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Fans Hope Glass Slipper Might Fit a Webbed Foot

With the Ducks advancing in the NHL playoffs, Anaheim sees a Cinderella sequel to the Angels' championship.

May 07, 2003|Kimi Yoshino and Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writers

How 'bout them Ducks, eh?

Just seven months after the Angels won the 2002 World Series, the Mighty Ducks' improbable run for professional hockey's Stanley Cup has local sports fans giddy over the prospect of another championship for Anaheim.

They also can't help but wonder: What's going on here? Is it a little Disney pixie dust? Good karma? The feng shui between Edison Field and the Pond?

Or did the Angels toss some left-over luck across the Orange Freeway, which separates the two sports venues?

"Maybe they gave [the Ducks] a few pointers on how to win -- a little motivation," said Ducks fan Shannon Cosman, 33, of Sherman Oaks.

Superstition and sports go together like hot dogs and beer, and the dark side of superstition roils with curses and jinxes. Which is why some Ducks fans still don't dare dream even though the Ducks have put together the most successful season in the team's relatively young 10-year history.

"I don't want to jinx it," said Ashley Guzman, 21, of Anaheim. "Once I start thinking that way, they'll lose. I know that for sure."

The Ducks -- owned, like the Angels, by Disney -- have already won best-of-seven series against two powerhouses -- the Detroit Red Wings and the Dallas Stars. To make it to the final round, the team has to win another series against either the Vancouver Canucks or the Minnesota Wild.

Anaheim's sudden and unexpected rise to the top echelons of professional sports touches on fairy tales and myths rooted in American culture, said Margaret King, director of Cultural Studies and Analysis, a think tank in Philadelphia.

It's a Disney movie come to life.

"The main Disney theme is the power of the individual to make his dreams come true," King said. "There is no more American theme than that.... Anaheim is a symbolic center. It's a safe step to say that the Ducks are picking up on it and using it."

Yet real hockey fans -- and those who can overcome the incongruity of ice hockey played in the land of endless summer -- shun the idea that the Ducks' season was created on Disney's back lot. The team might have been named after a movie but it is made up of hard-working players, innovative coaches and, in recent weeks, a goalie -- Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- who has seemed unbeatable.

"I know people say 'magic in Anaheim,' but how can you really say that?" said John Ontiveros, 19, of Walnut. "It's a team effort. It's hard work and dedication. There's nothing special about it."

But the success is unusual. USC math professor Ken Alexander, an expert in mathematical physics and probability, put the chances of a city like Anaheim winning a baseball and hockey title in the same year at 2.1% -- or something that could happen once every half-century.

"That's way better than the chances of winning the lottery, but it's still not going to happen very often," Alexander said.

Alexander's numbers are theoretical. Chuck Esposito's are more grounded in reality -- or at least the Las Vegas version of reality.

Esposito, assistant vice president of race and sports book at Caesars Palace, said that at the start of the last baseball season, the odds of both the Angels and Ducks winning championships were 5,000 to 1.

Individually, the Ducks were longshots at 100 to 1 to win the Stanley Cup, the Angels 50 to 1 to win the World Series (at the start of the current baseball season, the odds for the Angels to repeat were 18 to 1).

On Tuesday, the Ducks were still underdogs at 4 to 1 to win the Stanley Cup, behind the Eastern Conference contenders, the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils, Esposito said.

But the Ducks have been beating the odds all season.

"The Mighty Ducks were really an afterthought," Esposito said. "But they're the hottest team in the NHL right now. Cinderella is alive and well in Anaheim."

And she's having a ball.

"It's been crazy," said Guzman, "and it's so much fun."

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