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Memory Lane a Lot of Pun Along Way

Through Anaheim's 10 up-and-down seasons, there has been an Iceman here and a quack-quack there, but finally it's about the Stanley Cup finals.

May 26, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

The Iceman cameth ... and wenteth away.

Wearing heavy silver makeup, the Iceman mascot was supposed to sing songs and play a guitar as part of Disney's apparent ploy to make Southern California fans forget they were watching an expansion team with little or no chance of winning during the 1993-94 season.

As it turned out, the fans were smarter than Disney imagined. They booed the mascot and cheered the team because, well, at least the Ducks could play. The Iceman had two things going against him. He could neither sing nor play guitar.

On the night of Oct. 8, 1993, with tailgaters clogging the Arrowhead Pond parking lot before the opening faceoff and players uncertain where to enter the arena, the Iceman became the first casualty of expansion, relieved of his duties during the Ducks' lamentable 7-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

This was no way to start a franchise. Or was it?

The Iceman gave fans something other than the Ducks' brutal loss to Detroit to talk about the next day. This was a Disney operation, after all, and there would be many more mind-boggling moves on and off the ice before its team could truly be called Mighty Ducks. After 10 mostly unremarkable seasons, the Ducks face the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday.

But in the beginning, there were skating cheerleaders, trivia contests, T-shirt giveaways and an earsplitting theme song titled, "Rock the Pond." There also was a new and improved mascot called Wild Wing, who descended from the arena rafters while haunting music from "Phantom of the Opera" played on the sound system.

The 1993-94 team -- captained by Troy Loney, led in scoring by Bob Corkum and backstopped by Guy Hebert -- was quite good, although no match for this season's squad.

The Ducks won 33 games, an expansion record matched by their 1993-94 brethren, the Florida Panthers. They were in playoff contention well into March, but faded all-too-predictably down the stretch.

Coach Ron Wilson, never at a loss for words, said: "We can't rest on our laurels because we don't have any." A local columnist wrote that the Ducks were "poultry in motion." On their first meeting with the similarly attired San Jose Sharks, the same columnist described the matchup as "A teal of two cities."

Headline writers across North America delighted in the Ducks' successes and failures. General Manager Jack Ferreira was dubbed "Quacker Jack." Numerous opponents were said to have "laid an egg" during a loss against the Ducks.

Team officials smiled all the way to the bank. Team merchandise was among the hottest-selling in professional sports. The 17,174-seat Pond was routinely sold out. Although the public address announcer was instructed to call out, "icing" or "offsides" on each occasion to better educate the public, fans cheered at the right moments.

Aided by the Kings' tailspin after their 1992-93 run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Ducks won over Southland fans with their scrappy play. It wasn't long before Disney-style off-ice entertainment became the norm in every arena. Then came the second season, and the end of the honeymoon.

First, there was a lockout that trimmed the season to 48 games.

Second, opponents took the Ducks more seriously.

Third, it was clear rookie Paul Kariya needed help.

The fans showed up grumpy for the home opener, Jan. 23, 1995, booing Disney chairman Michael Eisner as he delivered a pregame address.

Eisner turned the boos to cheers when he said: "The Mighty Ducks are here in Anaheim ... forever. Our fans are here forever."

His jab at the Rams, who had bolted for St. Louis, was one of the many winning moments that defined the early seasons.

During the franchise's third and fourth seasons, the focus shifted to the ice thanks to a stunning trade on Feb. 7, 1996. At Kariya's urging, Ferreira dealt rookies Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky to the Winnipeg Jets for Teemu Selanne, a former 76-goal scorer known as the "Finnish Flash."

Kariya and Selanne soon formed a magical combination on the wings and the Ducks suddenly were competitive. They barely missed the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth in 1995-96, edged by the Jets on the final weekend, then powered their way to fourth overall in 1996-97.

Kariya and Selanne led the Ducks past the Phoenix Coyotes (who had left Winnipeg) in seven memorable first-round games, prompting one writer to say of the league's first Sun Belt playoff series, "The NHL has seen a new face of hockey and it is tanned."

As quickly as it came together on the ice for the Ducks, it unraveled off it.

Minutes after the team's 3-0 victory over the Coyotes in Game 7 at the Pond, a Detroit reporter asked Wilson for his thoughts about playing the Red Wings in the next round. Wilson's father and uncle had played for the Red Wings and he had spent a good portion of his childhood living in Detroit.

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