It’s been exactly 25 years since Anaheim Mighty Ducks center Anatoli Semenov lined up against his countryman Sergei Fedorov to take the first regular-season faceoff in franchise history. Fedorov won the draw cleanly for the Detroit Red Wings, the first play in a game that the Red Wings would win just as easily. Fedorov scored a goal and added two assists in Detroit’s 7-2 victory over the Mighty Ducks.
Monday night, Anaheim faced the Detroit Red Wings 25 years to the day after their first meeting and the game went much better for the Ducks this time. The team, who wore their 1993 Mighty Ducks home jerseys in the warm-up, came back twice from a goal down on tallies from Hampus Lindholm in the second period and Jakob Silfverberg in the third to force a shootout.
Troy Terry proved he’s capable of making an NHL goalie open his five-hole and scored the deciding goal in the shootout. For the Ducks, the win was their third straight and third consecutive win in their home opener, a hallmark of the franchise since their first meeting against the Red Wings 25 years ago.
During that time, the Mighty Ducks, now just the Ducks, have become a model franchise, even if they got off to a bumpy start on Oct. 8, 1993.
Disney Does Hockey
The Ducks’ history began in a quintessential 90s way, with an outrageous introduction. Elliott Teaford recounted the event in his Sunday article for the Orange County Register.
“Wild Wing descended from the rafters for the first, but definitely not the last time. The Decoys danced their first of their many routines on the ice. Fireworks exploded. A rock anthem was played and played again,” (from ‘Ducks celebrate 25th anniversary of franchise and one unforgettable opening night’, The OC Register – 10/7/18)
Disney also decided to trot out a hockey-inspired version of “Be Our Guest” performed by Lumière, the anthropomorphic candlestick from “Beauty and the Beast” with an army of backup figure skaters. It also featured a rock-guitarist by the name of “The Ice Man” who, according to Teaford’s article, Disney fired by the time the game ended, handing him a check for $1,000.
The Ducks First Roster
The 7-2 loss to the Red Wings that night was just one of 46 the Mighty Ducks would endure that season. Luckily, their 33 victories tied the NHL record for wins by an expansion team along with the Florida Panthers, who began play that same year. It’s a small miracle that the Ducks achieved that many wins, considering the expansion rules of that era and the roster they iced in their first game.
Their most recognizable names were mostly NHL journeymen or role players including Joe Sacco, Bob Corkum – who scored a career-high 51 points, more than doubling his highest output in any other NHL season — Ron Tugnutt and Guy Hebert. Hebert, who is perhaps most recognizable as an analyst with Fox Sports West, started the game for the Ducks. The roster also included heavyweight enforcer Stu Grimson and their most decorated player, Alexei Kasatonov, who had collected two Olympic gold medals and a silver.
An American defenseman, Sean Hill, who was one of nine U.S.-born players to suit up for the Ducks that year, scored the team’s first goal.
Success With and Without the “Mighty”
The Mighty Ducks clinched their first winning season and their first playoff appearance in 1996-97 falling in the Conference Semifinals to, who else, the Red Wings. As “The Mighty Ducks”, the team fluctuated reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03, when goaltender Jean-Sébastien Giguère became one of only five players to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in a losing effort.
In 2006-07 Anaheim dropped the “Mighty”, and the team really took flight. Famously, with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and brothers Scott and Rob Niedermayer, the Anaheim Ducks won their first Stanley Cup. Since that season, the team’s success has been staggering, with only one losing campaign since becoming “The Ducks”. Of the expansion teams to enter the league since 1991 (when the league was 22 teams), Anaheim has a .546 point-percentage, behind only the Nashville Predators and Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Success Off the Ice
The Ducks have achieved more than on-ice success. The franchise’s work to grow the sport in Southern California has had a major impact on increasing participation in hockey in the area, especially within the last 15 years. In 2002-03, the year the Ducks first reached the Stanley Cup Final, California enrollment in USA Hockey recorded 17,671 people. In 2007-08, following Anaheim’s Stanley Cup victory, the number grew to 21,167.
One of the organization’s most important contributions has been the advent of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, which was founded in 2008. The league, which started with one team in 2008, has grown to over 49 teams.
The ADHSHL gives local players, who aren’t able to leave the state or travel within the state to play junior, an opportunity to keep playing hockey. Commissioner of the league, Matt Blanchart, says keeping players local creates a snowball effect of growth. “The students athletes in our league are the best selling point,” he said. “They talk to their friends and they want to join.”
Besides giving it their name, the Ducks contribute heavily to the league. “They sponsor all of the gear that the boys are wearing at new schools,” Blanchart said. “They pay for half the coach’s salary out of the shoot, they pay for half of the ice.”
On top of sponsoring a league, the Ducks are also providing the rarest element needed to grow Southern California Hockey, ice. The Ducks helped build a new $100 million complex that will house four ice sheets, at Great Park in Irvine, CA.
In the time since the league was founded, enrollment in USA Hockey in the state of California has grown by over 10,000 players and in 2018, the ADHSHL had their first alumnus drafted into the NHL when the Las Vegas Golden Knights drafted defenseman Stanislav Demin in the fourth round.
Where to go Next?
In the time since Lumière took the ice to help introduce the Mighty Ducks and “The Ice Man” rocked “The Pond”, the Anaheim Ducks have become one of the league’s more successful teams as well as a catalyst in the growth of Southern California hockey.
Where should the Ducks look next to improve the sport? Perhaps college hockey. With the NHL sponsoring feasibility studies at major universities across the U.S., it’s time for the Samuelis to take a note from Terry Pegula and try to motivate USC or UCLA to start a team. Hey, maybe then “The Ice Man” will get his chance at redemption.
(All stats found at Hockey-Reference.com)