There are countless special moments that make this job fun, but the best ones are those that come when you least expect it.
I'll admit that coming into these London Olympics, women's water polo was not among the sports I was expecting to ardently follow. But here I was last night, joining a group of about 50 people (which included a giant duck) at John Wayne Airport to welcome home gold medal-winning water polo player Courtney Mathewson.
Here's how it all came about:
A couple of weeks ago, we got word from a fan on Twitter that during the NBC telecast of the USA-Spain game on August 1, play-by-play announcer Doc Emrick (who happens to be a legendary hockey announcer) reported that Team USA attacker Courtney Mathewson was a huge Ducks fan who was sporting the team's gear around the Olympic Village. We learned Courtney goes to several games a year with her husband Chris Morinello and his family, who have been season ticket holders since '93.
We attempted to get ahold of Mathewson through her Twitter account (I also messaged Chris on Facebook) to see if we might get a ahold of a picture. Not long afterward, she emailed me this photo, which could hardly have been more perfect.
We posted the photo on Facebook and Twitter, which got a great reaction from Ducks fans. Needless to say, we followed the progress of Courtney and the U.S. team, all the way through their triumph over Spain in the championship game last week, as they captured the first women's water polo gold medal in U.S. history.
Over the weekend, Chris messaged me to let me know they were planning a homecoming for Courtney at John Wayne Airport on Monday night and asked (half-jokingly) if Wild Wing could be there. Of course, we jumped at the chance, and we got Wild Wing to join the large group of friends and family (not to mention more than a few curious onlookers) for the surprise homecoming. The group could hardly have been more enthusiastic, making signs for the occasion, including the letters C-O-U-R-T-N-E-Y, and chanting "USA! USA!" as she came down the escalator to our waiting area.
The look on a tired Courtney's face (she had endured 14 hours of flying from London to Chicago to OC) was priceless, especially when she saw Wild Wing, who presented her with the Ducks jersey with MATHEWSON and her number 7 on the back.
Below is one of the great photos we got of the moment, and click here to see the rest.
Meanwhile, later last night I got this tweet from a gold medalist that pretty much made my summer:
Finally, we got the whole scene on video, which you can watch below. We left out the part in which Courtney reveals that one of the first things she can't wait to do after getting home is eat at Chipotle.
Thank you, once again, to Courtney for being so gracious and representing Ducks fans in one of the cooler ways imaginable. Can't wait to see her again, this time wearing that jersey at Honda Center.
New Ducks defenseman Sheldon Souray could hardly have been more gracious, personable and -- no other way to put it -- chatty during his live chat with fans we held this afternoon. He made it clear early on that no question was off limits, and he talked plentifully about how much he was looking forward to the Ducks and what he could bring with the team. Meanwhile, he delved into his off-the-ice side when he talked about what he's been doing this summer, his favorite TV shows and movies, and even his year-and-a-half-long relationship with WWE superstar Kelly Kelly.
A few highlights:
On why he chose Anaheim
One of the reasons was that they are really close to being back to a playoff team. They're closer than people give them credit for. Another reason was that I know a couple guys on the team, Saku being one of them, and I know his commitment to winning a Stanley Cup. I talked to him before free agency began about the Ducks and what went wrong last year. I felt that I could probably come in and help out, be a piece of the puzzle moving forward and get this team over the hump. Third reason, is I'm close to my family over here. My young daughters are here and I can be a part of their lives on a more consistent basis. All of that is important to me.
On who he's looking forward to playing with
I'm excited to get back and play with Saku. I played with him for 7 years in Montreal, and I'm a huge fan of his. His story is pretty well-documented and he's been an inspiration to so many people. I'm looking forward to getting back and playing with him. I'm also looking forward to getting on the other side and not having to defend Perry and Getzlaf. That will be a nice change. My arms were getting tired of cross-checking Perry every game.
