Not the Same Old (Mighty) Ducks

Ah, 1993. Idiots didn’t text while driving. Facebook didn’t exist. Music was, well, grungy. And a bunch of guys in purple uniforms started playing hockey in the OC under the unlikely name of the Mighty Ducks. Sunday evening at Honda Center, formerly the Arrowhead Pond, those good old days were recreated.

Now, that claim, that those were the “good old days”, needs to be put into context, because in many ways, for this hockey team, the early days were anything but. The team didn’t make the playoffs their first season, nor the two after. They didn’t win their first game, and didn’t get that victory until five days later. Their first contest was a 7-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It was, at least, in front of a sellout crowd.

The coaches? Ron Wilson, Al Sims, and Tim Army. They would eventually lead the first-year team to a record of 33-46-5 and fourth spot in the Pacific Division. The year was not all bleak, however. They set a record for wins by a new franchise, tying Florida. And they got more road wins, 19, than a fledgling team ever had before that time.

The starting five: Alexei Kasatonov, Randy Ladouceur, Anatoli Semenov, Troy Loney, and Terry Yake. In goal was Guy Hebert. At the time, most people in the area probably would have read that name “Gee Heebert.” They would soon learn better.

The backup netminder, the one who actually got the team’s first win, was Ron Tugnutt. Both netminders, incidentally, were in attendance to commemorate the anniversary on Sunday night. That first year, Tugnutt won ten games, tied one, and lost 15. Hebert went 20-27-3. They did these feats in front of a largely full building, with average attendance that year at 98.9%, or 16989. As one person who had been a season ticket holder back then told IH Sunday night, “It took a couple of years for it to wear off. Until then, the building was full. After that, I could get a ticket in the parking lot for ten bucks.” Of course since then, the team has been to the Finals twice and won a Stanley Cup.

To again reference 1993, people were listening to Pearl Jam. Kurt Cobain was still alive. And Mr. Wendal was a popular song by Arrested Development. Those in attendance for the 20th anniversary game were treated to those sound delights and more. That music was some kind of great. So come to think of it, maybe progress isn’t such a good thing.

To those who might be saying 1993 wasn’t such a long time ago (and you’re gonna look really good in that mid-life Corvette, by the way), think about the following: There was a team in Hartford. There was one in Winnipeg—the one that ended up as Phoenix. The Ottawa Senators, the opponent for this 2013 game, were a one year-old team in 1993. That is, unless you count the original Sens NHL franchise, in which case, they had last won the Stanley Cup 70 years prior, in 1923.

Sunday’s game was preceded by the introduction of fifteen of the inaugural year’s players. Surprisingly, most of them looked youthful and fit, not like the old codgers that 20 years might have turned them into. Then the old-school captains and alternates dropped three pucks between the current captains’ sticks (Getzlaf and Spezza) to begin. Shortly after, the puck dropped for real, and the Sens showed speed early. Very early. Because it wasn’t half a minute in that the Ducks took the puck to the other end and forced a faceoff. Of the drop, it went wide right to Maroon, who put it to Corey Perry in the slot. He double-clutched and fired it into the net on a wrister. It was at 27 seconds.

Coach Paul MacLean of the Sens said after the game that “We didn’t start until 5:45, but the puck was dropped at 5:14.”

The Ducks scored again before five minutes had gone by, and the Ottawa coach switched netminders. So sudden was this that the starter, Anderson, was still in his crease when the backup, Robin Lehner, skated out to it. The starter turned around surprised. Perhaps he wasn’t expecting a hook this quick when Anderson had played the night before, stopping 47 shots in a 3-2 loss in San Jose.

That kind of shot production was also in the cards on Sunday. By the end of the first period, Anaheim had fired 24. Turns out, that was a club record for the first period. The team mark for any period is 26. They would later set a single-game mark as well.

