Winnipeg Jets: Teemu Selanne’s smile was the real Finnish flash

Back in the day, when I was cheeky and totally irreverent, I would refer to Mike Smith as Mikhail due to his fondness and fascination for Russian hockey players.

Actually, it was more of an obsession for comrade Mikhail.

Considered something of an egghead in National Hockey League circles because he held a doctorate in Russian studies and wrote books (as if that’s a bad thing), Smith collected two things: Native American art and comrades. Under his watch as the mad scientist general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, he turned the town into Little Moscow. It was here an Igor, there an Ivan, everywhere a Vladimir. Trouble was, he didn’t always recruit the best of Mother Russia (hello, Sergei Bautin).

Teemu Selanne

That didn’t prevent Smith from pumping their tires, though, and so it was one night in early October 1992 when the comrade and I were standing at the back of the Winnipeg Arena press box, in whispered conversation about two of the five rookies in his lineup.

Selanne is a good one,” I submitted. “You guys didn’t make a mistake with him.”

If you think Teemu is good,” Smith responded, “wait until you see what Alexei can do. He’s better than Teemu. He’ll win the scoring championship in this league one day.”

Oops.

There’s no argument that Alexei Zhamnov was among the most skilled players to ever pull Jets linen over his head and shoulders. He was an artist and a wizard, a sometimes breath-taking magician of the Kent Nilsson ilk. But better than Teemu Selanne? Not so much.

The numbers tell the tale of the two players. Longevity tells the tale. One Stanley Cup ring tells the tale. Induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame tells the tale.

But it isn’t the goals, the dashing and daring, the trinkets that are what I remember most about Teemu Selanne. It’s the joy—unbridled, pure and wide-eyed—that he took from the ice to the people.

Selanne was seldom the biggest player in the room, but he was always the biggest kid in the room. Any room. That’s why we still hear stories about how he’d step outside and join the neighborhood kids in Winnipeg for a rousing game of road hockey. Imagine that. An NHL all-star goofing around on snowy streets and shouting “Car!” whenever they’d catch sight of a Buick, Chevy or Ford rumbling down the road toward goal posts made of the white stuff.

That was Teemu.

We called him the Finnish Flash because of the lickety-split in his stride and the electricity he brought to NHL rinks, especially the Jets’ old barn on Maroons Road, but we should have been talking about his smile. That was the real Finnish flash.

Selanne arrived in River City in 1992, 22 years old and with an innocence that I don’t think he ever lost. He took Jets Nation on a magic carpet ride that winter, scoring a mind-popping 76 goals to remove Mike Bossy’s name from the record book, a freshman achievement that has not been challenged, nor is it likely to be. His rookie points total, 132, is second to only one other first-year player. That guy’s name is Gretzky, Wayne. But, in the eyes of the NHL, No. 99 was an unrookie because he had spent one season getting his feet wet in the World Hockey Association. Thus, the frosh records belong to Selanne.

Now that he has earned entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’ll be mentioned that the Finnish Flash was but a passing comet in Winnipeg. Here for a good time, not a long time. And, yes, hockey fans down Disneyland way have every right to claim Selanne as their own, because he spent 15 of his 21 NHL crusades with the Anaheim Ducks compared to parts of four in Jets colors. They even had a special night in his honour, raising his No. 8 to the rafters during a 90-minute salute at the Honda Center.

But we know different. He was loaner. Teemu is ours.

That’s just how it is when a guy lights up all those cold, dreary nights on the frozen tundra with Herculean performances, and when he steps outside to play road hockey with a bunch of urchins who have posters of him taped to their bedroom walls. All the while flashing that smile.

Just like he did on Monday when he took a phone and received the glad tidings from Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald.

I owe you big time beers, boys,” a beaming Selanne told McDonald.

Yup, that’s our guy Teemu. An absolute joy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s panic pick…the Andrew Ladd trade…this Finn’s not the Flash…and the building of a Stanley Cup champion

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Logan Stanley
Logan Stanley

I’m not sure what we are to make of Kevin Cheveldayoff this morning.