On how he met Kelly Kelly
I met her through a mutual friend and we kind of kept in contact and that was it. We've been together about a year and a half. One thing we've been lucky to do as athletes is meet a lot of people -- other athletes, celebrities, actors. You get to meet so many different people from so many walks of life. Some you like, some you don't. I like her a lot more than other people.
On whether he felt this morning's earthquake
I actually didn't. I must have been training too hard. I thought it was just me putting the weights back on the floor.
You can check out the entire transcript here.
Sheldon seemed to have so much to say about a number of topics, but we had to wrap up the chat eventually. Definitely looking forward to talking with him more this season.
We will be holding a live chat with Sheldon Souray on Wednesday at noon (one of the preferred times of day fans voted on through Facebook and Twitter). I'm looking forward to getting to know a little bit more about one of the newest Ducks.
If you would like to have an email reminder of the event sent to you, go to this page. You'll be able to submit questions during the event, but if you'd like to do it in advance, use the #AskSheldon hashtag on Twitter or submit it in the Comments on our Facebook page.
|One more year (at least) of this glorious hair.
But the strategy we here in Ducks land used to release the announcement, then the reaction that announcement got throughout the day, was slathered in social media. It's especially unique when you consider that social media barely existed the first time Teemu started doing these annual summer comeback decisions.
Letting you in on a little something, this video we used to spring the announcement was actually shot back in May, before Teemu headed to Finland for the summer and his current vacation in Italy (not a bad life he leads). It was shot with a "just in case" intent, even though, for whatever reason, most of us here felt more assured of his return than we have in past offseasons.)
In the days leading up to the announcement, we decided to first release the video on our Ducks Mobile App (announcing it was there on Twitter and Facebook), to provide a bit of an exclusive for those who have downloaded it. About a half hour later, we posted a link to the video on those social networks, and right around the same time the flood of retweets, replies and Facebook comments came pouring in. More than 200,000 people saw the posts on Facebook this morning regarding Selanne's comeback, while almost 4,000 people "Like"d them and close to 400 commented on it, with countless others showing their enthusiasm on Twitter. Here's a pretty cool collection of those comments. Among them were these from Selanne's teammates:
The #OneMoreYear hashtag was used on Twitter by countless fans to celebrate the announcement, as you'll see here, although with Teemu, I don't see why #FiveMoreYears is too much to ask.
It's all a reflection of the unabashed and well-deserved love for the 42-year-old Selanne, something we're able to see immediately in the age of social media -- and that's a pretty cool thing.
For those following the Ducks on Twitter, they were the first to see Teemu's comments on the return during his long-distance conference call with media this afternoon. Among the comments (in which he encouragingly used the words "unfinished business" more than once):
On his decision to return
"I still feel that I have something to give and that I can still play on this high level. Even with the tough first half we had last year, I still enjoyed the game so much. That is why I think I knew way earlier than normal that I wanted to play again. Our team, we want to win again. That is a big part of my decision too."
On continuing to play in his 40s
"Age is a funny thing. A lot of times, I don’t really feel 42 right now. After all, they are tough numbers. It all depends how good you feel, how healthy you are and how much passion you have for the game. That is why I still enjoy the game. It’s fun to go to the rink every morning. It sounds pretty old when you say 42 as a hockey player. Mentally, I am still the same level as Getzlaf and those other guys. That is most important and that is why I am still in the game."
On talking with his family about the decision
"My family has always been so good. Once in a while they ask what I’m going to do. They always have said it’s your decision and we’re going to support it 100 percent. My family felt that I’m not ready to retire. They know I’m at the end of the runway right now and there are not going to be many years left. We are all enjoying this moment right now. I know my boys are very excited that I’m back."
And as we've seen today, they aren't the only boys (and girls) who are excited today.
He's also by all accounts a solid guy who was one of the veteran voices in the Carolina locker room the past couple of seasons. In other words, Ducks fans, we're gonna like this guy.
