"This," an eight-year-old kid said, "Was the best day ever."
Frankly, I couldn't have agreed more.
Considering what hockey fans have endured the past few months, and bearing in mind how quickly things had to come together after the final seal of approval on the CBA late yesterday, the fact that we had more than 2,500 people watching the first day of practice this afternoon was nothing short of inspiring.
The schedules for all 30 NHL teams were officially revealed today, and as expected it's a 48-game slate that unfurls on January 19 and features only opponents within the conference.
Also as expected, the Ducks will open on the road, facing Vancouver a week from today (A FREAKIN' WEEK FROM TODAY!) and then Calgary two nights later. They open at home against those same Canucks on January 25 and then face one-time playoff rival Nashville back at Honda Center the very next night. The regular season ends a few weeks later than normal -- April 27 at home against Phoenix (let's hope the actual Ducks season lasts a whole lot longer). And in between, is a pretty wild ride.
Because it's a compact schedule (48 games in 99 days), there are definitely some quirks, including two instances in which the Ducks play the same team three games in a row (somewhat like a mini playoff series). The Ducks play at Phoenix on March 2, at Phoenix two days later (Angels spring training and Ducks hockey anyone?) and then home against Phoenix another two days after that. Anaheim is at Dallas April 1, home to Dallas on April 3 and home again to the Stars on the 5th.
And if you like your Ducks-Red Wings games, you're going to love the weekend of March 22, when Anaheim faces Detroit that Friday and again on Sunday. That's part of a home stretch in which the Ducks play Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and Monday at Honda Center (yikes).
More scheduling quirks: Within the Pacific Division, the Ducks will play San Jose and Dallas five times each, but the Kings and Phoenix four times each. The always highly anticipated Kings games (even more so this year) come February 2 at Honda Center, Feb. 25 in LA, April 7 at home and April 13 at Staples Center.
Of the 24 home dates, 13 will take place on weekends (six Fridays, three Saturdays and four Sundays). The Ducks face in 10 back-to-back sets of games and take a season-long six-game road trip from Feb. 6-16 that includes stops in Colorado (Feb. 6), Dallas (Feb. 8), St. Louis (Feb. 9), Chicago (Feb. 12), Detroit (Feb. 15) and Nashville (Feb. 16).
Ducks training camp is opening tomorrow at Honda Center, and keep checking AnaheimDucks.com for details on the public attending (and more).
Now, some business:
Individual regular season tickets for all Ducks games at Honda Center will go on sale Tuesday at 10 a.m. As a special promotion for Opening Night vs. Vancouver on Jan. 25, fans that purchase an individual game ticket will receive a voucher good for 50% off a future game on the 2012-13 schedule at Honda Center (excludes Terrace Value price point).
|How good is it to see this guy again?
The start of training camp is still a few days away, but as they have been doing for the last several months, Ducks players skated informally together to prep for the eventual start of the season. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement having been ratified by the Board of Governors yesterday, they were able to do it at Honda Center for the first time since last spring. And while no hockey player looks forward to practice, they all seemed thrilled to be out there.
"It’s nice to be back," said Corey Perry, looking already in mid-season shape. "It was an extended summer, that’s for sure. Everyone is excited to get back and get going again."
"It feels like old times again," said Ryan Getzlaf. "It’s definitely nice to be back here and it’s an exciting time for us. Being away from here sucks."
Getzlaf looked at the extended time off a couple of ways. Yes, it kept him away from the game, but it did allow him to spend a lot more time with his now two-year-old son and another baby boy born to him and wife Paige a couple of weeks ago.
"It was nice to be around for that," he said, "but I’m ready to get back to work."
Teemu Selanne had a similar sentiment: "There are kind of mixed feelings because I really enjoyed the time off. But the same hand, after awhile, it got old."
(Ah, how I've missed "same hand" for the past few months.)
