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.

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About jocks jumping the MRI queue…those “coddled” millionaire Winnipeg Jets…a dude named Dart Guy…it isn’t The Forsberg…giving the Soviets the finger…Centre of the Universe snobbery…and Gomer Pyle sings the anthem

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

Okay, hands up anyone who is genuinely shocked that professional athletes pulling in great gobs of American greenbacks have been allowed to jump the MRI queue in Canada?

Seriously. If word that play-for-pay jocks receive “preferential treatment” is a revelation to you, then you’d probably be interested in knowing that a guy named Trudeau is prime minister in the True North but his first name isn’t Pierre. I mean, hellooooo. How long have you been napping?

Pro athletes and “preferential treatment” have been hand-in-glove since David threw down on Goliath. You think David ever had to buy his own pints and chow after scoring that upset?

But, hey, what’s happening in Manitoba isn’t about free bar or restaurant tabs, is it? It’s about health care and the deified, millionaire members of the Winnipeg Jets and the regular Joe-salaried workers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. According to the provincial auditor general, 59 jocks were allowed to jump the MRI queue for 149 scans in an eight-year period (2008-2016). Allow me to do the math: That averages to less than one athlete and 1.5 scans per month.

Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers are so low.

Look, I don’t blame anyone for being PO’d if they’ve been on a wait list for four months only to see Jacob Trouba or Matt Nichols limp in and go directly to the scanner. It isn’t fair. But in Winnipeg, that’s the way it has to be if you want a National Hockey League and Canadian Football League franchise.

In the interests of full disclosure, I had an MRI scan done on my brain slightly more than a year ago. The good news is, they found a brain. The bad news is, results showed soft tissue in my grey matter, the result of the combined nuisances of multiple concussions (10) and aging. Hopefully, that explains a lot of things, if not everything.

This whole MRI thing has really gotten up Paul Wiecek’s nose. His pallor surely must be as ashen as his hair, because the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has called out Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman for the Winnipeg Jets owner’s silence on the issue, and he describes the local hockey heroes as a “tiny cadre of coddled millionaires.” Coddled? Coddled? You want to talk about coddled? During my time in the media we received free beer, free food, free books, free music, free tickets, free clothing, free merchandise, free access to back-stage gatherings, free access to doors that were closed to the regular rabble, free everything. And, hey, some might even have been pushed to the front of the queue at the doctor’s office. I can’t say what, if anything, has changed, but it’s my guess that the media Gravy Train is still chugging along.

Unlike Wiecek, I’m not interested in what Puck Pontiff Chipman has to say about MRI scans. I’m more interested in what he thinks about his general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not being able to accomplish in six years what Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton McDavids and Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in two years.

Dart Guy

This spring’s Stanley Cup skirmishing has been strange. How strange? Well, let’s put it this way: The Chicago Blackhawks are out of the playoffs after only four games and Dart Guy is still in them.

I don’t know what to make of this Dart Guy dude. I mean, he has a Maple Leafs logo painted on his face, he sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips and he becomes some kind of cult figure in the Republic of Tranna? Sometimes I wish Andy Warhol hadn’t been right about those 15 minutes of fame.

Why do broadcasters and writers insist on describing a goal with a one-handed deke “the Forsberg?” I know for certain that I saw Alexei Zhamnov of the Jets perform that very move, more than once, before I ever saw Peter Forsberg do it. I also saw Kent Nilsson do it before Forsberg.

This from Don Cherry during one of his Coachless Corner segments on Hockey Night in Canada last week: “The last Coach’s Corner, I said to you kids, ‘Don’t taunt or laugh when you’re winning.’ I said, ‘Never do that, kids.’ Kids, it’s not the Canadian way. You never laugh or taunt your opponent.” Grapes is right. The Canadian way is to give them the middle-finger salute, like Alan Eagleson and Frosty Forristall did to the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. We don’t taunt them when we’re losing, either. We break their ankles (hello, Bobby Clarke).

Guaranteed to happen in life: 1) Donald Trump will tweet; 2) Adam Sandler will make bad movies; 3) a Bruce Boudreau-coached team will be eliminated from the Stanley Cup tournament.

P.K. Subban is still playing hockey (suprise, surprise). Shea Weber isn’t. Does that mean the Nashville Predators got the better of the Montreal Canadiens in their exchange of all-world defenceman? No. It isn’t Weber’s fault the Habs’ forwards score less often than the Pope swears.

Postmedia scribe Steve Simmons, whose work often appears on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, has provided us with a tweet that serves as a shining example of the self-absorbed, Centre of the Universe mentality that exists in the Republic of Tranna: “An absolutely stacked Canadian Sports Hall of Fame class is introduced on the wrong day. Not their fault. Toronto is Leafs consumed today.” In other words, the rest of the country be damned. Stevie says any national news of significance must be put on hold whenever Auston Matthews and pals are playing a hockey game in the 416 area code. All you good people in Winnipeg, you can wait a day to learn that your speedskating golden girl, Cindy Klassen, is among the 2017 CSHofF inductees. Ditto for you fine folks in Hanna, Alta. We’ll fill you in on native son Lanny McDonald after Auston and pals have had their fun. I must say, for a guy who once called Calgary home and ought to know better, the ego-fuelled Simmons has developed into a first-class Tranna snob.

