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1993: The Year in Review. The Mighty Ducks Steal the Show : Ducks: Diamond in a Rough Year

January 02, 1994|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They wear some of the ugliest uniforms ever seen outside the Hot Dog On A Stick stand at your local mall--an unsightly, unholy union between a California Raisin and a pair of Donald Duck pajamas.

They have a team name that makes grown men blush, a team name that was borrowed from a patently unoriginal kids movie that should have been subtitled, "The Bad News Bears Go Skating."

They exist, first and foremost, as a marketing tool for the Walt Disney Co., which was eager to tap into the sporting goods/paraphernalia business because it simply wasn't making enough money in the children's home-video field.

They are an anonymous collection of grunts and working stiffs, unwanted in their previous ports of call, most of them either over the hill or not much into hiking in the first place.

They are also the most exciting thing to happen to the Orange County sports scene since Jim Everett the Great ventured north to San Francisco for the 1989 NFC championship game . . . and never came back.

The Mighty Ducks--for better or for worse, where would the paying sports fans of Orange County have been in 1993 without them?

Watching the Angels turn Anaheim Stadium into the largest-scale garage sale this side of San Diego?

Covering their eyes while Everett melts down like a dime-store candle at mid-field, Chuck Knox ages faster than the picture of Dorian Gray and the Rams wink and giggle as the city of Baltimore whispers sweet nothings into their ears?

Drumming their fingers while waiting for Rod Baker to turn the UC Irvine basketball program around--and wondering how going from 7-22 one season to 6-21 the next can be classified as "rebuilding"?

Sidling up to their relatives from Chicago and Dallas, proudly thumping their thumbs into their chests and announcing, "Well, \o7 we\f7 have the Bullfrogs"?

If not for ice hockey, 1993 would have been mighty chilly around here. The Ducks caught a county's fancy because they were everything the Rams and the Angels and the other resident underachievers were not--new, fresh, hard-working, feisty, pleasantly surprising, heart-warming rather than heart-breaking.

Beginning life as table scraps from such notoriously underfed households as Hartford, Ottawa and San Jose, the Ducks have succeeded beyond the tritest Disney "high concept"--winning the first road game in their history (over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden); sweeping a November road swing through the Western Conference (going 4-0 at Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg); winning 14 of their first 38 games; taking more standings points (28) into Christmas than the cross-town, defending conference champion Kings, and taking 60% of their defeats down to the wire. Thirteen of the Ducks' first 21 losses were decided by one goal.

The first half of the Ducks' first season has been startling, especially when one considers these inauspicious milestones in the franchise's infancy:

March 1, 1993--Disney CEO Michael Eisner is joined by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Goofy, the Disneyland brass band, beaming Disney cheerleaders and a hundred or so pee-wee hockey players on the confetti-strewn floor of Anaheim Arena to announce that Disney's hockey team would begin play in 1993, would be named "the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim" and would play its home games on "The Pond." As purists from Newfoundland to British Columbia sobbed in their Molsons, Eisner handed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and King owner Bruce McNall, president of the league's board of governors, duck calls and led them in a group quack.

June 24--The Ducks and their expansion brethren, the Florida Panthers, draft their inaugural rosters. The Panthers select the best goaltender on the board, former Ranger all-star John Vanbiesbrouck, and pay the price; Vanbiesbrouck earns more than $1 million a season. The Ducks, keeping a constant eye on the bottom line, counter with Guy Hebert ($400,000) as their first goaltender, Alexei Kasatonov ($650,000) as their first defenseman and Steven King ($365,000) as their first forward. Eventually, the Ducks enter the 1993-94 season with a payroll of $7.9 million, the lowest in the NHL.

Oct. 8--The Ducks play their first regular-season game, are routed by Detroit, 7-2, and are completely upstaged by a garish pregame show that features exploding rockets, flashing lasers, rainbow-colored spotlights, a flying duck mascot, skating sequined cheerleaders, ear-splitting heavy metal music, a Zamboni from Space Mountain and a singing/shouting guy named "Iceman" whose express purpose that night was never clearly defined. (Apparently, he was there to annoy the crowd. "Iceman" succeeded at this so thoroughly that he lost his job the next day.)

Cost of pregame show: More than $450,000, which is more than the annual salary of every Duck player except Kasatonov and goalie Ron Tugnutt--in case anyone was still wondering where Disney had placed its priorities.

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