"You're a hockey player and you want to play hockey," he continued. "You start missing the game more and more. The only way to handle it is to stay positive and optimistic and make sure when things start you’re ready. It was hard for everybody, but I’m so happy it’s over."
Selanne was inevitably asked if he's approaching this season any differently than the last several. "It's my last season, right?" he laughed. "Of course it is. Like always."
Selanne, who turned 42 last July, certainly can't complain about a 48-game season, but he says it changes the approach for all of the guys.
"Every game is going to be like playoff hockey, and every point is going to be critical to making the playoffs," he said. "If you look in the past years, how exciting it is in the last few games of the season, it’s that same challenge again. There is no room for error. The schedule doesn’t let you get down for too many games in a row. You can’t afford to do that.
"At the same time, a one-week training camp? I really like that."
That camp will likely start Sunday, with the Ducks playing their first game on the road on the 19th, though nothing is official as of yet (soon though). Part of what we do know is that every game is intra-conference, meaning the Ducks only face the West this season. Either way, no team has long to get ready for game time.
"Everyone is going to have that breaking-in period, because there is nothing that can compare to playing an actual game," Getzlaf said. "We’re going to do our best to be as ready as we can for that first game, and we’re looking forward to it.
"We’ve been skating and everything for four or five months, but this is probably the longest that anyone’s gone without playing a game in a long time. That part will be an adjustment. It’s an exciting time for us. We’ve got a few new bodies and we’ve got some things we’re going to have to work through, but everybody looks good out there."
Perry was optimistic as well about the group, which includes mainstays like him, Getzlaf, Selanne, Bobby Ryan and Jonas Hiller, along with newcomers like Sheldon Souray, Bryan Allen, Brad Staubitz and goalie Viktor Fasth. All of them were out there skating today.
"Everybody is really going to come together this year," Perry said. "It’s a good group of guys in here, a lot of different personalities that will really mesh well. There are some new faces with the old faces, but it’s going to be nice."
After all this time, Perry said that even the car ride to Honda Center was enjoyable.
"Driving up here, getting back into the routine and skating with the guys, it reminds you of what you miss," he said, "and why you play this game."
If you're like me, you opened your eyes, rolled over to pick up your smartphone and saw some form of this news: The NHL and the Players Association have tentatively agreed on a deal to end the lockout. We can't comment too much until a deal is ratified, and we won't go into the details of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it's enough to say this:
HOCKEY. IS. BACK.
(Incidentally, if you're a hockey fan, it paid to be a "morning person" this past weekend. You would have had to wake up at 5 a.m. Saturday on the West Coast to see Team USA -- led by goaltending Ducks prospect John Gibson -- beat Sweden for the gold medal in the World Juniors in Russia.)
As far as the NHL season commencing, nothing is set in stone yet, but here is what we do know:
- The season will start as either a 50-game schedule on January 15 or a 48-game schedule on January 19. It should be known that the Ducks won't open at home on the 19th because of a show at Honda Center that goes through the 20th.
- The Ducks schedule, in addition to the schedules of the 29 other teams, is being mapped out as we speak and will be released later this week. Soon after it's released, tickets will go on sale for individual games, mini plans, etc. Any questions can be answered by calling 877-WILD WING.
- We will also soon know more on when training camp will open. Keep an eye on this website and our social media outlets for any breaking news on that front.
Bottom line, we're all happy to have Ducks hockey back, especially judging by this smattering of fan responses on social media to the news.
Defending champion Team Sweden, which earned a berth into the final with a 3-2 shootout win over Russia today, has a forward corps that includes right wing Rickard Rakell (taken by the Ducks 30th overall in '11) and center William Karlsson (53rd). Rakell leads Sweden and ranks tied for fifth in the tournament with five assists, while Karlsson has two helpers in five games. Defenseman Hampus Lindholm, taken in the first round by the Ducks in 2012 and playing well at Norfolk this year, has missed the tournament with an injury.
