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DUCK REPORT

Cup Run Creating Fan Frenzy

May 18, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Friday turned into early Saturday and outside the Arrowhead Pond hundreds of people lingered in the parking lot.

They weren't waiting for country twanger Tim McGraw to take the stage Saturday night.

They were hockey fans, front-runners and diehards alike, waiting for the stragglers from the Mighty Duck dressing room. As the last players came out to their cars a little past midnight, fans cheered as the Ducks drove off to a post-game dinner and celebration after a 2-1 victory over Minnesota that earned them a spot in the Stanley Cup finals.

The scene was surreal and was certainly an about-face from the days when tumbleweeds rolling through the vacant parking lot was a more likely visual.

"I think it is great," said Duck winger Mike Leclerc, who has eight points in the last 10 playoff games. "This is nice for the fans who stuck with us, they're getting a chance to enjoy this. It's great to see all the excitement around Anaheim for a change, all the hype.

"I think we're getting a lot more fans. People like a winner around here too. We'll take all of them. We'll take whatever we get."

They are getting a lot these days.

Team captain Paul Kariya was amazed by the noise during the game.

"It's by far the loudest I've ever heard this building," he said. "It's a long time coming for our organization. It's just fantastic, especially for the guys that have been here for a long time."

Kariya and Steve Rucchin have been there the longest, as both joined the Ducks in 1994-95, the franchise's second season.

"It's just an incredible feeling, going to the finals," Kariya said. "It's fantastic."

That giddiness went well into the night and into Saturday morning

"I didn't get to sleep until 4 a.m.," Leclerc said. "It's tough to get a game like that out of your mind. I replayed it over and over again. And I was definitely smiling."

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Kariya refused to touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, given to the Western Conference champion. His reason was simple.

"It's not the trophy we're going after," Kariya said. "It's a nice accomplishment for our club, but everybody here knows we have a series to go."

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The Ducks, in their 10th season, can become the fourth-youngest team to win the Stanley Cup since the NHL solidified as a league with the original six -- Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York Rangers and Toronto.

Edmonton won the Cup in 1984, its fifth season, although the Oilers spent six seasons in the WHA before joining the NHL. Philadelphia won in 1974, its seventh season. The New York Islanders won in 1980, their eighth season.

The Ducks can also equal the best playoff record since the NHL went to a system where 16 victories were required to win the Cup in 1987. Edmonton had a 16-2 record in 1988.

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Defenseman Fredrik Olausson, on his third tour of duty with the Ducks, has always thought the potential to win the Cup was in Anaheim.

"There was always a chance if everything fell into place," said Olausson, who won his first Stanley Cup with Detroit last season.

But did he feel the franchise was moving in that direction the previous two times he left?

"No," Olausson said.

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While the Ducks have received goals from a variety of players, they reach the finals with their top six forwards as their top six scorers.

Adam Oates and Leclerc both have 10 points. Rob Niedermayer, Petr Sykora and Kariya have eight points. Rucchin has seven points. Kariya leads the team with five goals.

Rucchin, though, had no trouble picking out the team's best forward after Friday's victory.

"Oh, Rob Niedermayer, without a doubt," Rucchin said. "He has been unbelievable the whole playoffs."

Sykora, who led the team with 34 goals in the regular season, has only two in the playoffs, both game winners, both in overtime.

"It doesn't matter how many goals I get as long as the team wins," Sykora said. "I could have six or seven playoff goals and be back in Czech playing golf right now. I like this much better."

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David McNab, the Ducks' assistant general manager and a holdover from the team's first season, might have had the widest smile in the locker room Friday night.

"It's a great feeling," said McNab, who was the Ducks' first director of player personnel and was promoted in December 1995. "I'm really happy for the guys who have been around for a long time, like Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin. They've been here through thick and thin. They're lifers. They're true Mighty Ducks."

McNab, who pushed for the Ducks to acquire goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Calgary nearly three years ago, also praised the acquisitions of Oates, Niedermayer and Steve Thomas for their leadership.

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Staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report

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