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As anniversaries go, this one will always be a little bittersweet for me.
Nine years ago on this day, my mom passed away after a year-long battle with lung cancer. One of my reasons for moving down here and taking this job with the Ducks in 2005 was to be closer to her and my dad in her final months. And I know she would have loved to see what I experienced in this building on the night of June 6, 2007.
So you can imagine that when I watched Chris Pronger carrying the puck from behind the net with the seconds ticking down to zero, Ryan Getzlaf shaking his gloves off his hands (looking like an excited little boy) and jumping into J.S. Giguere's arms, the crowd noise reaching a level like none I'd ever heard before, fireworks popping, black and orange confetti falling from the sky and the victory song from "Rocky" coming on ... well, you can imagine it was a little emotional for me. Heck, it was emotional for all of us in the building that night.
And my father -- the guy who grew up on the East Coast rooting for Gump Worsley, Rocket Richard and the New York Rangers, who played hockey in high school, who went to some of the first Mighty Ducks games in 1993 and remembers thinking the Pond was too pretty for a hockey arena -- was here that night. He's been here for countless other home games since then.
He was part of that roaring crowd, he saw the fireworks, picked confetti out of his hair (and still has some of it under glass at home over a 2007 Ducks team photo), saw the Stanley Cup being passed around by the players on his favorite team -- his son's team. When all of it finally died down that night and he was heading out of the arena, I called him on his cell phone. He answered it with one word:
Eight years later, I can still remember it well. It really was unbelievable.
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One more thing:
The final horn that night sounded at 7:35 p.m. Pacific time -- the exact moment the Ducks officially became Stanley Cup champions. So when the clock strikes 7:35 tonight, maybe call a friend, turn to a loved one, someone who shared that magical night with you -- and propose a toast.
I know I will.
Here's a look at MTS Centre at puck drop, as well as a great shot of two of the few Ducks fans in the building Monday night.
(Photo credit: Kyle Shohara)
But after the Ducks broke Jets fans' hearts for the third straight game with another comeback and a dramatic overtime victory, it seems some in Winnipeg are turning to a higher power for Game 4. These photos have been bouncing around social media the past day or so.
Hey, whatever works.
But few people outside of the city of Plymouth, Michigan know this isn't the first time Rakell has scored a big playoff overtime game-winner. Pete Krupsky, the Director of Communications and Community Relations for the former Plymouth Whalers (which recently became the Flint Firebirds) of the Ontario Hockey League, reminds us that Rakell had a mammoth one for them exactly two years ago yesterday.
On April 21, 2013, a then 19-year-old Rakell scored at 10:06 of double overtime to give the Whalers a 4-3 win over the London Knights (Corey Perry's former team) in Game 2 of the OHL Western Conference Finals. A few months later, the former first round pick (30th overall) made his debut with the Ducks, going without a goal in 18 regular season games, but scoring his first NHL goal in a Game 5 victory over Dallas in the First Round.
Here's a look back at Rakell in that game with Plymouth as well as during a more relaxed time:
The schools have in turn submitted photos of their students taking part, and we've put the best ones into a gallery here.
Here's one of our favorites, from Hermosa Drive Elementary in Fullerton:
That first game at the NHL level is a fantasy for every rising young hockey player, but for Noesen (whose name is pronounced STEH-fan NAY-sehn), it was the payoff of two years of incredibly arduous work. The 22-year-old Texas native had to fight back from not one, but two devastating injuries that limited him to just 25 AHL games the past two seasons.
In October of 2013, he underwent major knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL and came back to play just four playoff games at the end of the Norfolk Admirals' season. The following October, Noesen was cut with a skate in a game against Manchester and lacerated his Achilles tendon (commence cringing now), keeping him out another four months.
“My mental game has been pretty strong,” understates Noesen. “Going through this, it was a different type of development. It was more of a maturing development. It was more focused on my overall strength and trying to get my mental game strong. I feel like I’ve accomplished that.”