I mean, he who sits at the right hand of Grand Master Chipper got his man at the top of the National Hockey League entry draft on Friday night, selecting Finnish phenom Patrik Laine with his first shout, but that was a gimme. A blind squirrel could have dug up that acorn.

It’s what Chevy did for his second act that lends itself to head scratching.

Going in, Cheveldayoff owned three of the first 36 picks (Nos. 2, 22, 36) in the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenage talent. By the end of Day One, he owned only two of the first 78 (Nos. 2, 18). Say again? Chevy went from three of the first 36 picks to two of the first 78, not getting his third call until No. 79.

I’m no Einstein, but it occurs to me that this is a peculiar bit of mathematical gymnastics. Perhaps it’s the Jets’ version of new hockey analytics—four steps forward and 43 steps back.

Whatever, in trading up four spots to secure a long, tall drink of water named Logan Stanley, Chevy either performed some serious sleight-of-hand that no one saw coming (save for the pack of bird dogs he hires to ferret out le creme de la frozen pond) or he is guilty of a Sergei Bautin-type miscalculation.

Puck pundits who are paid to know such things had Stanley ranked anywhere from 22nd to 42nd, which means there can be just one logical explanation for Cheveldayoff flip-flopping first-round picks with the Philadelphia Flyers and, at the same time, frittering away the Jets’ second-round selection—his knee jerked. Badly.

Yes, the Jets need left-handed-shooting defencemen like Don Cherry needs a fashion consultant, but is the Windsor Spitfires rearguard a prospect of such loft that you surrender the No. 36 pick?

In time, of course, we will discover if the 6-feet-7 Stanley becomes a bookend for the 6-feet-7 Tyler Myers—stand those two side-by-side and stretch out their arms and they’ll reach from Portage and Main to Portage la Prairie—or a bust.

For now, though, it smells like a panic pick.

Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine

We can close the book on the Andrew Ladd trade. For those of you keeping score at home, the Jets packaged their former captain along with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison to Chicago in barter for Marko Dano and the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick. So, officially, it’s Ladd, Fraser and Harrison for Dano and Logan Stanley, but realistically it’s Ladd for Dano and Stanley.

Little-known facts about some of the Jets’ draft picks: If he could be another person for one day, Patrik Laine would be Roger Federer; Logan Stanley is afraid of snakes; Luke Green once raced motocross; Jacob Cederholm is afraid of spiders and the coolest person he’s ever met is Tie Domi (which would indicate the young Swede needs to get out more often and meet more people).

As Howie (Squeaker) Meeker was wont to say, “Stop it there! Stop it right there!” No more calling Patrik Laine the Finnish Flash, the Finnish Flash 2.0 or anything else that includes the word Flash. There’s only one Finnish Flash. You can see him in the Heritage Classic oldtimers game in October.

Speaking of Teemu Selanne, I’m not sure why so many knickers are in a knot because Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks was named the NHL’s top freshman at age 24. I don’t recall any such gnashing of the teeth when Selanne took home the Calder Trophy at age 22.

Jesse Puljujarvi
Jesse Puljujarvi

Hard to figure the Edmonton Oilers. No NHL outfit is in greater need of an upgrade on the blueline, but what does GM Peter Chiarelli do at the entry draft? He uses his first two shouts to take forwards, Jesse Puljujarvi and Tyler Benson. Will they ever learn?

In the final reckoning, the Oilers might have plucked the better of the two fab Finns at the top of the entry draft, but I’m glad the Jets landed Laine. Why? His name is easier to spell. I mean, it took me a year to get Byfuglien and Scheifele right, and Hellebuyck is still giving me fits. So I didn’t want to deal with Puljujarvi.

Food for thought: As much as Cheveldayoff likes to chirp about his draft-and-develop strategy, someone ought to tell Mark Chipman’s right-hand man that there’s more to building a champion than calling out names on the draft floor every June. For evidence, look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The outfit that won the Stanley Cup tournament earlier this month was equal parts draftee (12) and castoff (13). You don’t get the job done on home-grown talent alone.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.