Anaheim Ducks greats Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame back in June in what was an appropriate recognition of everything each player achieved in his career.
I recently highlighted the top five moments Selanne had with the Ducks. Now, let’s take a look back at Kariya’s career. The speedy left winger played for the Mighty Ducks from 1994 through 2003, serving as the team’s captain for seven seasons. With Anaheim, he tallied 300 goals on the dot and added 369 assists for 669 points in 606 games. He reached 50 goals in just his second NHL season and eclipsed 100 points twice.
Kariya then left the Mighty Ducks after the 2002-03 season—a year in which Anaheim finished one win shy of a Stanley Cup championship. After Anaheim chose not to give him a qualifying offer of $10 million, Kariya elected to join his former partner in crime, Selanne, in Colorado with the Avalanche. The situation left a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans, who booed Kariya upon his returns to Anaheim in a different team’s uniform.
Kariya would also go on to play for the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues before sadly needing to retire after the 2009-10 season because of post-concussion symptoms. He finished his career as exactly a point-per-game player, with 989 points in 989 games.
Now that a number of years have passed by, hopefully time has erased most of the resentment from fans and any other parties, as Kariya deserves to have his No. 9 raised to the Honda Center rafters. After all, while Selanne’s career numbers might be more prolific, Kariya became the face of the franchise a year after it joined the NHL. He also holds the franchise records for goals per game (0.49), points per game (1.10), and shorthanded goals (16).
Before his exit from Anaheim, Kariya had numerous great moments and accomplishments with the team, which we’ll now dive into.
Honorable Mention: Back-to-Back Lady Byng Trophies and Reaching 50 Goals
For all of Kariya’s world-class talent on the ice, he was also known as a consummate professional and gentlemanly player. While not so much a memorable moment, Kariya’s back-to-back Lady Byng trophies in 1995-96 and 1996-97 deserve recognition here, as they represent the type of respected player he was. Kariya’s exemplary conduct added to two outstanding regular seasons in which he scored 108 and 99 points.
In that 108-point season in 1995-96, Kariya scored exactly 50 goals for the first and only time in his career, although he did break 40 two other times.
5. Kariya Scores Quickest Goal in Ducks History
One of Kariya’s hallmark traits was his speed. On March 9, 1997, in a game in Colorado against the Avalanche, he applied that trait in a different way. He scored the quickest goal in team history, lighting the lamp just eight seconds into the match. The game would end in a 2-2 tie.
Twenty years later, Kariya still holds this team record.
4. Kariya Named Team Captain
With Anaheim’s captain position open before the 1996-97 season, the club chose Kariya to fill the role. Already the face of the burgeoning Mighty Ducks franchise because of his on-ice performance, becoming the captain solidified that status.
Kariya was just 21 years old when the Ducks handed the ‘C’ to him, making him the youngest captain in the NHL at the time. He would serve in that role until he left Anaheim following the 2002-03 season.
3. 2003 Triple Overtime Goal Versus Red Wings
The Ducks qualified for the playoffs in 2002-03 as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. As such, they were not widely expected to do much damage in the playoffs, especially with a first-round matchup against the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings, who happened to be the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Game 1 at Joe Louis Arena was an instant classic, as the Ducks battled the Red Wings all the way to triple overtime. In that final frame, it was Kariya who delivered the game-winning tally after jumping on a loose puck in the slot that resulted from a point shot after an offensive-zone faceoff win.
That goal would jump-start Anaheim’s historic first-round sweep of the heavily-favored Red Wings, and they would ultimately make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing in seven games to the New Jersey Devils. Without Kariya’s overtime winner in the team’s first game of the postseason, things might have played out completely differently.
2. Kariya Scores First Playoff Overtime Goal in Ducks History
Prior to that run in the 2003 postseason, the Mighty Ducks had only won one playoff series in their short history, all the way back in 1997. Kariya was instrumental in that one as well.
Trailing the then-Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in the series, Anaheim, the No. 4 seed in its first playoff series ever, had to go on the road for Game 6 against the No. 5-seed Coyotes in an effort to stave off elimination. Tied 2-2, the game went to overtime—another first for the Anaheim franchise.
In the extra session, Kariya delivered another first for the Ducks: a playoff overtime winner. As part of a seemingly innocuous play, the other half of the Ducks’ lethal tandem, the aforementioned Teemu Selanne, flipped the puck over and through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone toward the left side. Kariya sped toward and tracked down the puck, beating a defender to it before wiring a quick wrist shot off the far post and into the net. The rolling puck and the velocity Kariya got on the shot combined to handcuff Coyotes goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
With that, the Ducks had forced a Game 7 back in Anaheim, which they went on to win 3-0.
1. “Off the Floor, On the Board!”
Before the Ducks won their first Stanley Cup championship in 2007, Kariya was responsible for what was then perhaps the most iconic moment in franchise history.
Having advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final as a No. 7 seed in 2003, the Ducks found themselves down three games to two against the favored Devils. With their season on the line, the Ducks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. With the score 3-1 early in the second period and the Devils looking to stage a comeback, Scott Stevens delivered a late and high hit on Kariya, catching him unawares and knocking him out for a short while.
It was the type of hit that would have no place in today’s game with increased precautions around concussions and dangerous head-hunting hits (though as an aside, it’s still very much a problem that needs to be eradicated). Nevertheless, Stevens was famous for those types of hits throughout his career.
While possibly not the safest choice, Kariya and the team chose to have him return to the game later in the second period. What followed was an inspiring moment that will still give hockey fans goosebumps to this day.
Upon his return, Kariya scored on a blistering slap shot from just above the top of the left circle, igniting the crowd and quelling any potential Devils comeback, as the Ducks would go on to win the game 5-2. Punctuated by the great Gary Thorne’s “Off the floor, on the board!” call, this stands as the most memorable moment of Kariya’s career with the Ducks.
Although Anaheim would go on to lose Game 7 in New Jersey, this moment and the entirety of that team’s run in 2003 still evoke fond memories for Ducks fans despite any bitterness that might still be lingering over Kariya’s departure.
With Kariya now deservedly enshrined in the Hall of Fame, it’s time for the Ducks to retire his number. It’s been a tough situation given the way Kariya left the team and his later bitterness towards hockey because of the lack of adequate protection from the league against illegal hits—like Stevens’—that cumulatively ended Kariya’s career prematurely. Kariya did, however, return to the Ducks this past postseason as a special guest during a playoff celebration, so there seems to be hope that a jersey retirement could eventually follow.