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Hey, Wait! My Favorite Hockey Team Is in the Conference Finals

May 10th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I follow ice hockey in fits and starts. It is difficult to keep track of the sport on this side of the Atlantic; it’s not like it’s background buzz in generic sports news, over here.

Also, at my last job, “hockey”, without a modifier, was assumed to be field hockey. No. Really. (India used to be really good at it.) In North America, there is hockey and field hockey. In Asia, there is hockey and then there is ice hockey.


Paying attention a little bit, here in France, because I can see snippets of pucks on the cable package we have.

And, to be honest, I really enjoy a particular National Hockey League statistic, the one about how no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1994.

Canada is nuts about hockey; loony about hockey. And it has had to suffer through 21 seasons of American teams winning the Cup. Several of those championships were won by teams located in hockey-blase Sun Belt cities like Tampa and Dallas and Raleigh, N.C., and Anaheim and Los Angeles — twice.

So, a week ago I began checking scores to see which Canadian teams were still alive in the playoffs, and I found Ottawa and Edmonton, and the latter was playing the Anaheim Ducks.

Which actually is my favorite NHL club, if I were to pick one.

Like many things pertaining to fandom, my preferences were based on random factors.

–We were given tickets to a luxury box at a Ducks game, sometime in the mid-1990s, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected I would.

–The post-Gretzky Los Angeles Kings, who lost to Montreal in 1994, the last time a Canadian team won a championship, got bad when the Mighty Ducks, as they were known from their founding, in 1993, till 2005, had some good clubs. Whenever the Ducks made the playoffs, I would cover some of their playoffs matches. So, some familiarity.

–I like their arena. It was originally known as the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, but then it went to the Honda Center and, either way, it was easy to get into, the players were friendly, the media crew was competent, the arena had a dependably excellent media dinner.

–Two guys: Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.

Kariya was the first Ducks superstar. I had contact with him at the 1994 Olympics (the last time the NHL stars did not play), in Lillehammer. Kariya was a kid of 19, and he led Canada to a silver medal. We knew he was headed for Anaheim, and he was really good, and he demonstrated that for most of a decade.

He and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere led the Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, against the New Jersey Devils. The Ducks won all three of their home games, and Kariya showed toughness after coming back to the ice after a brutal hit by Scott Stevens, in a Game 6 victory, but New Jersey won the Cup in seven games.

(I had been covering the Ducks at home, in the earlier rounds and was offered the chance by my editor to follow them throughout the Stanley Cup finals — which was the only offer to travel I ever turned down, as a journalist. It entailed three round trips to Jersey, and six cross-continent flights in 15 days, and I thought that through and knew I was close to burnout, at the time. I do not regret my decision.)

And then Teemu Selanne.

Hockey is a rare sport where stars often are the nicest guys. Well, pretty much all hockey players are relentlessly friendly. (One of my theories is that all their aggression is left out on the ice. My other theory is that they are nice guys because most of them are Canadian.)

Anyway, Selanne was back with the Ducks, post-Kariya, and in 2006-07 they were just really good. Selanne was the main man, the respected elder, but the club also had the young Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and two beasts on defense, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, and Giguere was still the goalie.

Selanne by then was a month short of 37, and people who knew him really like him and couldn’t help wanting him to be part of a championship for the first time.

The Ducks dominated the playoffs about as much as any NHL team has over the past generation, eliminating Minnesota and Vancouver in five games each, taking out Detroit in six and then overpowering Ottawa in five games, winning the decisive game 6-2.

And this is the part I remember best: A few days later, several of the more prominent Ducks, including Selanne, went to Children’s Hospital Orange County, and took the Stanley Cup.

The players went from room to room, and met some children who were seriously ill, and I remember all of them brightening as the big guys in Ducks sweaters appeared, and the kids were able to touch the Cup.

It was the sort of selfless thing hockey guys do, especially Selanne, and the memory of it has stuck with me for a decade.

Now that the Ducks have have come back from 0-2 down to knock out Edmonton in seven games, setting up a conference final with the Nashville Predators … I would like to see them go ahead and win two more series — and a championship.

Ducks fans would love to see the Stanley Cup return to Anaheim, and I bet the kids at the hospital would be thrilled to have some championship hockey visitors, too.




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