I got a chance to talk yesterday to Bryan over the phone, as he and his wife Lexie and two kids are spending time in their summer place in South Florida. Bryan and Lexie, both natives of Kingston, Ontario, are currently working on getting their U.S. citizenship.
|Souray: "When this opportunity presented itself, it was really a dream come true so to speak. It worked on so many different levels that I couldn’t be happier with."|
The Ducks did all of that during a flurry of activity yesterday afternoon, as Bob Murray's phone likely had smoke coming out of it by the end of the day. Anaheim brought in no less than four players and saw two free agents sign with other teams.
First the additions, which included three veteran defensemen -- Bryan Allen (formerly of Carolina), Jordan Hendry (Chicago) and Sheldon Souray (who played last season in Dallas). The Ducks also brought in some forward depth in locking up 27-year-old former Montreal Canadien and Minnesota Wild (Wild man? Wild player?) Brad Staubitz with a two-year deal.
Let's start with Souray, the 35-year-old vet with a big body and an atomic bomb of a shot that was once measured at an unofficial record speed of 106.7 mph (at a skills competition in Edmonton in '09). Bob Murray indicated going into free agency that he wanted to get bigger on the blue line, and he has that in Souray at 6-4, 237 pounds. He'll also be huge on the power play, having once scored 26 goals for Montreal and 23 for Edmonton. He had six goals and 15 assists last year in Dallas to go along with a +11 rating.
Before making the deal for Souray, Murray got endorsements from a number of Ducks vets, including Saku Koivu, who played with him in Montreal. "Quite honestly, I talked to a few veterans on our hockey team and they definitely said go forward and get this guy if you can, so I did."
Along with his other attributes, one thing Souray can do is talk, as evidenced in this lengthy conference call with reporters yesterday afternoon. A few snippets:
On coming to Southern California, where his kids live: "I was always hoping. In an ideal situation, this would have been it. Sometimes you just never know. When this opportunity presented itself, it was really a dream come true so to speak. It worked on so many different levels that I couldn’t be happier with."
"I don’t think it’s been any secret how important my family is to me and the decisions I’ve made in the past regarding my family. I’ve been out in Southern California since 2001. To be able to come home and be this close, I’ve always played my best hockey when I’ve been around my family, when they’ve come in to visit and when I’ve been able to spend time with them. There are some things that are probably a little bit more important than hockey. To be able to combine those two things, I really truly feel that I have my best years ahead."
Here's a look at some of the reaction on Twitter to the Souray signing, including a tweet from Souray himself.
We'll have much more to say about Souray, who brings a ton of character to the room, in the coming month. Along with him, even more size and experience on the back end came to the Ducks in Allen (a gritty defensive defenseman with a ton of leadership attributes) and Hendry. “We’ve got a number of young defensemen on our team,” Murray said. ”I don’t feel we’ve supported our younger defensemen with enough size and oomph in the last couple of years. I said at the middle of last year, it wasn’t going to happen again.
“We were going to go and surround them with some bigger veteran guys. You can never have enough defenseman, especially in the Western Conference. It’s the decision we made and we moved forward today.”
We also move forward without a couple of guys who have been staples of the Ducks the past few seasons -- George Parros and Sheldon Brookbank. First Brookbank, who had his best year as a Duck last year and decided to test the free agency market, getting rewarded with a nice two-year deal from the Blackhawks.
And of course it's tough to say goodbye to Parros (who signed a two-year deal with Florida), a fan favorite pretty much from the moment he joined the Ducks in the beginning of that 2006-07 Stanley Cup season. He was beloved not just for the way he threw fists on the ice, but what he did off it. He was always friendly with fans, oftentimes funny and an enthusiastic participant in a number of charity efforts, including his own annual donation of his long hair in his Cut for the Kids, which benefited the Childhood Leukemia Foundation.
Behind-the-scenes, he was always willing to do what he could to help, realizing the importance of marketing the game in Southern California. That included this iconic video with the line, "Papers down, ladies. It's game time!"
