As we get closer to the possibility of having to share this date with another team up the road, it's more appropriate than ever to commemorate a very special anniversary for Ducks fans and for me personally, I'm re-posting this piece (with a slight adjustment) that originally ran June 6, 2008:
As anniversaries go, this one will always be a little bittersweet for me.
Six 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 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 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.
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 through 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 almost all of the 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 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:
Five years later, I can still remember it well. It really was unbelievable.
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. That's about the time that tonight's Game 4 might be ending too. But no matter what happens in that game, 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.
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For a nice reminder of that night and all that led up to it, take a look at this video below, and some of these awesome photos.
The Ducks announced earlier today that they signed 25-year-old winger Ryan Lasch, who last year led the Finnish Elite League in scoring while helping his Lahti Pelicans to the league finals.
But here's why this is such a big deal: Lasch, a speedy scorer who played four seasons at St. Cloud State before heading to Europe, is the first Orange County-born player in the history of the Ducks organization.
I spoke to Lasch from his home in Lake Forest earlier today and here's the Q&A.
The Kings had 95 points in the regular season to earn the eighth seed in the West, although they've looked like anything but an 8 seed as they've steamrolled through the postseason with a 12-2 record and an unprecedented eight straight playoff road wins. They dispatched the No. 1-seeded Canucks in five games, the 2-seeded Blues in four and the 3-seeded Coyotes in five.
The 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim also had 95 points, but earned the seventh seed in the West. They went on to sweep the 2-seeded Red Wings, edge the 1-seeded Stars in six (including an epic five-overtime Game 1) and down 6-seeded Wild in a sweep.
Meanwhile, both teams were riding an incredibly hot goaltender, though Jonathan Quick's outstanding postseason (1.54 GAA and .946 SV%) doesn't quite compare to the all-time great playoff run J.S. Giguere put together in '03 (1.62 goals-against average and five shutouts, including a perfect 7-0 in overtime and a Conn Smythe).
Want more similarities? How about celebs in the stands?
Further, when the Mighty Ducks won the West in '03, captain Paul Kariya didn't touch the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, out of traditional superstition....
... nor did Kings captain Dustin Brown when LA won the West on Tuesday night.
Depending on what happens in tonight's Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 (or a possible Sunday Game 7), both the '03 Mighty Ducks and '12 Kings could be facing the New Jersey Devils in the Final. We know what happened to those Mighty Ducks -- a crushing 3-0 defeat in Game 7 in New Jersey. What happens with these Kings remains to be seen -- but you know we'll all be watching.
I want to know, Ducks fans, who would you rather see the Kings face in the Final? The Devils can clinch a trip to the Final with a win in over the Rangers in tonight's Game 6 in New Jersey (5 p.m. Pacific on NBC Sports Network). Based on what we've seen in this Devils-Rangers series, New Jersey appears to be playing slightly better hockey and would appear to have the edge on knocking off the Kings. But an LA-New York Final (featuring a Rangers team America got to know during HBO's 24/7 series) has a little more flair than an LA-New Jersey one.
If you're a reader of this blog or my live game logs, you may have seen mention of the The Tennis Balls. They're Dawn and Lewis, a husband-and-wife duo of diehard Ducks fans and season tickets holders who wear neon yellow sweatshirts to every home game. They sit a few rows behind the net in section 215 at Honda Center, and certainly stand out in a crowd. They were even more conspicuous when they attended Game 5 of Coyotes-Predators in Phoenix, when they were two very noticeable blips among the otherwise whited-out crowd at Jobing.com Arena.
Jenelyn Russo, who writes a very good blog for OC Family called When Girls Love Hockey, just put together a very nice piece on The Tennis Balls, including this insight into the history of their sweatshirts:
Dawn doesn’t recall the year exactly, maybe 2005, but she and Lewis were on their way back from a trip to Mammoth and had to rush home and get changed before heading to the Ducks game that night (totally committed fans, of course). They ran out of the house, wearing only Ducks t-shirts. When they got to Honda Center, Dawn knew she would be freezing inside without a sweater or a jacket. So they grabbed the only thing available to wear—bright neon yellow sweatshirts that Lewis had in the back of their car. A custom home builder, Lewis had purchased several of the sweatshirts for his employees and sub-contractors. They had no idea that wearing those sweatshirts that night would have such an effect on their lives as hockey fans.
In the midst of a frustrating multiple-game losing streak, Anaheim won that night and all of their fellow Ducks fans who sit around them declared the day-glo sweatshirts the reason for the win. And they insisted that Dawn and Lewis wear them to every game going forward. So for the most part, they have.
