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Mighty Ducks were no Mickey Mouse expansion team

The Ducks celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise's first victory Sunday night. They didn't get pushed around in their first season.

October 12, 2013|By Lance Pugmire
  • Guy Hebert, the first goalie in Ducks franchise history, will be among the first-year players honored by the franchise when it recognizes the 20th anniversary of the team's first win.
Guy Hebert, the first goalie in Ducks franchise history, will be among the… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

Guy Hebert paid the toll for former Disney CEO Michael Eisner naming his company's new 1993 NHL team after its film about a youth hockey team, "The Mighty Ducks."

"Two nights before our first game, they gave us a parade down Main Street in Disneyland," said Hebert, the team's goalie and first player taken in the expansion draft. "We could hear the people in the crowd saying, 'These guys look a lot older than they did in the movie.'"

There was no gimmick to building the team, allowing wise hockey men such as then-general manager Jack Ferreira and assistant David McNab — the current Ducks senior vice president of hockey operations — to assemble the roster.

Ferreira, now an assistant to Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi, set the tone by telling players they'd be fined if they ever referred to the Mighty Ducks as an "expansion team."

The first-year jade-and-eggplant-colored Ducks proceeded to break an NHL record for road victories (19) and tie the expansion record for wins (33).

Sunday night at Honda Center, at least 15 members of that team will appear as the franchise celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first win — a 4-3 home triumph over Edmonton — as part of "Throwback Night."

Current players will dress in the old uniforms, and the arena will be decorated in a 1993 theme and offer some 93-cent concessions.

"I couldn't believe the league let us be named this, as if a Disney team was being dropped on the ice," then-Ducks left wing Stu Grimson said. "But in how we established our identity, you'll now get no argument about what a reputable franchise it is. Any time they come to your town, you know you've got a battle on your hands."

Center Terry Yake, plucked from Hartford, stepped up to produce a team-best 52 points. Defenseman Bobby Dollas was plus-20 in goal differential. Troy Loney, having won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, provided valued leadership.

"Our leading scorer finished with 78 less points than Wayne Gretzky, and we still had a better record than the Kings," McNab said. "We had no stars, but we had a lot of guys who had good years because they came together. And people took to our players, to the point when we traded a player late that winter, people were crying in the office."

Grimson said the bonding was nurtured by the clumsiness of a franchise going through its first year.

• A lapse in arena security once allowed Todd Ewen's son, Chad, to walk into the Ducks' dressing room during a game and say, "Dad, I need $5 for a hot dog."

• The night-time flying curfew at John Wayne Airport forced the team to fly home to Los Angeles, making travel drudgery, Grimson said.

• Exhibition games were like the movie Mighty Ducks' would've been, with mismatched white helmets and eggplant jerseys cobbled together for the sake of comfort.

Hebert said the roster included "some guys having their last kick at the can," and they found motivation in the idea "they were pretty dispensable if they were not performing."

"We knew what we were, a bunch of NHL third- and fourth-liners," Grimson said. "But we had character guys. Yes, we took our lumps many nights, but that character held us together when things got roughest."

Grimson — an enforcer known as the "Grim Reaper" — held up his end of the bargain by compiling 199 penalty minutes.

"I was a guy like the others who took pride in what I did," he said. "It wasn't glamorous work, but it was glamorous in the context that you appreciated how much the other guys valued that work. We could look after ourselves. We didn't get a lot of sand kicked in our faces."

The Mighty Ducks reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in their fourth season, 1996-97, and won a series over the Phoenix Coyotes.

By the time they reached the 2002-03 Stanley Cup finals, Hebert and Grimson were retired, but the franchise's first entry draft pick, Paul Kariya, had contributed 81 points.

And the No. 2 pick overall in 1994, Oleg Tverdovsky? In 1996, he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for Teemu Selanne, who led the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup championship with 94 regular-season points. He will retire after this landmark season.

The Ducks dropped the "Mighty" before the 2006-07 season.

Hebert, now living in Newport Beach, said although he never kissed the Stanley Cup, he's content.

"Any athlete will tell you they just want to be appreciated for giving it all they had, knowing every night when you put your head on that pillow after a game you had nothing left in the tank," Hebert said.

"We looked around at the end, with those 33 wins, knowing the history of what past expansion teams had done, and we each felt we did our best to be good parts of the puzzle."



When: 5 p.m

Where: Honda Center.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.

Record vs. Senators (2012-13): Did not play.

Etc.: Ottawa's Bobby Ryan, who had four 30-goal seasons for the Ducks, returns after being traded in the off-season for forward Jakob Silfverberg (four goals in four games) and two others.

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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