Selanne's impact grows on kids, magazines, Jets '93's top rookie scores big off ice, too

October 06, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Washington Capitals defenseman Kevin Hatcher stood in the hotel gift shop yesterday afternoon, staring.

"Look at this," he said, pointing to the magazine rack. "Teemu Selanne is on the cover of every hockey magazine here."

His picture is on the cover of magazines. His name on the lips of National Hockey League fans. His ability on the mind of every NHL defenseman in the league.

And it is only October.

"It's not just one thing about him -- though I think his speed is the most important," said Hatcher, who, with his Capitals teammates, will see Selanne tonight in the NHL season opener for both teams. "He has a good release and shot, and he's got good touch around the net. The way to stop him is to hit him and slow him down -- if you can catch him."

Last season, Selanne, 5 feet 9, 159 pounds, used all his assets to become known as the Winnipeg Jets' Flying Finn. He won the NHL's Calder Cup as Rookie of the Year. He annihilated Mike Bossy's rookie goal-scoring record of 53, by getting 79, which also tied Buffalo's Alexander Mogilny for the league lead.

He did a similar number on Peter Stasny's rookie points record of 109 by totaling 132, and he was also a first-team All-Star.

While attending a Jets "Goals for Kids" reception Monday evening, Winnipeg coach John Paddock looked over at his second-year man, who was signing autographs, and slowly shook his head in wonder.

"Yeah, he's a very good hockey player," Paddock said. "But he's an even better person. It's very rare, you know. He wants to win more than he wants to set records.

"All the commercials, the interviews, the money -- none of it has gone to his head. Gretzky is like that. He never changed. And Teemu is like that. It must be God-given."

This is not just coach's flattery. Selanne, whose name is pronounced TAY-moo Suh-LAHN-ay, is soft-spoken, gracious and generous, with his time and his money.

As a star in Finland, before coming to the NHL, he made millions in endorsements and commercials and gave all of it to the Children's Hospital of Helsinki.

With the Jets, he has continued his generosity at home. At the end of last season, he gave the money he received from hockey awards to the Goals For Kids Foundation, which recently donated a machine for the Children's Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care unit on his behalf.

This season, Pizza Hut will give the foundation $200 for every goal Selanne scores, and he will match it.

He is not what many consider a typical European hockey player.

He is speed and grace, but he is also sound and fury.

"He could be our toughest player," said Paddock. "He delivered three or four of the hardest hits of last season. He could play like Jeremy Roenick [Chicago's hard-hitting forward] if we wanted him to. But we want his energy spent on the offensive game."

When kids in his neighborhood knock on his front door, Selanne answers.

"They come and ask if I can come out and play, so I go out and play street hockey with them," Selanne said, his eyes bright, as he looks forward to more games on Winnipeg's ice-covered side streets this winter.

He says it is fun. The kids think it is terrific and have their clothes autographed by the biggest star to hit Winnipeg since Bobby Hull.

"I had one parent come up to me at a game and tell me street hockey is getting to be a very expensive game," said Jets general manager Mike Smith, who took Selanne as the 10th pick overall in the 1988 draft. "He said every piece of clothing his kid has has a Selanne autograph on it, and the kid won't let him wash his clothes. They have to keep buying more."

Smith smiles.

"I'm not going to worry about Teemu until I hear he no longer plays street hockey."

Not even Selanne is worried.

"I didn't come here last year thinking I wanted to score goals," he said. "I came thinking I wanted to play my best. I wanted to prove I could do well, and maybe there was some pressure from that. But I did it already, so there is no problem now.

"What is nice is that I know I can play this level and that my teammates and I play good together. We are dreaming of the Stanley Cup, and it is nice to wake up every day and start to do something about it."

TOP-SCORING ROOKIES

The top 10 all-time point- scoring rookies:

Player ..... ..... Team ... Yr .... Pts

Teemu Selanne ..... Win .. 92-93 .. 132

Peter Stastny ..... Que .. 80-81 .. 109

Dale Hawerchuk .... Win .. 81-83 .. 103

Joe Juneau ........ Bos .. 92-93 .. 102

Mario Leimeux ..... Pit .. 84-85 .. 100

Neal Broten ....... Min .. 81-82 .. 98

Bryan Trottier ... N.Y.I.. 75-76 .. 95

Barry Pederson .... Bos .. 81-82 .. 92

Joe Nieuwendyk .... Cal .. 87-88 .. 92

Mike Bossy ....... N.Y.I.. 77-78 .. 91

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