Ottawa, until late in the going in P1, was on mark to fire about thirty, which is pretty average and has been for decades. But while they had 11, all was well for the Ducks. It was number 12 that hurt them. Ben Lovejoy of the Ducks squeezed left in the defensive zone. Bobby Ryan, wearing number six for Ottawa, headed right. The puck came off the boards high left from Corvo to Kyle Turris. He spotted Ryan, all alone, and fired a diagonal pass. The winger converted by slamming it into the open side of the net past Jonas Hiller. A chorus of boos followed.

Naturally, Ryan had been on display since the start of the game, at least to any eyes that weren’t on the Ducks and their (let’s face it) awful purple and green uniforms. The game was obviously his return to Anaheim, a place that, for one thing, must have been easier to play in than Ottawa will be. Press reports in Ottawa had seen him react to the panic of fans over his failure to score in the first two games of the year. His reaction showed that no matter the preparation, playing in a Canadian market is not at all what playing in a US city is. After the slow start, he potted goals in each of the next two games, and had two assists in total in four contests also. (OK, so a point a game pace, which, if anyone were checking is better than his typical average over his career.)

Ottawa gained some momentum off the goal, holding the play in the Anaheim end for the last bit of the period, but as one reporter said after as he questioned various Ottawa players about their eventual 4-1 loss, “the intermission came at the wrong time.”

As the period ended, Hiller took his mask off with a grimace that said he wanted the chance back, but he couldn’t have done anything any different to stop Ryan.

After the game, Ryan commented on the goal: “[The goal] felt good. It was a heck of a play by Turry [Kyle Turris] and I don’t know who gave the puck to him. I played here a long time, scored a lot of goals here. They all feel the same in this building, but this one meant a little more. Just wish I could have had five more.”

He also talked about being back, saying that he had noticed a lot of signs in warmup and familiar faces and that he had appreciated that.

But then he turned to commenting on his team. “When you’re down 2-0, you change the way you play. You’re playing catch-up with them, and that’s not the way to play.” He further talked about the team as a whole. “When you’re in a situation like this, you’re struggling to find your identity. Five games for me, and I’ve always known the Senators to be a hard-working, short, small-ice kind of team, and we’re not doing that. We’ve given up 110 shots in the last two games, and it’s just, there’s a lot that needs to be sorted out in a short period of time.”

The Ducks kept up the pressure, pouring on 24, 21, and 11 shots over periods one, two, and three. That gave them a club record that bested their 54 taken in March of 2009 versus Edmonton.

The 4-1 loss doesn’t look terrible on Ottawa’s record, but their coach later concurred with Ryan’s slightly panicked comment. His words were perhaps prompted by the spectre of Monday morning’s Ottawa Citizen, whose headlines surely will read with desperation as the tone. “We’d better do something to change things right now,” he said. The team is going to Phoenix, and he said with irony, “They must be looking forward to us coming to town. We’ve gotta do something to spoil that.”

He further commented on the identity issue as well. “For the past three seasons we’ve had an identity, but not now—we’ve got to do something to get back to that.”

On the other side of the aisle, Bruce Boudreau was happy with his team’s win but not willing to celebrate it too much, given how the other teams the Ducks compete against are doing. “It’s important not to get too high. You have to look at it—everybody in the West is winning,” he said.

The Ducks now have Calgary, Phoenix, and Dallas coming in with a night between each game, starting Wednesday. They’ll be back in their “new” uniforms, the ones introduced when the Mighty went away and subtly revised last year. In other words, they’ll no longer be mighty, but they will be focused on the job at hand. They’d better be, because once the homestand ends next Sunday, it’s a tough sled starting in Toronto and working their way all around the east coast ending in New York. The team will be away for about two weeks, and they’ll see these Senators again the 25th, in their third of eight games on enemy turf.

Ducks Notes

In 1993, Teemu Selanne was in the league. And it wasn’t even his rookie year.

On a sad note, people who never got to see the Mighty Ducks play: Wallace Stegner, Lillian Gish, Arthur Ashe, and Audrey Hepburn. All of them died early in 1993.

Oh, and that Bobby Ryan guy? He was six.

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