Letting Parros go was something we all saw as a possibility, however, especially after Murray said at Select-a-Seat, . “George wants to play every night and every game, and we don't know if that can be the case."
Parros himself had a nice message of goodbye to the fans on Twitter: I would like to say thanks to the Samueli's, the ducks organization and especially the fans, I leave ANA with a heavy heart...I am forever grateful to my teammates and fans who I have forged relationships with that will be with me always! ... That being said, I am excited to start a new career in FLA and am looking forward to bringing the stache to the sunshine state!!!
So we say goodbye to George, say goodbye to Sheldon (becoming possibly the first team in NHL history to lose a Sheldon and gain one in the same day) and look forward to what the Ducks did bring in for 2012-13 and beyond.
Meanwhile, there is another piece of free agency news that Ducks fans are all waiting for with baited breath, and we will likely have something to report on that this week.
On his first career goal:
That was a pretty special day, especially scoring it in Joe Louis Arena in that. I tend to score a lot of goals against Detroit for some reason. I was at the point for some reason, probably shouldn't have been there. I took a slap shot from the point and it went in over the shoulder. It was just one of those pucks that found a way in.
On people saying he should shoot more:
I always answer, "What would Corey Perry do if I was shooting all the time?”
On his brother Chris, a wide receiver for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League:
Rider Nation is pretty strong, so when I go back home, people know my brother more than me. We had competition growing up, but he helped push me when I was young. I always wanted to be involved in what he was doing. My brother is like my best friend, and he took a back seat to a lot when I got attention at a younger age. He developed into a football player at like 22 or 23. By that time, I was already in the NHL for a little while. When he went through it, I got to sit back and support him, and show up at his games and help him through the process I already went through.”
On playing baseball as a kid (when host Jeff Marek said he heard he was a great catcher with a gun behind the plate, Getzlaf said, "That must have come from my mom."):
Growing up, I always believed in playing different sports, and so did my family. We didn't want to focus on one thing. I played baseball, volleyball, football and all that stuff. As you get older, you kind of have to pick a route and that's when I leaned toward hockey.
I was very involved and I loved baseball. I loved being outside. I was a catcher, so I got to be in control a little bit, which is a good thing for me. I loved football, but I think I was better at baseball.
On making those sketches with Bobby Ryan for the NHL Awards:
I'm sure it was a lot more fun for me than Bobby. We had a good time with it. We were skeptical about it, and I was worried about it because I didn't want to put out a thing where we think we're better than the States. We had a lot of fun with it, and it's something you don't experience a lot as a player as far as all that goes into it.
On seeing the game grow in Southern California:
It has a lot. When the Samuelis came in, they took a lot of interest in the team and building it to where it is now. They've bought and refurbished a lot of rinks in the area and built things up that way as well. It's been very encouraging.
On wearing shorts to the rink:
It's unbelievable. It's a different feeling, that’s for sure. I drove a convertible to the rink every day for the first couple of years. It's a little easier to get up and go to the car when you don't have to remote start it from the house first.
On pregame rituals:
I'm not superstitious at all. I try not to worry about things I can't control. The problem with superstitions is when they don't go your way, suddenly you have a problem. Anyone who's played with me will tell you I'm pretty relaxed before the games.
On tinkering with equipment:
I'm more of an old-fashioned guy when it comes to the equipment. When I find something I like, I don't change it. That's tough in our league because people want you to use the newest equipment. There are guys who struggle with that. But as Teemu Selanne says, "You're either a stick guy or a skate guy, and if you're both, you're in trouble."
On Selanne retiring:
I have five hockey sticks in my garage signed by him saying it's his last year, and "Thanks for everything.” This year I was convinced he was retiring and he gave me another stick. It's now in that pile.
On Selanne playing at this level at his age:
It doesn't amaze me because I know him and see him every day and see what kind of shape he's in. I'm surprised he hasn't stepped away, but at no time has he shown he can't play anymore. He's still young at heart and wants to be around the guys and keep playing. Other guys step away when it's time for them to leave, but he just hasn't reached that level.