As expected, the Tennis Balls (who have "adopted" the Coyotes as their playoff team), are at Game 5 between the Yotes and Kings at Jobing.com Arena tonight.
|That was Fasth.
The 29-year-old Fasth played with AIK Stockholm this past season and had five shutouts with a 2.12 GAA and .931 SV% in 46 games. For his efforts, he was was named the Goaltender of the Year in the Swedish Elite League for the second straight year. The last player to do that? A guy named Henrik Lundqist (from 2002 through 2005).
The 6-0, 192-pounder also played six of Team Sweden's eight games in the recent IIHF World Championships, going a respectable 4-2 with a 2.34 GAA and two shutouts.
Fasth, who many considered to be the best free agent goalie in Europe, will be given the opportunity in training camp to be the backup to Jonas Hiller. Fasth and and Jeff Deslauriers are both under contract. Dan Ellis, who missed most of last year with a groin injury, is a free agent. Iiro Tarkki, who spent some time with the Ducks this past season (winning his only game) and led the Crunch to the postseason, signed a two-year deal with KHL team Salavat Yulaev last week.
“I’m really happy and looking forward to joining the organization,” Fasth said over the phone from Sweden yesterday. "It’s a dream come true for me. I’m really excited.
"The Ducks showed a real big interest. I had the feeling that they wanted to give me this chance and they believe in me. That is very important for me."
To learn more from Fasth, here's a video feature done on him during the Worlds.
"I talked to the guys this year during the World Championships and started getting some information on how it is out there," Fasth said. "I asked how Anaheim is and I got just got words about it. It made me feel really happy."
Speaking of words, another intriguing part of getting Fasth in here is the endless possibilities for great headlines if he has a strong game. Granted, the name is actually pronounced "Fahst" but still, how about:
FASTH BEATS QUICK
Ducks goalie shuts out Kings
FASTH AND FURIOUS
Rookie's 42 saves lead Ducks to win
FASTH AND FLASH
Ducks netminder shuts down Red Wings as Selanne nets the game-winner
Got any good ones, Ducks fans? Put them in the Comments below or tweet them using the hashtag #FasthPuns.
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Bruce Boudreau was a guest this morning with host Mike Ross on Hockey This Morning on NHL Home Ice, and as usual had a few good nuggets to offer.
As hard as it is for all of us to see two Pacific Division rivals in the Western Conference Finals, he did have a good spin on it. "It gives you hope," he said. "When I was [with the Ducks[, we played Phoenix four times and beat them three times and lost the final game against them in a game where Mike Smith was Mike Smith. He was outstanding, but we outplayed them [this year] pretty badly. And they’re there where they are.
"With LA, we played them three times and beat them once in the last minute. We lost to them once with an empty net and once by one goal. You know that you’re competitive and right there. And we played them at times when they needed to win desperately."
That's one of the many reasons Boudreau has high hopes for next season. "I think we’re there. We’re close," he said. "And who knows, we get off to a little bit better start next season and I think we’ll be a team to be reckoned with."
Another reason for optimism are the young guys who will be given a good chance to make the Ducks roster out of camp next year. "Kyle Palmieri led the American League in goals and he’s a guy who’s up and coming. We’ve got guys who can score that are young. Emerson Etem scored 61 goals in junior, and he’s a guy who will be given a real good shot.
"We’re just looking forward to playing again. We think we can make a splash next year."
Boudreau was asked to reminisce about the time back in November when he was fired by the Capitals and hired by the Ducks not long afterward.
"We move around a lot, so we better have some strong wives and children behind us," Boudreau said about the coaching profession. "When it happened, to be able to get a job as quickly as I was able to was pretty satisfying. I didn’t know anybody on the team, and on the flight from Washington to California I’m sitting there going, “What am I getting myself into?” But it was great to see somebody had taken an interest and thought you did a good job. That was really neat."
With their bitter rivals from up the freeway blasting through this postseason -- 11 wins in 13 games and one win away from the Stanley Cup Final -- your average Ducks fan probably can't help but reminisce.
It was five years ago this spring that the Ducks seemingly steamrolled their way through the 2007 playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup triumph. Those Ducks went 16-5 over the likes of Minnesota, Vancouver, Detroit and Ottawa, with a lineup that included three definite Hall-of-Famers and had at least one promiment hockey writer calling them the best team of all time. A sample:
That Ducks team featured three sure-fire Hall of Famers in Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne; an incredibly potent kid line featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner; two excellent goalies in J-S Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov; tons of toughness and the premier shutdown line of Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen.