But one of the biggest stars of the tournament is Team USA goalie John Gibson, who (39th overall pick in '11), who helped the Americans to the gold medal game with 33 saves in a 5-1 win over Canada in today's semis. Gibson leads the tournament in goals-against average and save percentage, and is tied for first in wins (4-2, 1.42 GAA & .954 SV%). Here's a highlight package of his handiwork in the tournament.
If you don't already know about Gibson, he's a big boy (6-3, 212 pounds) who has shined the last couple of seasons with Kitchener of the OHL. He put in some time at Ducks training camp last year, and Ducks fans last saw him at last summer's conditioning camp (here's an interview he did during that camp).
He also happens to wear No. 35, which you might recall was a pretty lucky number in the Ducks net for several years.
For now, Gibson is all about getting the U.S. its second gold medal in the last four years (also 2010) after he and the Americans settled for bronze last year. If you're interested in the gold medal game, set the alarm and get the coffee ready. It will be aired at 5 a.m. PT on NHL Network and TSN and streamed on NHL.com.
Hopefully we'll see more of the below regarding Gibson. Here are some of the tweets from reporters, bloggers and others praising his performance in this year's tournament:
Brandon's father Rick, who lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, recently sent in some childhood photos of his son to the PR guys in Norfolk because he thought they'd get a kick out of them. They forwarded them on to us, and we thought it would be fun to get both Brandon and his dad to reflect on them:
Brandon: I don’t really remember this one, but that’s probably something for Christmas or something where they wanted to get a nice little picture of me. My grandma has a picture of me from every grade, and she probably did my hair and put a little bowtie on me for that one. I definitely don’t have that outfit anymore, but maybe I should upgrade my wardrobe and see if I can get one.
Rick: I think he was three years old or so there. Usually his mom or grandma dressed him up like that and did something funny with his hair. You can see how he dresses now with Troy Bodie in this photo from the Admirals Christmas party. That's kind of a good then and now [laughs].
Brandon: I spent a lot of time with my grandma when I was little, and she used to do this little cowlick with my hair. Obviously I don’t look very pleased at the moment. That’s definitely not a hairstyle I’ll be trying to bring back.
Rick: I think that was his first haircut. He wasn’t one for sitting in the chair for any great length of time, but we managed to settle him in for a bit, and grandma asked them to whip something up on top there.
Brandon: That was a Meet the Canucks day, one of the highlights of my life when I was younger. I think I was 8 or 10 there and I lived in a little town called Tsawwassen, about 30 minutes from Vancouver. You got the opportunity to meet all the players. Todd Bertuzzi was my favorite player when I was growing up, so getting the chance to meet him was huge. And then obviously playing against him last year and the year before was a pretty cool experience as well.
Rick: Bertuzzi must have been in his early 20s there and Brandon would have been around 8. I was at the game last year in Detroit, sometime in November, when Brandon played with the Ducks against Bertuzzi. A co-worker and I went down to Windsor and took the bus over to see the game, and it blew me away to see Brandon playing against him.
Brandon: This one with Mark Messier was the same day. It was pretty cool meeting a legend like him, and I got to meet him later in life when his son tried out for the Kelowna Rockets, where I was playing at the time. He’s just a classy guy and one of the best hockey players to ever play.
Brandon: That was a plaque for Athlete of the Year for my school in Grade 7. I’m there with my mom, dad and sister. I played basketball and ran track back then, along with hockey. I don’t know where that Afro came from, but that was my style back in the day. I liked the long curly hair coming out of the back of the helmet, so I’m looking to bring that back maybe.
Rick: He liked to have a lot of hair when he was a kid, and that was pretty much a fro.
Brandon: That’s probably one of the first days of one of my first years playing hockey. That was outside our house and I was heading out to morning practice. Back then you had to get ready at home and ride to the rink in all your gear. Those are classic Canucks jerseys. Those were the Canucks jerseys back then, and they wore those when they made it to the Stanley Cup Final in ‘94.
