Proteau: Winnipeg loves Selanne the person as much as Selanne the player

Adam Proteau
136034439 Selanne

You get so caught up in Teemu Selanne’s slew of hockey achievements – Stanley Cup champion, Olympic silver medalist, surefire Hockey Hall of Famer – you sometimes forget this is someone who was a Kindergarten teacher.

But Teemu Selanne is many things, teacher included. And tonight in Winnipeg, he gives his final lesson to a city that loved every minute he taught there.

The mania over Selanne’s final game in Winnipeg began the moment the NHL schedule was released, but you couldn’t see it for public display until Selanne and his Anaheim Ducks teammates arrived in Manitoba Sunday morning. Ducks winger Dustin Penner tweeted a picture of Selanne surrounded by fans at the team’s hotel. He obliged them all for a moment, recognizing what it means to be a fan and, more importantly, what it means to be a professional player.

After all these years, he still is a god in Winnipeg, yet still behaves like a mortal. They love him there for what he’s done on the ice, but that humility and good humor that Selanne has made his hallmark in his 21-season career is what people at the MTS Centre will celebrate at least in equal measure.

Those unfamiliar with 1980s hockey history may be tempted to ask, why the love affair between Selanne and Winnipeg? The 43-year-old Selanne played only 231 regular-season and six playoff games as a Jet (from his rookie NHL season in 1992 to 1996). When he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2017, it likely will be as a Duck.

But I doubt anybody in Winnipeg would begrudge him if that’s the choice he makes. Mere statistics don’t take into account the manner by which Selanne conducted himself during his stint with the Jets. Although his goals made the highlight reels, it was his aura that resonated with people. Selanne never acted as if his talent made him bigger than the city, never sulked or pouted, never made the locals feel as if they were fortunate to watch him. (Even though they were.) He represented them with pride. That’s all Jets fans have ever wanted.

Those who know him best describe Selanne as a big kid. But he’s the best kind of big kid: not a babbling, baby-talking Adam Sandler type, but a respectful, thankful and joyful kind. And while it was clear he derived great pleasure from hockey, he carried that attitude off the ice and strived to share the wonder and blessings of his life with others.

It was always a joy to watch Teemu Selanne play. But it’s been more of a joy to realize that an amazing person and hockey ambassador was under that famous No. 8 jersey the entire time. That person is who is being saluted Sunday night in Manitoba.

The player was incredible. The man was better.