But as good as those Ducks were, it's fascinating to think how even they needed some good fortune that postseason to earn the right to lift that Cup. That's the nature of hockey and the nature of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, how the smallest breaks, tiniest bounces can be the difference between getting your name on that Cup and being just a contender that came oh-so-close.
And if you're into anniversaries, you may just have been reminded of that fact yesterday. For it was on May 20, 2007 -- Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena -- that made all the difference for that legendary Ducks team.
Unable to muster anything against Red Wings goalie Dominic Hasek, the Ducks were in desperation mode down 1-0 in the closing moments of the game, in danger of going down 3 games to 2. But Pavel Datsyuk was called for interference with 1:47 remaining and the Ducks pulled J.S. Giguere to give them a 6-on-4 skating advantage. And then this happened:
Scott Niedermayer's shot from the slot clicked off the stick of Nicklas Lidstrom and fluttered past Hasek with 47.3 seconds remaining to tie the game, with the usually graceful Niedermayer falling on his face just before getting mobbed by his teammates. It's unquestionably the biggest goal in Anaheim Ducks history, followed closely by this one:
In overtime, Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja turns the puck over with pressure from Andy McDonald, Selanne picks it up, goes familiarly to the backhand and pops the water bottle 11:57 into OT to give the Ducks the shocking victory. (I was in the building that day and five years later I can still recall the sounds of Detroit fans cursing and banging the backs of the seats in front of them after that goal.)
Two days later the Ducks won Game 6 at home -- another good break for that team, as Detroit clawed back from a 3-0 deficit and nearly tied the game in the closing moments of a 4-3 Anaheim win. Fifteen days after that, the Ducks were Stanley Cup champs.
You may have missed it since it happened during today's play in the IIHF World Championships in Helsinki, but Bobby Ryan had another gorgeous goal to add to his already crowded career highlight package.
Playing (with Cam Fowler and Kyle Palmieri) for Team USA against Luca Sbisa's Switzerland side, Ryan showed the skills he's developed after years of playing warmup soccer with his teammates. A Max Pacioretty pass from behind the net was much too high for Ryan to get a stick on, so he kicked the puck to himself with the left boot, than batted it in out of mid-air.
Check out the video, along with Fowler's pretty tap-in goal that helped USA to a 5-2 victory over the Swiss and a No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals.
Team USA faces Finland in the quarters on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Pacific, a game that will be televised on NBC Sports Network. Team Canada (with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) plays Slovakia at 3 a.m. Pacific. (If you're up at that ungodly hour, it will also be on NBC Sports Network.)
It's a well-deserved gesture to a coach who quickly made himself at home in this organization, and led the Ducks to a 27-23-8 record after taking over for Randy Carlyle on the night of November 30. He also helmed a blazing January and February that had the Ducks playing as well as any team in the league after a wickedly frustrating first half of the season.
Off the ice, Boudreau could hardly be a more likeable guy, friendly with fans and media alike, often funny and always willing to do what he can to promote hockey and the Ducks in Orange County and beyond. I've always thought the biggest compliment you can give a person of stature (athletes, celebrities, etc.) is that they "get it," meaning they understand the importance of being cheerful and engaging with the public. Teemu Selanne is a guy who "gets it." And Bruce Boudreau absolutely "gets it."
Today he had a conference call with media from his offseason home in Washington, DC and was his jovial self. After the Ducks PR guy introduced Bruce on the call, he got on the line and said, "Atta boy, way to work."
He was asked how the deal came together and said that although he and Ducks boss Bob Murray had been talking about it for awhile, "At the same time it took 10 minutes. We haven't been in the same place at the same time much this offseason. We finally met in Toronto last week, went an saw an AHL game together and just chatted.
"We both have the same vision and we're on the same page, so it seemed like a good idea. I think this team has just started going where we want to go. We competed with all the teams that are in the playoffs now."
Asked how much the extension adds some stability, he replied, "You put enough pressure on yourself to win all the time, but at the same time it's important to have stability and have the players know that someone is going to be around for a long time.It's always great that the GM and ownership have that much faith in you, and it's my job to justify it."
The conversation turned to the Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Coyotes and Bruce was asked for his pick, once again showing a firm grasp of the Anaheim-LA rivalry. "As much as I didn't really want to do it, I picked LA to win the West," he said. "I thought they were the toughest team we played, especially down the stretch when teams had to win.
