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Ducks Test Mind Expansion

September 11, 1993|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — None of the misery that the word expansion suggests was anywhere in evidence Friday at Anaheim Arena, where Stu Grimson earned a hardy cheer from two dozen fans at 7:49 a.m.--simply for being the first Mighty Duck to step on the ice for training camp.

Several hundred fans filed in and out, applauding even the simplest drills and weighing in occasionally with the honk of a duck call. Even so, they weren't as giddy as the San Jose Shark fans who attended that team's first training camp at the Cow Palace two years ago: They gave the Zamboni a standing ovation.

The Ducks are approaching the long season with a mix of optimism and pragmatism that narrowly manages to avoid the saccharine.

"They're not using the word expansion," said defenseman David Williams, a former Shark. "It's just our first year playing together."

Grimson, a former Chicago Blackhawk, tried to explain another philosophy.

"The coaching staff mentioned that they want us to prepare ourselves to win each game," Grimson said. "Obviously, that's not going to happen, and true, it's not going to happen for anyone in this league. But we have to give ourselves an opportunity to win by being physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for each game in order to give ourselves a chance to win, because it's going to be difficult to compete at this level."

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With five new teams entering the NHL over three seasons, expansion is no longer a novelty. There are expansion veterans all around the Duck dressing room, from former Kings Lonnie Loach and Jim Thomson and defenseman Mark Ferner, who all played with Ottawa, to ex-Shark Williams.

Even the Ducks' general manager, Jack Ferreira, is an expansion veteran. He put together the Sharks' first team before being fired in a front-office shake-up after the first season.

"There was a lot of excitement there. People were primed for it just as they are here," Ferreira said. "But I'm a little more determined because of the circumstances I left San Jose under. I've got to be honest. There's a little bit bigger flame going to get this off on the right track."

Loach escaped Ottawa on waivers and went to the King organization after the season started--and long before the team finished with a 1-41 road record and 10 victories.

"They deserve a winner here. What they've done in six months is something Ottawa hasn't done yet," he said. "It was rough. When we got there, the (dressing) rooms weren't finished, and the practice rink wasn't started. They were still scrambling and they'd had a year to get ready."

Loach said his disappointment over being taken in the expansion draft has mellowed.

"I didn't want to go through an Ottawa again. In Ottawa they said the right things but the opportunity wasn't there. I got to camp and I wasn't even playing in the exhibition games. I could tell I wasn't high on their list.

"I'm going to get the opportunity here. They don't have a lot of scorers. We're a big tough team. The opportunity will be there. It's up to me to fill the shoes."

Thomson played 15 games with Ottawa before he became a King in the Bob Kudelski deal. He remembers the Ottawa camp as huge and disorganized, with more than 70 players. The Ducks have 45, small by NHL standards.

"I think they're doing it right by keeping it small, because they can look at players closer," he said.

He also remembers even Ottawa started camp with optimism.

"I thought that Ottawa team was better that it showed," he said. "But I think we can compete every night more than Ottawa did because of our size, the fact that we're bigger and stronger."

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