Rick: Brandon would always be well-dressed before we even got out of the house. He’s got everything tied on there. I think he was five years old and we were taking him to a little tykes program down there in Delta.
Brandon: That’s my sister Melissa and me. We’re either camping or we’re at a fireworks show in Vancouver. That’s definitely a cute little picture of us. I got along with her when we were younger, but now she’s in her teenage years and gets a little bit on my nerves.
Rick: That’s down in English Bay. We used to go down there in the summer and take in the fireworks. You know how it is with brother-sister love. It takes awhile to get past who gets the most attention from mom and dad.
Brandon: This was in Vancouver at the old Coliseum where the Canucks used to play. My mom surprised me and took me to an event where they had all of the Hall of Fame pieces, including the Cup. I remember we actually got lost in downtown Vancouver trying to find the Coliseum, and my mom was a little bit nervous, but we got there eventually. It was a pretty cool experience.
Brandon: I’ve never seen this picture before, but the sweatshirt comes from my dad’s side of the family. They’re all from Cold Lake, Alberta, north of Edmonton. That must have been my dad’s old hockey gear because that helmet is made of foam and the gloves are pretty old. Those are definitely some antiques.
Rick: That’s my old equipment from when I played in Alberta. You can see it’s a pretty wicked helmet, and I wore that when I was a kid. The gloves are from when I was a teenager. Aren’t those cool? Original leather, but a little too big for Brandon at that time.
Brandon: I think I was 14 or 15, and it’s a little spring hockey team we put together, and we won the tournament. There are a few AHL players in there. Right to my right is Tyler Johnson, who played in Norfolk last year and is now at Syracuse. Martin Jones, the goalie on the left, plays in Manchester. Patrick Wiercioch is right above Martin Jones and he plays in Binghamton. Right to the right of him is Landon Ferraro, who plays in Grand Rapids. Probably more than half of those guys still play hockey and a few of them play pro. Ray Ferraro, who played in the NHL for a lot of years and is now a TSN announcer, is on the far right. He was a coach on that team. It was a pretty good team. The coaches were making fun of me because I hadn’t won anything before, so they let me hold the trophy.
Tonight is a holiday skating event for Ducks season ticket holders and mini plan holders, and Angel arranged the moment with his ticketing rep, Daniel Alvarez. To sell it, Angel convinced Melissa that they won a contest that included a signed Ryan Getzlaf stick and the opportunity to skate on the ice before the event started.
After hitting the ice with three of their cousins and posing for pictures with the stick, Angel slowly got on one knee and quietly made his proposal.
She said yes.
A couple of us here in the office were reminiscing about the '09 playoffs, when the Ducks knocked off the top-ranked Sharks and went seven games in a grueling series with Detroit (the eventual champ). We remembered where we were during that intense Game 7 and how much it broke our hearts when Dan Cleary scored the series-clinching goal for Detroit with little time remaining in regulation.
It all inspired me to go back and look up my blog post from that day. Here's a portion:
After it was all over, Detroit coach Mike Babcock called it “the best series I’ve been in since I’ve been in the league. For sure, the hardest series, most even, the least room.”
Later, he added, “What made this series so hard, what people don’t understand, is the people that have won know what it takes to win and they don’t give in."
And that's exactly what you can say about the Anaheim Ducks the past two months, a thrill ride that has us all in disbelief that it's come to a seemingly sudden end. I watched the game last night in a Newport Beach sports bar with about 30 fellow staffers, and there was a mix of reactions when that final horn sounded on the season. Some gazed at the TVs in disbelief. Some stared at their feet. A couple of the girls even cried. All of us felt sick to our stomachs. "Well," a friend of mine said, "at least we didn't go down like [expletive]s." (And by the way, he and several of his fellow Ducks ticket sales guys shaved their playoff beards into mustaches and took this photo today.)
