Remembering the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Two nights ago, during the Anaheim Ducks-Ottawa Senators game at Honda Center, the Ducks celebrated their past with a throwback night: a night where they were once again the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Members of the inaugural 1993-94 team were in attendance, and the Ducks went all out when it came to the ultimate taste of hockey nostalgia: eggplant-and-jade Wild Wing jerseys, the opening video straight from the 1997-98 season…

…the original goal siren, and 93-cent sodas, bags of popcorn, and Mighty Ducks cupcakes! If you watched the game on Prime Ticket, the Ducks went all out during the broadcast, using throwback graphics, eggplant-and-jade team colors on the scoring bug, a spinning Wild Wing logo during a transition wipe, and even the use of vintage Prime Ticket mic flags! If you grew up a 90s kid, that night was your night.

For me, when you talk about the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, I always think about their greatest success under their original name: their 2002-2003 season. In their tenth season of operation, the Mighty Ducks, under the direction of first-year head coach Mike Babcock, finished with a record of 40-27-9-6, good enough to qualify as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. It was the Ducks’ third time qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and their first-round opponent was a team they haven’t beat in the playoffs at the time: the Detroit Red Wings. It all started when Paul Kariya won Game 1 in Detroit in triple overtime. Up 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Mighty Ducks would go on and shock the world by sweeping the then-defending Stanley Cup champions with an overtime winner from Steve Rucchin.

In the second round, the Ducks’ next opponent was the top-seeded Dallas Stars. In Game 1, the Ducks and the Stars played in what turned out to be the fourth-longest game in Stanley Cup Playoff history.

After the epic Game 1 in Dallas, the Mighty Ducks had taken a 3-2 series lead over the Stars. In Game 6, with the game tied 3-3 and another overtime game looming again in the horizon, Sandis Ozolinsh put the Dallas Stars away with 1:06 left in regulation time.

In the Western Conference Final, the Mighty Ducks faced off against another Cinderella team, the sixth-seeded Minnesota Wild.  Like the previous two series, the first game went into multiple overtimes. Petr Sykora once again was the hero for the Ducks.

The improbable run of the Mighty Ducks culminated on the night of May 16, when the Ducks punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final by sweeping the Wild with a 2-1 win in Game 4.

Taking advantage of the Ducks’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, ESPN/ABC (both owned by The Walt Disney Company [at the time]) made the intro to Game 1 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final epic, with a little help from the voice of Kiefer Sutherland.

I’d like to tell you a story…a story you might not believe about a team on the edge of destiny born on the pages of a movie script.

The idea of The Mighty Ducks began in Hollywood, and one year after the gang of misfits miraculously rose to the top, fiction became reality in Anaheim.

Not unlike their big-screen brethren, the NHL version of the Ducks was a team that couldn’t shoot straight. Year after year, they followed the movie script: stumbling to last-place finishes, but the Hollywood ending remained a distant dream.

Then, seven weeks ago, the Mighty Ducks finally found the ending to the script that was written for them ten years ago.

Now the impossible dream meats a daunting reality: the New Jersey Devils are the dream-crushers. Straight out of central casting, battle-tested, and brutally efficient. Three times in the Finals in the last four years, two Stanley Cups — nothing less than a victory machine. There is no script they have not torn to pieces.

In the movies, the ending is predetermined: a rookie coach walks through the door, a gifted captain becomes a leader, and a young goaltender stops every puck shot his way. But this not a movie: these players are real. So is their quest. There is no greater reality than a name etched in hockey history.

This intro would be rewritten two weeks later for Game 7, this time , it was narrated by NHL on ESPN/ABC play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne.

The Mighty Ducks were born in Hollywood on the pages of a movie script: a gang of misfits’ search for respect behind a bold, young coach with a dream, and a brilliant, but troubled star searching for his identity. This team with a funny name miraculously rose to the top.

One year later, fiction became reality in Anaheim. Not unlike their big-screen brethren, the NHL version of the Ducks was a team that couldn’t shoot straight…until two months ago, when the Mighty Ducks finally found the ending to the script written for them a decade ago. They shocked the sports world, marching confidently through the first three playoff rounds: a team late for an appointment with destiny.

But in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Ducks may have met their match: the New Jersey Devils are the terminator; straight out of central casting, battle-tested, and brutally efficient. They have a grizzled, veteran coach, and a ferocious captain with a champion’s heart, who crushes all pretenders to the throne. Looking for a third championship in nine years, the Devils have been dominant for a decade, but they are haunted by the memory of a Game 7 loss in the Finals two years ago to this day.

For six games, each team has followed its own script: the Devils ruthlessly dominating in their three wins in The Swamp, the Mighty Ducks magically winning two heart-stopping overtime games at The Pond. And when faced with elimination in Game 6, the Ducks showed the determination that champions are made of. Then, suddenly, these two stories collided with a stunning ferocity: the man with the heart of a champion met the man in search of his destiny. Minutes later, a moment even Hollywood wouldn’t dare to write…

So, tonight, we have reached the final scene of the final act. There is room for only one dream: one team of destiny. There is no greater reality than your name etched in immortality.

And though the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup, the Ducks proved to the world that for one year, they were mighty enough to stand tall against one of the premier teams in the NHL. The following season, the Ducks missed the playoffs. During the 2004-05 lockout, Henry and Susan Samueli bought the Ducks from The Walt Disney Company for $75 million, and after the 2005-06 season, the Ducks were Mighty no more. Carl Sagan once said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” It was that night where the Ducks honored their past, and at the same time, played for now, and even it was for just one night, the Ducks were Mighty again.

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