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Ducks were hatched 20 years ago

Team has reached two Stanley Cup Finals, winning one, but at the time, the NHL expansion club owned by Disney seemed mighty strange.

June 29, 2013|By Lisa Dillman
  • Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner announces that the NHL's new franchise in Anaheim will be the Mighty Ducks.
Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner announces that the NHL's new franchise… (Los Angeles Times )

History was made when Donald Duck, Mickey and Pluto ceded ground to share Disney's corporate landscape with Guy, Paul and a noted brawler with the ominous nickname, the "Grim Reaper."

Twenty years ago, the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took shape in Quebec City through an expansion draft June 24, a mini-draft the next day and the NHL entry draft June 26.

"It does make me feel a little old. I went from 26 to 46 … how did that happen?" said goaltender Guy Hebert, who became the organization's first player when Anaheim took him with its first selection in the expansion draft.

The snapshots of those building-block days in Quebec were numerous and indelible.

There was a fresh-faced, 18-year-old Paul Kariya as their No. 1 selection (fourth overall) in the entry draft. There was then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner looking like a proud father at the draft table, wearing a Mighty Ducks baseball cap and Mickey Mouse tie. And then there was the architect, General Manager Jack Ferreira, whose painful skin condition flared up and kept him hotel-bound, except for the drafts.

The birth of the Ducks and the other expansion team, the Florida Panthers, was almost quaint, especially compared to the current days of texting and Twitter. Players could, in fact, get away from it all and stay away.

Hebert, then with the Blues, had been told by St. Louis that he would get picked by the Panthers or the Mighty Ducks. On the day of the expansion draft, he escaped to his favorite trout stream near his family's home in Troy, N.Y.

"I lost track of time and ended up coming home," said Hebert, who played eight seasons with the Ducks. "And my younger brother came running out of the house, 'Where have you been? You're a Duck!'"

Goaltender Glenn Healy was a Duck for a day, only he didn't know it until after the fact. In two days, Healy went from the New York Islanders to Anaheim to Tampa Bay and finally to the New York Rangers.

Talk about a long way to get from New York … to New York.

Anaheim took Healy in the expansion draft, the Lightning selected him in the mini-draft the next day and the Rangers acquired him via trade later in the day.

The headline in the Los Angeles Times: "Goalie Healy Quickly Becomes the First Duck to Leave Nest."

All this happened when Healy was with some of his Islanders' teammates, vacationing in Ireland. He learned of the wild series of moves only when forward Pat Flatley decided to call home to talk to his mother.

"She told him, 'Glenn's been traded to the Rangers,'" said Healy, now a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada. "He said, 'Go get the newspaper and read it to me.' We were at one of the oldest pubs in Ireland and I can still see him coming across the bar, 'You're not going to believe this. You're on the Rangers now.'"

Kariya's life with the organization was considerably longer. He played nine seasons for the Ducks and eventually would wrap up his NHL career with 989 points in 989 games. He led the Ducks in their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003, with the Game 7 loss against the New Jersey Devils his last game with the Ducks. He then played for Colorado, Nashville and St. Louis.

Ferreira, who is now a special assistant to Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi, didn't need to see much of the prized prospect. He watched Kariya play in the NCAA tournament when Kariya was a freshman at the University of Maine. He told his assistant, Pierre Gauthier, that they weren't staying for three periods.

"I was there for two periods," Ferreira said. "And I looked at Pierre and said 'Let's get the hell out of here. I don't want anyone to think I like this guy.'"

Upon being drafted, Kariya told reporters he didn't want to jeopardize his NCAA eligibility by saying he was going to Disneyland.

But the best quote about Disney that day came from the Ducks' second-round pick, Nikolai Tsulygin, via an interpreter. The defenseman would appear in only 22 games with the Ducks in a brief NHL career.

"He knows it's a new team formed just this year," the interpreter told The Times. "He believes this is a company that mostly deals with cartoons but now is starting in hockey as well."

The only thing cartoonish about the new team was the uniform. The Ducks dropped "Mighty" from their name before the start of the 2006-07 season. In other words, just before they won the Stanley Cup.

Hebert noted that it was probably more difficult for enforcers Todd Ewen and Stu "Grim Reaper" Grimson to pull on the sweater, at first. Ewen and Grimson, like Hebert, were taken by Anaheim in the expansion draft.

"It was little different — being the eggplant and teal," Hebert said. "With the San Jose Sharks, no pun intended, they had dipped their toe in the water with something that wasn't traditional.

"That led the way to the colors that Disney had put together for the team. You think about the Original Six teams with history and whatever, then you're like: 'Is this really the name and really the logo of the team that we're going to represent?'

"I was an art major in college, so I have a bit of a creative side. I didn't mind it. I'm a goalie, so quirky is in my blood."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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