The connection between Noesen and Anaheim is an interesting one. The Ducks had their eye on the winger going into the 2011 NHL Draft and were all set to take him with the 22nd pick when Ottawa snatched him one pick earlier. Anaheim ultimately traded down and got center Rickard Rakell, who was actually a linemate of Noesen's with the Plymouth Whalers, who are set to become the Flint (Mich.) Firebirds.
The Ducks ultimately got their man two summers later, when Anaheim traded Bobby Ryan to the Senators for Noesen, Jakob Silfverberg and a 2014 first round pick that became Nick Ritchie.
Fast-forward two years -- and countless hours of rehab -- later, and there was Noesen making his long-awaited debut at Honda Center, just missing on a scoring chance in the second period of a 4-2 defeat to the Avs.
"I definitely had a little bit of jitters in the beginning," Noesen said afterward. "As the game went on, it’s starts to be hockey and those feelings go away. It really was a dream come true."
Here's a little more on Noesen:
Favorite NHL player growing up
Mike Modano. I’m from Texas, and he did a lot for our community in Dallas. Brett Hull was also a guy everybody looked up to as well.
Favorite hockey moment of your career
Probably getting drafted. It was kind of a surprise where I went, so it was fun. I had an idea that I was going to go pretty early, but I wasn’t really sure. You never really know. I got a text from my agency saying I was going to be the next pick, and I got really excited. My family started getting really pumped up too, so it was fun.
I have a lot. I like being myself before games, but there are too many too list. I always put my left stuff on before my right stuff. That’s one I can share.
Sports you’ve played besides hockey
I played a little bit of football growing up. I was a quarterback, but I broke my finger one too many times.
Miracle. That’s everyone’s favorite. Slap Shot too.
Favorite TV shows
I’m really into Sons of Anarchy right now. I’m really into Breaking Bad now. I like Friday Night Lights, being from Texas.
I’m a big country music guy. I’m big into hip hop too.
Someone on your iPod you’re ashamed of
I’ve got to admit I’ve got a little “Barbie Girl” by Aqua on there.
Anything chicken. I’m a steak and potatoes kind of guy.
Favorite Orange County restaurants
I like Saddle Ranch. Lazy Dog is good too. It’s got a modern, laid-back sort of feel.
Favorite vacation spot
Last summer I went to the British Virgin Islands with my family and one of my buddies, and that was pretty cool.
Fans who tweeted with that hashtag had their tweets and photos displayed at Honda Center and on the Fox Sports West broadcast. Meanwhile, fans submitted questions to Fox Sports West analyst Guy Hebert using the hashtag #AskGuy, and he answered several of them on air. During the first intermission, George Parros took part in a Twitter Q&A answering questions submitted by fans using #AskGeorge, and you can see that chat here.
One unique aspect of the night was the Ducks players wearing jerseys during warmups that listed their Twitter handles on the backs, and the Ducks were the first NHL team ever to do that. Those who aren't on Twitter had either @AnaheimDucks or #NHLDucks on their backs, though Corey Perry (#ScoreyPerry) and Sami Vatanen (#TheVatman) had their own unique hashtags that are used often by fans on Twitter. Here are some photos, and here is a mention of it on last night's SportsCenter. Cam Fowler wore the lone #DucksSocial jersey, and we held a contest in which we awarded the jersey to the fan who tweeted the best photo of Fowler wearing it. Here is the nicely done winning entry.
The jerseys, by the way, were autographed by the player who wore them and put on sale in the Ducks Team Store (there are some still remaining).
And oh yeah, it certainly didn't hurt that the Ducks routed the visiting Oilers 5-1 to claim a third straight Pacific Division title.
During the first intermission, we ran a segment on the video board in which the Ducks read harsh tweets about themselves. In case you missed it, here it is (and it's spectacular).
UPDATE: There has been some negative reaction on social media to the video because of an accusation that the tweets we used were fake. Full disclosure: Some of the tweets we used were edited, enhanced, changed a little bit or two tweets were combined into one -- all so we could get the best reactions possible from the players. That’s the reason why if you searched on Twitter for each tweet, you may not have seen them pop up. The point of the whole thing was to provide entertainment, let's not forget.