"Whatever it is, a new team is going to be in the Final for the first time in a long time, and I think that's great for hockey. I'm happy that it will grow hockey in Southern California, and to me that's really important for the game. But, I've got to be honest, I'm not going to sit here and say I hope they win. It all depends on who their opponent is in the Final, by the way."
That drew a laugh from the media on the call, since Boudreau's old employer, the Capitals, is heading toward a Game 7 with the Rangers right now.
He went on further about the Kings: "My feelings are going to be day to day. Is it motivation for us if they do win? Is it going to make the rivalry more intense because we won one and they won on the last five years, two California teams winning the Cup since 2007? They haven't won anything yet, so they've got a ways to go, but the way they played the first two series, it's not out of the realm."
No matter what effect the Kings' success has on the already passionate Ducks-Kings rivalry, it sure is nice to know we'll have Boudreau on our side for (at least) the next three seasons.
In case you missed it last night, the Phoenix Coyotes wiped out the Nashville Predators in five games to earn their first-ever berth in the Western Conference Finals and a series with the Kings.
It's a testament to the strength of the Pacific Division that those two teams have advanced to the NHL's version of the Final Four. Sure, this year's division champ (Phoenix) had a lower point total than the other division winners (Vancouver and St. Louis). But the three-way battle for that division title (which included San Jose) wasn't decided until the last day of the regular season, and it's largely due to fact that each of the Pacific's teams beat up on each other all year.
For example, the Ducks went 3-3-0 against the Coyotes this season, and 5-1-0 against the Sharks, who finished seventh in the Western Conference. (Although, Anaheim was a disappointing 1-3-2 versus LA this campaign.)
While both Western Conference finalists are considered "division rivals" of the Ducks -- and there is unquestionable disdain between the Ducks and Kings, not to mention Ducks/Sharks -- it's pretty hard to hate the Coyotes. As a hockey fan, how do you not root for Phoenix (as long as they're not playing the Ducks), when you consider the distractions they've overcome to become among the class of the Western Conference?
For the past several years, the team has endured bankruptcy (ultimately being purchased by the NHL in 2009) and constant rumors of being relocated to other cities, including the likes of Winnipeg, Quebec, Hamilton, Ont., and Seattle. Through it all, they've managed to win hockey games -- a lot of hockey games. Since making the change behind the bench to former Dallas coach Dave Tippett, the team has made the playoffs each of the last three seasons. Now they've advanced the conference finals for the first time since they entered the NHL as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979.
(Plus they used to have Bryz, and we've always liked Bryz.)
You would get no argument in proclaiming that yesterday was the best day in Phoenix Coyotes history. In the afternoon before Game 5 against the Preds, they held a press conference in which NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the team would be purchased by a group led by Greg Jamison, former CEO of the Sharks. Not only that, the intent of that ownership group will be to keep the team in its current home in Glendale.
A few hours later, the Yotes took down Nashville 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd at Jobing.com Arena in which everyone wore white. (Well, almost everybody. I believe you may recognize Mr. and Mrs. Tennis Ball, whom you can see during every Ducks game at Honda Center? They apparently made the road trip for this one.)
With the Kings having pulled off a mildly surprising sweep of the No. 2-seeded Blues on Sunday, we've got what should be a thrilling Western Conference Final that will start sometime this weekend (schedule won't be released until later this week).
What sounds better to you? Stanley Cup Champion Phoenix Coyotes or Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings?
I think I know the answer but give us an answer below anyway and feel free to elaborate in the Comments.
Bruce Boudreau is currently writing a playoff blog for the LA Times, in which he begrudgingly admits he likes the Kings (currently up 2-0 in their conference semifinal series with St. Louis) to come out of the West:
It’s hard to say this, but the most impressive team so far has been the Kings. I’ve said from the beginning of the playoffs, they are as well-rounded a team as there is right now. Darryl [Sutter] does a really good job implementing his system and makes great adjustments during the course of a game. It’s quite a battle when you face them.
Boudreau writes that he believes it will be Kings-Rangers for the Cup.
In case you didn't already know, six Ducks are playing in the IIHF World Championships IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships, which will be played May 4-20.
Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler and Kyle Palmieri will skate for USA, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf with Canada and Luca Sbisa with Switzerland. While the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds of the tournament will be split between sites in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden, all six of the Ducks will only be playing at games in Helsinki at Hartwall Arena. The semifinal and medal round games will also take place exclusively in Helsinki.
Here's a schedule of the games involving the Ducks. Games involving Team USA (including Saturday's match with Team Canada) will be televised on NBC Sports Network. We'll be providing coverage (including video highlights) on AnaheimDucks.com as well as our Facebook and Twitter.