Seeing the Superstars

by | Nov 1, 2022

Just because a roster of 25 doesn’t pencil out to be a good hockey team doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to their games. And not for mercy or pity, but because you never know what’s going to happen. Fans of the Ducks should have learned this lesson by now, but it was reinforced on the back of the antics of Trevor Zegras, with the Toronto Maple Leafs looking on. (And standing flatly by while it happened, but let’s leave that for the Toronto media to grumble about. Or roar about, as the case might be.)

Zegras is a superstar in the making, no doubt. He’s also a bit of a hotdog, a player who expects himself to do well, and who shows off both his successes and his failings vividly for entire arenas’ worth of people to see. This was never more true than on the weekend. Early in the Toronto game, he missed a close-in chance to score. The puck flew up and over the net, instead of going in just under the bar. Before you know it, Zegras, is floating back to his own blue line, stick raised in the air, completely out of the play and not ready to receive a pass of any kind. He was lost in some kind of star-player revelry that he might have needed, but that didn’t help the Ducks bear down in the O-zone.

That’s called, “This is all about me,” and Zegras has played enough games in the NHL now, at 108, to know better. Then again, are you going to steal the guy’s emotion from him? Because that same passion is what beat the Leafs with two spectacular goals, one on a nearly clear breakaway that he popped into the top corner of the net, one on a rush down the left side, in OT, with a guy draped all over him. The way the game had been called, it was a dead-to-rights hook. No call. Didn’t matter, as Zegras managed to fling the puck up and under the bar on the long side, over the goalie’s glove, to secure the Ducks’ second win of the year.

You had to be there, and you could have been, should were you living in SoCal. Tickets to Ducks’ games are bargains, and there were a thousand or two empty seats to be had on this night. (And if this is convincing to you, know that there are scads of $22 tickets for the game where the team returns from the road to play Florida, though you can also pay $349 to sit at center ice, if that’s your scene.)

So what was the reaction? Showboating tends to get forgotten when you put your team on your shoulders and carry them to Beulah Land. Nobody was contemplating the bratty behavior of the scorned goal-scorer of period one, only celebrating the triumph of OT. (Speaking of shoulders, defenseman Jamie Drysdale tore one of his and will soon have surgery and miss four to six months.)

Zegras’ words after were, “I was so tired to begin with. I knew the guy caught me so I figured that that [defensemen] would not slide if he knew that guy was back-checking me, so I stuck my leg out and closed my eyes and tried to hit the net. Lucky enough, it went in.”

Luck isn’t exactly the thing for a player who now has 81 points (32-49) in those aforementioned 108 games. His points total last year was 61 in 75 games, or about .81 per game. This year, he’s leading the Ducks in goals, having six, with just one assist. That’s seven points in nine games, .77 points per game. Is that a decline?

No, it’s a reflection of the Ducks’ overall lack of offense. The team has scored 20 goals thus far in nine games. The league is led by Los Angeles, with 41, though they’ve been terrible so far at keeping the puck out of their own net (excepting versus St. Louis Monday, when they allowed just one). Zegras can take pride in the fact that he leads the Ducks with six, trailed by Troy Terry, with four. Terry, though, has kept up his pace of last season, notching ten points thus far, to average 1.1 per game. Again, that’s on a team with little appreciable offense.

Coach Eakins did not point to Zegras particularly in crediting his team with good play after their second win, but to the fact that the younger players and older alike had acted as leaders in practice of late. He also credited his team with sticking with things when they looked bad. The Ducks trailed the Leafs at one point, 3-1. Even after they tied the game at threes and went ahead by a goal, that marker was called back for what appeared to be an entirely marginal goalie interference call.

But no matter to the cover boy of the NHL video game everyone’s talking about. It only gave “Z” a chance to shine. And it reminded fans of what I started with here, that you need to go to the games even if your team hasn’t done any recent winning.

Here’s Eakins once more: “To be able to grab a win at home in front of our fans who stuck with us right through to the end certainly feels good.”

And to see Zegras put in a memorable performance is something to be treasured. I know it meant a lot to me to see this for myself, even though I’m a fan of hockey, not of any particular team. So go. Celebrate. Ride the star when he pouts, but have fun and know that you just might see something you’ll talk about for a long time.

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