When he was granted a wish by the Make-A-Wish foundation, he knew immediately he wanted to go to Anaheim and see the Ducks play in person.
The 14- year-old from Beverly, Mass. (about 20 minutes outside Boston) was set to go in October to see a Ducks game and meet the team. Unfortunately, that week a couple Ducks players were diagnosed with the mumps, and he was unable to visit the Ducks locker room (the rest of the trip went ahead as planned). When his two favorite players -- Cam Fowler and Corey Perry -- heard the news, they wanted to make sure that the team made it up to Shaelin when the Ducks played the Bruins in March in Boston.
This morning at TD Garden, Shaelin received the royal treatment. He rode to the morning skate with Fowler and Perry, received his own locker in the Ducks locker-room, went to the gameday team meeting and watched the skate, followed by lunch with the team. Shaelin will be back at TD Garden to watch the Ducks take on the Bruins tonight.
Earlier this month I made my annual visit to Oak Grove Elementary School, whose principal, Jill O’Connell-Bogle, is a longtime family friend. There I spoke in front of approximately 275 fourth- and fifth-graders about what I do for the Ducks, and I spent most of the time answering questions from the kids, some harder to answer than others.
The Oak Grove visit is always made even more fun by the fact that one of the teachers, Mr. Elliott, is a massive Kings fan who encourages his students to pass on that passion with their questions. This was of course much easier to take before the Kings won two Stanley Cups in two seasons, and just so happened to knock off the Ducks on their way to the second one.
As is custom in the days following my visit to the school, I receive fantastic thank-you notes from each and every student. And I read every one.
Once again, this year's batch was incredibly entertaining, creative and of course heartfelt, except from those from Mr. Elliott's class, which mixed in just the right touch of mean spiritedness.
Here are some of my favorites, with my comments below each:
This kid has good instincts, although I want to believe the word "outstanding" is underneath the Wite-Out.
Alyssa really loves Capture the Flag.
Mad, but never that mad.
Well that came out of nowhere. But yes, I do. Who wouldn't love Buffalo Wild Wings?
Did my boss tell you to write that?
Annnd here come Mr. Elliott's students.
Yes, I do know all of that.
Can't say I approve of this one.
Something fishy's going on here...
... and there it is.
You know, I never thought to ask him.
Another thing I never thought to ask.
I'm thinking Sophia's a cat person.
Daisy is nothing if not blunt.
The 23-year-old defenseman had little indication he would be dealt, and certainly thought he was in the clear when he noticed the NHL trade deadline had passed at 3 p.m. Eastern.
“It was by the end of the deadline, so I wasn’t expecting it whatsoever,” said Despres this morning following his first morning skate as a Duck at Honda Center. “Then my phone blew up. I’ve never gotten traded in my life, so it was definitely a shock.”
Despres, who is soft-spoken but looks you right in the eye when he speaks, admits he was a bit upset when he first heard the news. “I was definitely [ticked] off a little bit at the beginning,” he says. “I was with the organization for six years, so it was definitely tough on me. Some of my friends, I’m leaving them behind. But I’ll make new friends here, and it looks like a really good team to be with.
“So far, I like what I’ve seen in the room,” Despres says. “The guys are really nice, they have good team chemistry, and it’s a really good team. So I’m excited about the opportunity to be with the Ducks.
While the realization of being traded sunk in, Despres’ focus inevitably had to turn toward getting to Phoenix to meet up with his new team, who were playing the Coyotes the following night.
“I found out about the trade around 3:30 Pittsburgh time, and at 4 my agent told me I should leave that night,” But the paperwork wasn’t done, so they couldn’t book my flight yet. When they finally called me about getting a flight that night, I had like 15 minutes to pack. I got on the plane, got to Phoenix and I landed around 1 a.m., which was 3 a.m. Pittsburgh time. So, I was definitely a little tired when I got to the hotel.”