On his summer plans:
I like to relax as much as possible. We try not to travel too much. We live in Kelowna, BC in the offseason, and we love being on the water. I have a gym at my house that I work out in until August, and then I go into town and skate with the guys.
On next season:
We're looking forward to going into camp and having our coach set and we're expecting good things. We're excited about going into camp with this group. I know Bob [Murray] has some work to do, but we're excited and ready to go.
In Lubo's 2 1/2 seasons here, Ducks fans had grown fond of his sunny demeanor off the ice, as well as a rocket of a shot on it. But while Visnovsky had a career year two seasons ago, he was plagued by shoulder injuries last year and struggled. He's going to be 36 years old, and with the Ducks looking to get younger on the back end, it was a deal they felt they had to make.
"He’s an offensive defenseman," Bob Murray said. "We have some younger players who are offensive. It’s a hockey move. We’re attempting to change a little bit of the look of the defense. It’s one step at a time. This is the first step in trying to change the look on that back end."
Meanwhile, Visnovsky's cap hit of $5.6 million (cash hit of $3 million) this season -- the last year of his contract -- was also a factor. "In no way, shape or form is this an attempt to move money," Murray said. "It’s an opportunity to spend that money elsewhere."
Not long after that trade, the Ducks bolstered their corps of defensive prospects when they took Swedish d-man Hampus Lindholm with the sixth overall selection in the Draft.
It was a pick that came as a surprise initially, until you examine Lindholm a little more closely. He's a big kid at 6-2, 196 pounds (and getting bigger) and by all accounts is a strong skater who blew scouts away during his VO2Max test at the NHL Combine. His time of 14:40 was more than a minute better than the next-best guy -- second overall pick Ryan Murray. During the Draft broacast on NBC Sports Network, Pierre McGuire called him a "steal" at No. 6. Here's what Ducks Director of Amateur Scouting Martin Madden said about him:
"Overall, nobody is as strong in every aspect of the game at this point and projecting forward. What we like the most about Hampus is his poise and the fact that he can still play with passion. He can push the pace while a poised game. He’s a very mature kid and he’s still growing, still getting bigger.
"He comes from a very good family. He’s been put in positions of responsibility for the last few years. He’s played with men. He’s just a very even-keeled, quietly confident individual. That is what impressed us."
Here is what Madden said about the possibility of the Ducks trading down in that first round, as was speculated by some before the Draft: "We did our homework and figured that (Lindholm) was probably the guy who we were going to get. He was a guy who we wanted. Even though the outside perception is that we might be able to trade back, through the due diligence we did, we couldn’t afford that luxury.
"We were going to lose him and going to lose the two other options that were alongside of him in order to drop back to the options that ended up being available on draft day. It would have taken another first round pick for us to move back and that didn’t come, so we weren’t going to risk losing him for a second round pick. That is how that came down."
On Saturday, before a lot of Ducks fans on the West Coast had gotten out of bed, Anaheim made a popular pick in Nicolas Kerdiles (pronounced Kuhr-dee-less). The 6-2, 201-pound left winger was born in Texas but grew up in Irvine, and becomes the first Ducks draft selection raised in Orange County. And he can play. He led the U.S. National Under-18 team with 20-22=42 points in 50 games last year and won gold as a member of Team USA both the 2011 and 2012 IIHF Under-18 World Junior Championships. Kerdiles, who will be at this week's conditioning camp at The Rinks - Anaheim Ice, has committed to play at the University of Wisconsin in the fall. He grew up going to Ducks games, including the '07 Cup clincher, and compares his game to Ryan Kesler's -- definitely a good sign.
"He’s just a smart, hard-working player," Madden said of Kerdiles. "He’s a two-way player and has a big shot. I really like the release on his wrist shot. It allows him to score goals at this level and I think it will allow him to score at the next level as well. He should be able to work his way up the lineup. His versatility was very enticing."
