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Mighty Fine Fit for the Ducks

Ex-goalie Hebert, to be honored on team's wall of fame, had right attitude for expansion club

January 11, 2004|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Guy Hebert spent a lot of the 1992-93 season kidding around with then-teammate Curtis Joseph. The two St. Louis Blues goaltenders would talk about the expansion draft and humor would ensue.

The Mighty Ducks and Florida Panthers were still months away from plucking players from teams, but the jokes had already started.

"Joseph would tell me I was going to be a Mighty Duck," Hebert said. "I'd tell him if I was, I would paint a yellow duck on my [goalie] mask. We never joked about the Panthers. It was always the Ducks. I guess it was the name."

Little did Hebert know.

The Ducks will honor Hebert, making him the first player on the team's wall of fame before tonight's game against Columbus. In all, Hebert spent eight seasons with the Ducks and had a large role in the team's first two playoff appearances.

Not once did he wear a yellow duck on his mask.

"I never lived up to my end of the bargain," Hebert said.

Duck fans might disagree.

Hebert still holds most team goaltender records, although current Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is chipping away at them. But what Hebert meant to the Ducks went beyond numbers.

He was the face of the team in their first seasons. His extroverted personality, laced at times with self-deprecating humor, made him a fan favorite and the center of gravity in the dressing room.

"He was a funny guy, an outgoing guy, a real outgoing guy," Duck defenseman Ruslan Salei said smiling. "He had a nice personality, but he wasn't one of those weird goalies. He was a normal, funny guy, like a normal player."

Twice that normal guy took the Ducks into the playoffs. In 1997, he helped them beat Phoenix in the first round, then was injured in Game 1 of the second round against Detroit. He sat out the rest of the series and the Ducks were swept.

In the 1999 playoffs, he was injured again in the first game against Detroit. The next day, Duck players had defenseman Pavel Trnka speak Czech to Hebert, trying to convince Hebert that he was Czech-born goalie Dominik Hasek.

"I always tried to keep an upbeat attitude," Hebert said. "The job is stressful enough. You don't want to put more on yourself."

Hebert played, but the Ducks were swept again.

"The best thing was to start something brand new and be a part of team's history, create an identity," said Hebert, who rejoined the Ducks last year as director of the team's alumni association.

"I got to play here a couple years and have an opportunity to be remembered. If I was a backup my entire career in St. Louis, there is a good chance I might not have done so much to be remembered. It was a perfect opportunity to step out of the shadow of my good friend Curtis Joseph."

Jack Ferreira, the Ducks' first general manager, also saw it as a perfect opportunity. He selected Hebert first in the expansion draft.

"I was working for Montreal the previous year and we were working on a trade with St. Louis," Ferreira said. "I followed the Blues around for five days. Joseph got hurt, so Guy played those five games and was great. Two months later, I got the Duck job and remembered what I had seen."

Hebert had just come back from fishing when he got the news.

Said Hebert: "My brother, Jay, was outside shooting hoops when I got back and he said, 'Man you better get in the house, people are calling. You're a Duck.' "

Hebert won the starting goalie's job and appeared in the team's first game.

"I remember they wouldn't let me into the parking lot before the first game," Hebert said. "The guy wanted me to pay to get in. I said, 'No, I'm a player.' He wanted to see a credential. We didn't have any.

"When they finally let me in, the parking lot was packed. Everyone was pumped up. You could tell that this was going to be special."

The Ducks lost their opener, 7-2, to Detroit, but finished with a respectable 71 points that season. Hebert had the team's first shutout.

In 1996-97, he had a 10-3-5 record down the stretch, which included a nine-game unbeaten streak that secured the Ducks' first playoff appearance.

"The success we had in those years was due to Guy," Duck captain Steve Rucchin said. "We wouldn't have made the playoffs without him."

Hebert was unceremoniously released late in the 1999-2000 season by then-general manager Pierre Gauthier. After finishing the season with the New York Rangers, Hebert retired in Orange County.

He returned to the Ducks to work in community relations after Gauthier was fired in 2002.

"When I came out here that first year, I really thought this was a great opportunity for my career," Hebert said. "When I stepped off that airplane in Orange County, I thought this was the place I wanted to live, during my career and after. Early on, it felt like home."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Good Guy

Guy Hebert played in 441 games for the Mighty Ducks from 1993 to 2001 and played a key role in the team's first two trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs. A look at some of his single-season records:

Games played...69 (1998-99)

Minutes played...4,083 (1998-99)

Starts...68 (1999-2000)

Saves...1,961 (1995-96)

Shots faced...2,133 (1996-97)

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