He didn’t run into his new Ducks teammates until the following morning over breakfast at the hotel, when he ran into Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Palmieri and another player picked up by Anaheim at the deadline – former Panther Tomas Fleischmann. “They were of course very welcoming,” Despres says. “It’s a small world in hockey, so we all know a little bit of everyone.”
Despres took part in the morning skate at Gila River Arena in Glendale, and he was thrust into the Ducks lineup back there last night, wearing No. 24 and playing a major role in a 4-1 Anaheim victory. In just over 20 minutes of ice time, Despres had an assist and a plus-3 rating with a game-high five hits. Ducks fans can expect more of that physicality this season and beyond.
“I’m a physical defenseman,” Despres says. “I make a good first pass. I’m a strong skater, and I get the shots through to the net.”
Oh, and the name of the French-Canadian from Laval, Quebec? According to him, it’s pronounced see-MONE de-PREE, and here is audio of him saying it, for good measure.
Click here if audio won't play
Despres will temporarily reside in a nearby hotel until he finds something permanent in Orange County (and Ariane is joining him out here soon). And now that he’s had time to digest his sudden and unexpected change in locale, he’s relishing it.
“This is very good team in a nice city with warm weather,” Despres says. “I’m really excited about the opportunity.”
Chris Wagner is expected to be in the Anaheim lineup tonight after being recalled by the Ducks from Norfolk of the AHL yesterday morning. After enduring the lengthy cross-country flight from Virginia to SoCal, the native of Walpole, Massachussetts was on the ice for today’s morning skate in anticipation for what’s to come tonight at Honda Center.
Wagner, who was taken by Anaheim in the fifth round (122nd overall) of the 2010 Draft, made his NHL debut last October 17 at Minnesota. He was soon sent down and brought back up again to play one game in mid-November, coincidentally a clash with the Kings at Staples Center.
Wagner, still looking for his first NHL point, racked up 26 (including 13 goals) in 41 games for Norfolk this season. At the time of his recall, the 6-0, 202-pounder co-led the Admirals in scoring and goals.
After this morning’s skate, the normally babyfaced Wagner -- who is sporting a little bit of facial hair -- talked about the process of being called up to the big club.
How are you told by the team when you get recalled?
Usually our assistant GM down there [Bob Ferguson] calls me, tells me the flight, and everything else. It’s usually an eight-hour process to get across the country. This time I found out yesterday morning, first thing. We were at home, since we were supposed to play Providence this weekend. I had about three hours to get ready, which is probably the most time I’ve had when I’ve been called up. The last time, I was ready to play a game that night, and they called me in the afternoon and told me to get on a plane. It was a little more relaxed this time. It was around 8:30 or 9 in the morning, and I was actually half-asleep when they called me, so that woke me up real quick. We weren’t supposed to be at the rink until 2:00 yesterday because of snow, so I was trying to sleep in. But that’s okay.
It’s been cold back there, so along with everything else, it’s a nice change of pace weather-wise.
It’s awesome. It’s why you come to Cali. They’ve had a lot of snow back there recently, which is unusual for them, but this is great.
What is your focus when you’re on the way out here?
You kind of hope when you get called up that you’re going to play right away, so you mentally prepare that way. Especially this game, one of the biggest games of the year, I’m pretty excited. It’s going to be an intense, physical game.
What’s your evaluation of your season so far?
I obviously wanted to get games in the NHL this year, which is my main goal. Hopefully I’ll get a few more down the road here. It’s been a decently successful year, but you can always do better. It’s been the most positive so far in my pro career.
For fans who haven’t seen you much this year, what can they except you to bring?
I just try to be physical as much as I can, try to be defensively smart. I pitched in offensively down there, and hopefully I get more comfortable and that translates down here.
What is the feeling among the guys about the team moving to San Diego next season?
Norfolk has been great, but we’re excited. It’s tough when you’re going up and down and going through those long plane rides. We’re definitely excited, and we’ve only heard great things about San Diego. Of course you hope you’re up here, but if you’re down there, it’s not a bad spot to be.