary have to do with Teemu at all? In my original opinion, only two final games of his should matter this season – the last one in Winnipeg, which has passed, and the last one, period.
But heading into tonight's game – I'll be in section 118 if you wanna come say Hi – I am thoroughly excited. I'm excited to see my favourite player one last time, and I'm excited because I didn't realize until five minutes ago what tonight was.
I was born in Winnipeg and spent every summer from age 7 to 18 there, and I'm still back there every year over August long weekend, with family and friends who live in Canada's most pleasant city. I grew up with a Teemu jersey on my back. Raised to cheer for both Winnipeg and Vancouver – luckily, I'm too young to have experienced any rivalry between the clubs – I would automatically toss my red-yellow-and-black Canucks jersey on and off, rotating between that Bure #10 and my beautifully simple blue-and-red Selanne #13.
At eight-years-old, I cried when the Jets left Winnipeg, and I remember everything about that final Game 6 in 1994, when they lost to Detroit. Fortunately, their final failure came in an even-numbered playoff game, so they got to go out in front of Manitoba's best.
And now, of course, I understand why Calgary tipped its cap to Teemu. Because I'm not that special. There are plenty others in any Canadian city who are just like me – still-kids who feel such a strong connection to both the Paris of the Prairies and to Selanne's years there.
You see, most everyone in Canada comes from Winnipeg in some way or another. They may be from Manitoba originally somehow, they may have lived there in between two other places, or they may just have related roots there. But everyone – and I can't explain the science of it, but it's true down to almost anyone you'll speak to – has some sort of connection with that city, or that province, and especially that team.
When Selanne set the NHL on fire as a freshman in 1993, he didn't just do it in front of the Postage Stamp Province, as it's formerly known.
He did it in front of an awakened, post-Edmonton Oilers league, just before its near-crippling lockout of 1995 and just before the sport really peaked in 1994.
He also did it through six Olympics Games and four Olympic medals – unbelievable, really – and he did it through two more lockouts. He even got better after the one in 2005, the one that wiped out a whole season when players with his age and his history of injuries (Selanne suffered through an unending barrage of them between 1994 and 2004) should have already been thinking about what to do when he retired.
He won a Cup that second year back – in 2007 – while he returned to point-per-game status. Even now, with 25 points through 61 games, he's a critical, at-all-ends player for the NHL-best Anaheim Ducks.
"As a coach and hockey fan, I have nothing but admiration in how he does it," said Canucks coach John Tortorella on Monday (The Province). "And he plays in the areas, too. He's a scorer and seems to be one of the most unselfish guys I've seen from afar."
Echoed Canucks winger Zack Kassian, just 23, "I don't think my hips will work when I'm 40. Pretty amazing what he's doing."
For some reason, everyone loves Teemu Selanne. They can't explain it and, when they try to, they only come off as cliched, babbling romantics, like I am right now. That's just the effect he has, and always has had.
It'll be a pleasure to watch him tonight, for one one final time – to see the last real Jet ride off like a Flash.