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MIGHTY DUCKS '93-94: PREMIERE SEASON : Their Long-Lost Ancestors Were Characters, All Right : Original Ducks: The arena was as much a part of the Long Island minor league team's lore as the players and the battles and games they played from 1959-73.

October 03, 1993|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Muckler remembers the woman and her broomstick most of all.

Tim Moriarty can't forget the arena's awful aroma, the chicken wire and the fights.

The Long Island Ducks are long gone, buried by 20 years of NHL success on the island and the rise of a new breed of Duck in Anaheim, but they live on in the memories of Muckler, Moriarty and others.

Only a handful mourned the Long Island Ducks' passing after 14 wild and crazy years from 1959 to 1973 in the Eastern Hockey League.

Far more were excited by the NHL expansion team playing in a sparkling new arena in Nassau County. After all, why would anyone want to watch minor league hockey when they could catch an NHL game just as easily?

When Disney waved its magic wand, creating the Mighty Ducks, it seemed one more reason to forget the Long Island Ducks.

The new Ducks take their name from a Disney film. The old Ducks were so named because duck was a fashionable dish on Long Island in the late 1950s and early '60s.

The new Ducks have Michael Eisner, Disney chairman and chief executive officer, as the team's representative on the NHL Board of Governors.

The Long Island Ducks were owned by Al Baron of Patchogue, N.Y., who somehow kept them one step ahead of the bill collectors. "I don't know why he can't collect stamps like everybody else," his wife once said.

The Mighty Ducks play in the 17,250-seat Anaheim Arena, done in eye-catching marble and brass with plush carpeting and luxury suites.

The Long Island Ducks played in the 4,000-seat Long Island Arena, which was as much a part of the team's lore as the players, the games they played and the battles they fought.

The building still stands in Commack, but now it's a flea market. With each passing sale, the echoes of the Ducks grow faint.

It's left to people like Muckler and Moriarty to pass on the stories to a new generation.

*

The phone rang in a Vancouver hotel room and Muckler, coach of the Buffalo Sabres, laughed when the caller asked about his most vivid Duck memory.

Muckler has coached in Minnesota, Edmonton and Buffalo in the NHL, and in Cleveland, Providence, Dallas and Wichita in the minor leagues.

But he got his coaching start with the Ducks in 1964.

"I went there as a player," Muckler said one afternoon before the Sabres were to play the Vancouver Canucks in an exhibition game.

"The following year, I broke my foot and was coach and (general manager). Then the next year, I was part-owner, GM and coach."

His stint was short and sweet. In 1967, he left to become the New York Rangers' director of player personnel. But what stories he tells of those years.

Such as the time:

* A woman, a first-time visitor to a Duck game, bonked a referee over the head with her broom as he was leaving the ice. "She thought it was all part of the act," Muckler said, laughing. "She knocked him out cold. We brought him in the dressing room, and the president of the league had to talk him out of suing her."

What she was doing with a broom at a hockey game isn't entirely clear.

* The Duck team bus was impounded on a trip to Jacksonville, Fla., and the players had to hike the remaining 10 miles to the hotel. "We left Long Island in a snowstorm and the trip took about 30 hours," Muckler said. "Once we passed the border, a cop pulled over the bus because the driver didn't have a license to drive in Florida."

Baron later bought a DC-3 to fly the players to such far-flung cities as Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., but had to sell it because it cost too much to operate.

* A Commack building inspector found 35 violations in the Long Island Arena. "They said, 'Either fix the violations or we're going to eject you,' " Muckler said. "This was January, so we used all of our money fixing up the building.

"I bet Disney doesn't have those problems."

* The arena was sold in an auction on the town hall steps.

"When we saw drawings of the building," Muckler said, "it looked like a nice, new place with nice landscaping out front. But the parking lot was filled with pot holes. The boards had no glass. There was absolutely no protection for the fans. There was no Zamboni and we didn't have any money to buy one. They used shovels and barrels to resurface the ice between periods."

Muckler was asked if his misses those days.

"I don't miss them," he said. "But I had a lot of fun going through them. I think back, and it was a great education. But no, you wouldn't want to go through those days again."

*

Moriarty covered the Rangers for Newsday, the Long Island newspaper. When he felt like taking a busman's holiday, he would take his sons to see the Ducks at the Long Island Arena.

"It was a Quonset hut, really," he said. "It had an odor, a bad odor to it. There was the smell of beer and popcorn. They used to stage the circus there. The smell would linger for weeks."

The top ticket was $4, and in many cases, a rink-side seat was closer to the action than many expected.

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