Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
The high-flying Anaheim Ducks flock to the Tradestocks Center tonight and the Blues better be braced for their arrival, ready and able to employ coach Hitchcock's strategy of using offense to create defense. This means hard-working forwards keeping the Ducks hemmed in their own end of the ice with effective fore-checking and pressure on the opposing defensemen, taking away their first-pass option. It means working the corners and generating take-aways. It means quick passes to open teammates and taking shots on goal whenever possible. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau had better have his ducks in a row if he expects to generate offense and snatch two points in the Western Conference standings from the Blues.
A hockey team in Anaheim was the brain-child of Michael Eisner, CEO of the Walt Disney Company. Eisner revitalized the aging, moribund production company that had suffered a theatrical malaise since the deaths of Walt and Roy Disney by recapturing Disney magic (and huge profits) with blockbuster movies such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Mighty Ducks (1992). He also expanded the marketing and promotional operations of the company, including theme parks in both Florida and France. This led to an easy collaboration with the NHL in 1993 to put a franchise in Orange County, just down the street from Disneyland. The NHL expanded that year to the Miami, Florida, area and needed an expansion club in the west to balance the conferences and schedule. So, the newly constructed Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim became the home of the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the name (and logo) selected directly from the hit Disney movie.
Anaheim's first in a long line of superior goaltenders was Guy Hebert (drafted from the Blues), who led the team to a respectable ninth place conference finish, narrowly missing the playoffs. Other notable draftees included defensemen Alexi Kasatonov and Randy Ladouceur and forwards Stu Grimson, Troy Loney and former St. Louis sparkplug Terry Yake (current Director of Alumni Relations for the Blues), who led the team in scoring that inaugural season. In the amateur draft, the Ducks selected Paul Kariya from the University of Maine. Kariya would join the team in 1994 and become the face of the franchise in 1995 when he scored 50 goals and 108 points. both career highs. In February, 1996, Teemu Selanne joined the team after an extremely successful trade with Winnipeg and the following season the Ducks made the playoffs for the first time. They were swept in the second round by the eventual Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings.
The not-so-mighty Ducks would not see success again until the 2002-03 season under new coach Mike Babcock. A seventh seed, Anaheim knocked off the Detroit in four games in the first round and then eliminated Dallas in six. In the conference finals, J.S. Giguere posted three shut-outs and almost single-handedly defeated Minnesota, allowing one goal against in a four game sweep. It took seven hard-fought games for the New Jersey Devils to take the Cup from the Cinderella Ducks, although Giguere did win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
A period of decline then ensued until 2005, when major changes were made. Disney sold the team and new owners Henry and Susan Samueli brought in Brian Burke as the new general manager. The following year, they changed the name of the team (losing the "Mighty") to Anaheim Ducks as well as the name of the arena to the Honda Center, selling the naming rights to the automotive giant. The logo and team uniforms were also transformed with a cleaner, more simple design and color scheme. Burke acquired Chris Pronger in a major preseason trade with Edmonton, who joined captain Scott Niedermayer to provide a formidable defense. Under coach Randy Carlyle, a potent offense (including Selanne, Corey Perry, Rob Niedermayer, Ryan Getzlaf and Andy McDonald) helped the Ducks come out of the gate to set an NHL record by earning at least a point in the first 16 games, going 12-0-4. Behind spectacular goaltending from Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov, Anaheim finished first in the Pacific Division and then rolled to the Stanley Cup Finals, eliminating Minnesota (4-1), Vancouver (4-1) and Detroit (4-2). It would take only five games for the Ducks to knock off the Ottawa Senators for the 2007 Cup, with Scott Niedermayer winning the Smythe as MVP.
Despite many changes, the one constant has been the presence of the team's mascot, Wild Wing, an anthropomorphized duck taken from the successful Disney television series. Being the Duck mascot is extremely dangerous as before one game, the daring drake was trapped 50 feet above the ice as his rigging got tangled, and he almost fell during his descent from the rafters. And in 1995 Wild Wing actually set himself ablaze while attempting to jump through a wall of fire during a stunt.
Duck soup for the Blues tonight? Yes, please, with quackers!