As told to: Joe Pack
When Teemu Selanne scored his record-breaking 54th goal as a rookie in 1992-93 with the Winnipeg Jets, it was on an assist from Tie Domi. Phil Housley had just taken down a Quebec Nordiques player on a breakaway. And Dallas Eakins, also a rookie, nearly caught Teemu’s celebratory flying glove as the first one to embrace him after the milestone.I was on the ice with Teemu and Phil. I was never an offensive guy, maybe even too much on the defensive side of the puck and that’s probably why I was out there with those two.
Teemu’s is such an incredible record now, looking back. That night, Mike Lalor turned to me on the ice and he said, ‘This record is never, ever going to be broken again.’ And I think he’s right. The one thing I’ll never forget is how loud that building was when he scored that goal and how loud it stayed for so long. It wasn’t a big roar that then died, it just kept going and going. Just an incredible experience to be a passenger on that wild ride.
It would be interesting to go back and see how many times Phil assisted on Selanne’s goals. Phil was an incredible defenceman, a guy who could easily play forward as well. An excellent skater with an unbelievable eye and reach.
Phil could stop on a dime and the puck would come off his stick like a rocket ship, right on the tape. Every time. They had a great, great connection, those two.
Along the way, you’re constantly being connected with people. A lot of people come and go in this game, you move around as a player, you move around as a coach. A few people stand out. Phil was always a very inviting teammate with a smile on his face, a real happy guy at the rink. That was important for a guy like me especially, I wasn’t a full-time NHL player. When I was there, he really made me feel welcome, feel part of the team.
I was a defensive guy but the thing Phil was always trying to do was show me a different side of the game. He was almost like a secondary coach, as was Randy. Randy Carlyle that year was a major league influence on me. Phil was a really good penalty killer too, and in my head I seem to remember he would kill penalties as a forward sometimes. It wasn’t like Phil was a one-trick pony, he could defend with his quickness and his smarts.
He would be able to escape checking so quickly. He’d use this tight-turn spin-off play all the time. It’s guys like Phil Housley who pushed the limits of defencemen, especially in USA hockey.
Eakins left the Jets organization the following summer but returned in 1995-96, the last season before the club moved to Phoenix, Arizona.
It felt like I was going home. Even though I wasn’t in Winnipeg those first few years (in the AHL), I was in the city for training camps and was part of the organization. I played 16 years pro, and looking back I think I probably made two mistakes. Number one was leaving the Jets as a free agent. When I went back in 1995-96 I still wasn’t a full-time guy.
The Jets leaving Winnipeg was such a surreal experience. That last game, we got beat out by Detroit and I was a scratch that night. The fans were losing their team but we were losing a city. We always enjoyed playing there. There was a little excitement in going to a new market but there was more sadness in leaving one.
I played my very last pro game in the American Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose, so my connection to Winnipeg is a great one. Everybody talks about the cold – I think it’s a city that’s warm hearted. They love their hockey.
JOE PACK is a freelance writer based in Toronto and a rec-league rent-a-goalie.
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