Here's a lot more on Kerdiles, including a Q&A with him from Saturday and this feature story on him by Scott Burnside of ESPN.com.
The Ducks took 22-year-old goalie Frederik Andersen in the third round (87th overall), who played in 39 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League last season and put up these garish numbers: a 1.67 goals-against average with seven shutouts and a .941 save percentage. He's a a native of Denmark who played for his national team at the last four IIHF World Championships.
Here's a little bit more on him and the Ducks' next five picks on Saturday.
First the schedule, which rolls out with four straight games at home against San Jose, Dallas, Carolina and Edmonton. Unlike last year, there are no mammoth eight-game road trips, the longest being four different five-gamers. The first of those is an intriguing one in late October/early November, when the Ducks hit Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Philly and Ottawa. The latter two being back-to-back weekend games with 10 a.m. Pacific puck drop times (love that). That's followed by the longest homestand of the season, a six-gamer against Vancouver, NYI, Buffalo, Columbus, Tampa and LA.
Speaking of LA, the Ducks end the season against them at Staples Center on April 13 and host them here at Honda Center on November 18, January 2 and March 6. Meanwhile, we have the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving matinee against Chicago on November 23 and the now-traditional New Year's Eve game against Colorado on ... you know when New Year's Eve is.
Here's the rest of the schedule, which includes a link for downloading it to your Outlook calendar, iPhone and more.
Now, the AHL affiliation. The Admirals were admitted to the AHL as an expansion franchise for the 2000-01 season, and they were affiliated with the Blackhawks until 2007. They were the Lightning's affiliate the last five years, including this season when they went a ridiculous 43-3 in their last 46 games (including 28 in a row) and rolled to the Calder Cup championship.
And they have some great fans as well, as attested to in this Puck Daddy piece as well as this video in which the crowd helps an 8-year-old anthem singer when the sound in the arena failed during the song.
Trent Yawney, who took over as associate head coach of the Ducks' affiliate in Syracuse in January last season, led the Crunch to a 15-3-1-1 record in the last 20 games and a berth in the playoffs. Yawney will be the coach in Norfolk, where he previously helmed the Admirals from 2000-05. His 24 years of experience in pro hockey include serving as a Ducks scout in 2007-08 and part of last season. Marty Wilford, who was an assistant coach with Syracuse last season, will serve that same role in Norfolk.
The Admirals play in a pretty cool-looking arena called Norfolk Scope, which happens to feature the world's largest concrete dome.
- - -
Those who are still fans of Sammy Pahlsson will be interested to know that the 34-year-old who last played with Vancouver has signed a three-year deal to play with Modo of the Swedish Elite League. Pahlsson, who was with the Ducks from 2000 through 2009, played previously for Modo from 1994 through 2000.
I've told this story before: I was always a big Sammy Pahlsson fan when he was with the Ducks, so much so that when he was traded away in '09, someone dropped on my desk an autographed photo of him that had "Goodbye Brady, My Love" scribbled on it (here's the photo). It's still on my bulletin board and to this day, I don't know who did it.
I just know it wasn't Sammy.
The NHL Draft is coming up on Friday and Saturday, with the Ducks owning the sixth overall pick in this thing.
In the lead-up to the Draft, we've got lots of content to tide you over, including some cool flashback videos covering some pretty popular recent Ducks draftees:
- Behind the scenes of Devante Smith-Pelly's draft day in 2010
- Emerson Etem looks back on his 2010 draft day for TSN
- Cam Fowler goes through an emotional ride of falling to the Ducks at No. 12 in 2010
Meanwhile, I did a Q&A with Ducks Director of Amateur Scouting Martin Madden, in which he discusses the preparation by him and the scouting staff going into the Draft. Good stuff.
And if you're wondering what kind of player the Ducks might get at No. 6, here are some videos of the top prospects.
For more on this draft and past ones for the Ducks, check out the Draft Guide we put up last week.