‘Brother’ Finns Selanne, Numminen inducted into Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame

From frozen hockey hair to Palomino Club nights and random street hockey games, NHL legends Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen reminisced on Thursday about growing up as Winnipeg Jets.

“I’ve always said I’m very proud and thankful I started here. Hockey means so much for this city … and if you treat people well here, and you play well as a hockey player, you’re going to be a king here,” Selanne, 52, told reporters in the media room of Canada Life Centre, Winnipeg’s downtown NHL arena.

“It’s a humble feeling to be here again tonight.”

He and Numminen, 54, were later inducted as the ninth and 10th members of the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, before the Jets game against the Anaheim Ducks.

“Two of my favourite teams — I’ve had great memories from both [so] it’s going to be a special night,” Selanne said, but when asked who he’d cheer for, he paused a long time before saying he hoped it would go to overtime and a shootout so it would be as even as possible.

Hours later, Selanne’s wish looked like it was about to come true until the game’s final minute, when Kyle Connor scored his third goal of the night to give the home team a 3-2 win.

‘An emotional time’

“It’s a big honour, a lot of memories,” Numminen said before the game, adding he was “a bit nervous about it, but excited.

“For sure it’s going to be an emotional time and it’s nice we can share it together and with our families.”

The two Finnish stars from the Jets 1.0 era have always been close. Numminen had been with the Jets four seasons when Selanne arrived in 1992.

“He was like an older brother for me. And with his help, I didn’t really have to worry about anything,” Selanne said. “Not many times I even knew what time we had practice, but he knew. I was just following him.”

At the end of his rookie year, Selanne earned the nickname Finnish Flash with his speed and skill. He netted 76 goals, setting a new NHL record for rookies by 23 goals, and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top newcomer. The record still stands.

Current Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins was on the ice for that historic moment and was first to congratulate Selanne — and nearly caught the glove Selanne threw in the air during his shooting-gallery celebration.

Chasing memories

Selanne and Numminen arrived in the city a little earlier in the week and were celebrated Tuesday during a gala at Canada Life Centre, where they mingled with current Jets players, coaches and fans.

Numminen spent some time driving around the city, showing his family where he used to hang out, “telling stories of the past” and looking for his old house in River Heights.

“It was painted green. It used to be white but everything was there,” he said.

“Did you show them all the bars and the Palomino Club?” Selanne piped in.

“Everything,” Numminen said with a smile.

Former Winnipeg Jet Teemu Selanne waves to the crowd during a ceremony where he and Teppo Numminen, right, were inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame prior to the NHL game between the Jets and Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The Pal, as it is known, was a popular Portage Avenue bar where Jets players often stopped by after a game. It was a different time.

“Those hot dogs [from street vendors] when we left at 2 a.m.? Unbelievable,” Selanne said with a laugh.

While in the city this week, Selanne stopped to play pickleball at the Reh-Fit Centre on Taylor Avenue, just doing what he always did during his playing days — embracing the public.

He recalled going out to play pool or bowl or other things, like street hockey with neighbourhood kids, when he wasn’t on the ice in his Jets uniform.

“I saw kids playing and I said ‘Can I join?’ and they’re like, ‘Sure,'” he said. “I’m a very open guy. I like to talk to people and I like to please fans.

“That’s why this place has always been very special. There’s a reason they call it Friendly Manitoba.”

It’s also what made Winnipeg different from bigger hockey markets, Numminen said. As a smaller city, it was easy to get teammates together and build strong bonds, “but you also get to know your city and community.”

While the old homes are still around and the Pal is still going strong, albeit in a different location, some things from the players’ past are gone. There’s nothing to show for the old barn of an arena, demolished in 2006, 10 years after the Jets flew south to relocate in Phoenix.

Numminen moved with the team as it became the Coyotes, while Selanne was traded to the Ducks just before that final Jets season wrapped up.

Winnipeg’s downtown arena went up in 2004 for the city’s AHL team, with distant hopes the NHL would one day return. The Jets 2.0 arrived in 2011, two years after Numminen retired, but in time for Selanne to return as an opposing team player, always to a hero’s welcome, before he hung up the skates at the end of the 2013-14 season.

“I love that the rink is here in downtown,” he said Thursday, but admitted “all the great memories are from the old Winnipeg Arena. It’s kind of sad it doesn’t exist anymore.”

Numminen recalled how players used to exit the old rink and head into the parking lot in –35 C temperatures with wet hair and the wind icing it up. Now players park indoors and walk through tunnels to their rinks.

“For sure it’s different times, and history has changed and moved on, and everything should move on and get better, and this is a great facility,” he said about Canada Life Centre.