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Cheering Crowd at the Pond Shows Ducks They Have a Lot to Crow About

The team fell short, but 3,000 fans savor an improbable season that won respect for hockey in these parts.

June 12, 2003|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim stood humbly Wednesday morning at a rally in their honor, looking almost sheepish as 3,000 fans cheered their amazing bid for the Stanley Cup that fell one heartbreaking game short.

It wasn't the outcome they wanted or the party they wanted, they said. But they made the fans a promise.

"Next year. Same time. Different results," team captain Paul Kariya said as the crowd erupted in cheers.

The Game 7 loss in New Jersey didn't seem to matter Wednesday as fans gathered outside the Arrowhead Pond to thank the team for an unforgettable season and for earning respect in a hockey world that has never considered the made-from-a-Disney-movie Ducks to be serious contenders.

"They're winners -- winners on all levels," San Diego resident Jill Montgomery said.

The rally had all the makings of a winning celebration: a band, plumes of confetti and a sea of Fowl Towel-waving, duck-call blowing fans. Even the sun cooperated, peeking through the June gloom for the first time in days.

Mario Osti, 13, held up a sign that summed up the irony of a cold-weather sport reaching the big time in Orange County:

"I came from Toronto to watch you guys play, and I can't be more proud of you."

In one magical postseason, the Mighty Ducks, whose attendance was among the worst in the league, packed the Pond and won fans across Southern California.

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle rattled off their achievements: a franchise-best number of wins, knocking off the top two seeds, winning the Western Conference Championship and bringing the Stanley Cup Finals to Anaheim for the first time in the team's 10-year history.

"We are so proud of you," Pringle said. "You showed the world that Anaheim is, without a doubt, a hockey town."

The players credited much of their home success to the fans. Kariya called them "the best seventh man in the league."

Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, winner of the Conn Smythe trophy awarded to the most valuable player during the playoffs, said, "Every time I stepped on the ice, I got shivers. It was unbelievable."

Before he stepped off the stage, Giguere told the fans to look forward to next season.

"It will be better, it will be funner. And we'll get to where we want to be."

Just to be sure, the Ducks weren't messing with any superstitions.

The Western Conference Championship trophy sat on a table on the stage where the players were gathered. Fearing a team jinx, none of the Ducks touched it or hoisted it over their heads. Kariya had refused to touch even after they beat Minnesota to win the Western Conference.

Frank Asada, 34, of Irvine said he planned to do his part as well. When the Stanley Cup was on display at a Sears store last month, he tossed superstition aside and couldn't resist the urge to kiss it.

"Maybe I shouldn't have touched it," lamented Asada. "Next year, I'll stand next to it and smile, but I am not touching that thing. Not a chance."

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