It's pretty ironic that we're heartbroken the Ducks didn't make the conference finals, when not too long ago we didn't even think we'd be here at all. But this team teased us by never quitting. They teased us by charging into the playoffs, knocking off the top seed and fighting to the finish in a Game 7 against what is probably the best team in the league. To come that far and to come that close only made the elimination that much more heartbreaking. But, you know what? We wouldn't want it any other way. Sure the ending was harsh, but my what a great ride.
“When you’re that close, when you’re tied with a few minutes left, it’s a tough way to lose," Niedermayer said. "There are no easy ways to lose, I guess. It’s pretty disappointing, and you always think you can do more, but you look around the room, how some of these guys battled. There are a lot of guys who worked extremely hard. So I’m proud of a lot of guys, for sure.”
I think we all are.
Dozens of staffers, along with Ducks coaches, a broadcaster, a certain future Hall-of-Famer and several fans, were among the 150 volunteers to take to Mattie Lou Maxwell Elementary School in Anaheim as part of the Anaheim Ducks Power PLAY! campus makeover project. A huge amount of credit for the project goes to Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli, who donated the funds to make it happen.
It was Veteran’s Day, so the students had the day off, but the school’s teachers and staff also took part in the project, which involved the beautification of several aspects of the campus. Throughout the day, you could walk around the grounds (as I did) and constantly remark to yourself, “Wow, this is really cool.”
At one corner of the campus, a street hockey rink was being installed with the help of Ducks TV color analyst Brian Hayward. At another, raised garden beds and picnic tables were being put together -- which was the area I was assigned to. (I’ve never spent so much time with a power drill in my life.) On several of the buildings and handball courts, murals were being meticulously colored in. And all around the campus, trees were being planted, and among those getting his hands dirty while clad in the event's orange t-shirt was one Scott Niedermayer.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau and his family lent a hand as well, with Boudreau walking around and joking with the volunteers, brushing some paint on his t-shirt and face because he joked that it made him look busier.
"It's pretty eye-opening to see how many people are out here working away and changing this school," Niedermayer told a local reporter. "I think when the kids get here tomorrow morning, they're going to be in for a pretty big surprise."
|That's me with Bruce and his self-inflicted paint.|
The kids at Maxwell will hopefully feel that impact, one that was certainly made on all of us who got to be part of that project. To me, that was most evident at the end of the day, when all of the work was finished. A good part of the staff stood with each other in our orange t-shirts, laughing and sharing old stories for another hour or so.
We were surrounded by these beautiful murals, fresh-planted trees and new gardens, and I kept thinking to myself: It isn't that we have to be here. It's just that we want to be.
Frankly, I can't wait to be back there again today when the kids see it all.
Take a look at the photos
While he talks about how thorough HBO was covering him and his team, what fans remember most from that series is how many expletives Boudreau used in an intermission locker room talk to his team during the first episode.
"It's funny. First of all, they aired it on a Wednesday or a Thursday night, and I knew they were airing it that day. I asked our PR guy if I cursed in the first episode. He looked at me and rolled his eyes and he said, 'Yes. You used the one certain word 17 times in 41 seconds,' which I don't even remember doing. I remember doing it every other time because I was [conscious] that the camera was rolling.
"The next day, once my mom watched it, I got a pretty good tongue-lashing from her. She told me not to use those kinds of words on TV anymore because she wouldn't be able to go out in public anymore. So, I got chastised by my mother for swearing."
As I write in the last blog post, I can't begin to tell you how great Bruce was to work with, not only in answering the dozen or so questions we gave him, but in coming up with his own wrinkles. In fact, the title of the segment, along with the introduction to it, was his idea.
We shot about 15-20 minutes worth of footage, which we'll use in this segment and future ones. And we plan to shoot more with him down the road, using questions submitted to us by fans on Twitter. (You can submit your own using the hastag #BUKO on Twitter).
The rest of episode 2 is below, and in case you missed it, here's episode 1. Look for the next segment soon, and if you'd like to submit .