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Orange County

Double-Ring Ceremony Is Anaheim's Goal

May 16, 2003|Scott Martelle and Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writers

The new avian flu -- Duck Fever -- has an odd set of symptoms.

Text messages flash over student cell phones during the government class that Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle teaches at UC Irvine, each offering an update on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey playoff game in-progress. At The Catch, a sports bar across the street from Edison Field, customers drink Power Play Punch -- on ice, of course -- instead of Rally Monkey Martinis.

And at a ticket broker in Beverly Hills -- as far from Anaheim in mind and spirit as is Canada, hockey's birthplace -- rink-side tickets for tonight's Western Conference playoff game will likely top $1,000 as fans scramble for the chance to witness history -- the Ducks' first berth in the Stanley Cup finals.

"It's just gone off," said Mike Arrington of Razor Gator ticket brokers. After a decade of enduring snippy jibes about quacks on the ice and playing by script -- the Mighty Ducks were named after a Disney kids' movie -- Ducks fans are savoring the payoff for their loyalty while anticipating what's still possible: the Stanley Cup in Anaheim, the second major sports championship for the city in less than a year.

"It's an awesome feeling," said George Ross, 38, of Redondo Beach, who has held Ducks season tickets since the inaugural 1993-94 season. "The arena has never been as loud as it was in the last couple of games."

And everyone likes a winner.

"I got an e-mail this morning saying, 'So, how about those Ducks?' and 'Where's my ticket?' " Ross said. "I've gotten a few more phone calls from friends who now all of the sudden are interested in going or buying them from me."

Pringle said he and his class are so excited, he stops his lectures mid-sentence to field his son's update calls, which are met with rousing cheers when Anaheim scores.

"It's a course requirement," joked Pringle. "Fifteen percent of class is based upon Duck enthusiasm."

What the Ducks have accomplished over the last few weeks is the kind of success that even people who don't follow hockey can buy into. Cinderella-like, a middle-of-the-pack team beat the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars -- two of hockey's top teams -- while winning 11 of their 13 playoff games, including three shutouts in a row leading into tonight's match.

A win tonight over the Minnesota Wild would place the Disney-owned Ducks in the finals against the Eastern Conference winner; the New Jersey Devils lead the Ottawa Senators, two games to one, in that series.

The buzz has kept Ducks officials hopping. Team spokesman Charles Harris said his e-mail inbox has about 800 messages, mostly from celebrities and long-lost friends trying to get tickets.

Margie Page, athletic director at Dana Hills High School, has found herself caught up in the excitement.

"I didn't follow it that closely" during the season, Page said. "Now that they're in the playoffs, I'm watching them when I can."

Which isn't often, given the schedule of high school sports. She tries to listen to Ducks games on the car radio between events or on her way home, and if she's lucky she can catch a few minutes here and there on television. For tonight's game, Page will be chaperoning a senior prom -- and hoping someone will be bringing in updates.For many, that element of surprise helps feed the interest. Until now, the Ducks have not been in the top echelon of hockey. When Detroit comes to town, there often are more Red Wings fans in the stands than Ducks fans, part of the same identity crisis the World Series-champion Anaheim Angels have faced when the New York Yankees visit.

And the Ducks, like the Angels, have long dwelt in the shadow of their elder cousins in Los Angeles -- the Kings, who cemented their standing in 1988 by trading for Wayne Gretzky, generally considered to be the sport's greatest player.

Gretzky's arrival "set in motion the fact that the Kings were going to be that L.A. team," said David Carter, founder of the Sports Business Group. "The Ducks were always digging out of the shadow."

When Disney hatched the idea for a real Mighty Ducks franchise named after their "Mighty Ducks" films -- the ultimate movie tie-in -- serious hockey fans were chilly.

"Many people didn't take the Ducks seriously as a product," Carter said. "They were too much of a manufactured experience."

In the end, Carter believes Southern Californians will rally behind the team, especially if the Ducks advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

"We love a great party," he said. "We rally around what's given to us."

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