In the week’s social news, Serena Williams announced she’s preggers and Ronda Rousey announced she’s engaged. The nerve of those women. I mean, don’t they realize the Maple Leafs are still playing hockey? Nobody wants to hear about a mommy bump or a diamond ring unless Auston Matthews happens to be the father or fiance, right Stevie?

Barney, Andy and Luke Bryan.

Well, golleeee and shezam! I finally figured out who country guy Luke Bryan sounds like when he tries to sing—Gomer Pyle. I swear, when I heard Bryan perform the American anthem prior to a Nashville Predators-Blackhawks skirmish, the first thing I thought of was good, ol’ Gomer Pyle pumping gas and visiting Andy and Barney at the sheriff’s office in Mayberry. How Bryan became one of the giants of the country music industry is as much a mystery as how Donald Trump got the keys to the White House.

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

 

Winnipeg Sport Media: Oh, nuts! Tiger Williams is naked and pawing his private parts

Having been there and done that, I know what it’s like to be part of the the jock sniffer’s gig in the build-up to a major sporting event.

Basically, you write a lot but say little that the lumps on bar stools around town don’t already know. It is all so much blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. By the time they drop the puck, you’re ready for a few pints and a long nap. But, hey, your cranky editor demands that the space between the display ads be filled, so you search and probe for story angles that might include everything from how often Jacob Trouba trims his toenails to whether or not Dustin Byfuglien likes onions on his cheese burgers.

It’s a grind and I do not envy the boys on the beat who have been cranking out copious amounts of copy in advance of tonight’s opening argument in the best-of-seven shinny disagreement between the Winnipeg Jets and Disney Ducks.

Quite frankly it’s overkill. I mean, seriously. Twenty-eight pages in the Winnipeg Sun devoted to all things Jets and Ducks? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a hockey game, right?

Ah, but this isn’t just the playoffs for the Ducks and Jets, is it? Nope. It’s also showtime in the rag trade, which is to say the newspaper biz. Why, this is such a big deal that even news side guys from both the Sun and Winnipeg Free Press have weighed in on the matter. Tom Brodbeck of the Sun felt obliged to remind us that the Jets are a unifying force in River City, while Bartley Kives of the Freep referenced Winnipeg’s legendary whiteout, submitting that the sight of a building bulging with 15,004 Jets junkies adorned in white garments is “creepy” in a Nazi sort of way.

I don’t recall newsies joining the cock-a-doodle-to chorus back in the day, but different things float the boat in jock journalism in the 21st century.

Whatever, although the Jets and Ducks have yet to exchange hostilities in the marathon known as the Stanley Cup tournament, the scribes are in playoff mode, sans the chin whiskers. Both the Sun and Freep have dispatched two newshounds apiece to Orange County to chronicle the early goings-on, and that number shall swell once the fray finds its way to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie and River City, which has been a National Hockey League playoff-free zone for the past 19 years.

By that time, the Jets and Ducks shall be two games into their to-and-fro and, hopefully, the yadda, yadda, yadda will focus on the events of the first two thrusts rather than the blah, blah, blah that has been served up to this point.

Covering the NHL playoffs is, as mentioned, a grind, and is further complicated for River City scribes due to a two-hour time difference between home and Anaheim. Yet, it can also be most rewarding if the participants provide the right kind of material.

My lasting memory from working the Stanley Cup tournament dates back to the early 1980s, and it stems from an off-ice occurrence as opposed to something that transpired on the freeze.

I was in the employ of the Calgary Sun and the Flames were engaged in bitter combat with the Vancouver Canucks. In that particular series, Tigers Williams of the Canucks and Lanny McDonald of the Flames had beaten the bejeebers out of one anothef four four games. I’m here to tell you that they tattooed each other black, blue and every other color of the rainbow. When it was over, I made my way to the Vancouver changing room for a word of wisdom, or two, from Tiger. I found him sitting solo in a corner stall, as naked as a porn start on a movie set, and I introduced myself.

“Ya,” he said, “I know who you are. The stuff you’ve been writing on the series has been fair.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “What I’d like to talk about is…”

“Oh, wait,” he said sharply. “Just a second.”

He then stood, reached into the left pocket of a sports jacket, withdrew a gold watch and tugged it on to his left wrist.

“There,” he said, “now we can talk.”

With that, he sat and began scratching his balls and penis while I lobbed questions his way. Straight goods. I had a very hairy, bare-naked man (save for the wrist watch) sitting before me pawing at his not-so-private parts during the entirety of a 10-minute chin-wag. It didn’t occur to him for a scant second that his behavior was boorish in the extreme.

I recall thinking, as I exited the Canucks’ boudoir, “Oh, man, I didn’t sign up for this.”

The reason why Tiger Williams could not submit to my interrogation without first strapping on his wrist watch escaped me that night, as it does to this day. It was a baffling bit of business, but I must report that he was as obliging and polite as a naked man pawing at his private parts can possibly be.

Somehow, I don’t believe the boys and girls on the beat will be confronted with a similar scenario in the next fortnight, but if so, I remind them that what happens in the room stays in the room.

I mean, I realize they’ll be trying to fill 28 pages of Jets copy, but hopefully they would kindly spare us the intimate details of an encounter of the Tiger kind. We really don’t need to know if it’s true that all men are created equal, do we?

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.