If you’ll allow me to be incredibly self-indulgent for a moment…
I grew up in Orange County, but went to college in Northern California and lived on the Central Coast for nine years working in the golf industry. In 2005, I made the decision to move closer to home (my mom was fighting an ultimately losing battle with lung cancer at the time), and I took a job as Publications Manager with what was then known as the Mighty Ducks and The Pond.
It was a stint that started inauspiciously at first, at a humble desk inside an even more humble trailer in the middle of the Honda Center parking lot. You see, the arena’s offices were being renovated at the time, so about half the staff (many of whom were hired, just like me, right out of the NHL lockout) spent a few months working inside one of about a half dozen trailers. Most staff were grouped by department, but my trailer in particular contained such a mishmash of staffers that we were dubbed “The Trailer of Misfit Toys.” And because of that, I formed friendships with fellow co-workers I might have never gotten to know well otherwise. I also formed other friendships since one day someone threw a Pop-a-Shot machine into our trailer (probably to store until the next basketball game at the arena), so co-workers would invariably stop by to play a few games during breaks.
Working out of a trailer felt like an annoyance at first, but over time those folks in our so-called Trailer Village formed such a sense of community that by the time the real offices were finished, we were almost hesitant to relocate.
That was the first season in Anaheim for Scott Niedermayer and Rob Niedermayer, the return of Teemu Selanne, the rookie seasons of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Those two were actually demoted to the AHL at one point that year, a time when you’d be bold to predict they would someday become superstars and likely future Hall-of-Famers.
It was a season that started with guys like Sergei Fedorov and Sandis Ozolinsh, but they were traded away and guys like Francois Beauchemin and Todd Marchant were brought in. GM Brian Burke made so many deals that year that at one point after the trade deadline he invited the entire staff – from the Directors to the entry-levelers – into the Ducks locker room to explain the moves. I had never heard of that happening before, and I remember thinking it was so cool.
That team got off to a rocky start, losing eight in a row in November to fall to 7-10-4 at one point. But they somehow found a way to charge into the playoffs and all the way to the Western Conference Final, finally losing to an Edmonton team that featured an intimidating defenseman by the name of Chris Pronger. We could hardly have known that a year later, that same guy would help us become Stanley Cup champions.
That’s what happened on June 6, 2007 (a year to the day after my mom passed away), an incredible culmination of just the second season on the job for me and so many of my co-workers. It all happened so fast – a Conference Final the first year and a Cup title the second – it was hard not to take it for granted (as ridiculous as that sounds now).
But as we all know, the Ducks are still striving to experience that euphoria again, and in that time there have been so many great memories – and some bad ones – that have defined this job for me personally.
• The night of June 6, 2007. There is just too much to put into words.
• All the games my dad was able to go to because I could get him tickets.
• Being with my dad when he saw the Stanley Cup for the first time and watching my girlfriend (now wife) Michelle drink out of it.
• Taking over the Ducks website in the middle of that Cup season and traveling with the team to Minnesota, Vancouver, Detroit and finally Ottawa during that magical playoff run. I’ll never forget the feeling inside Joe Louis Arena when Teemu scored that overtime goal in Game 5.
• Ultimately being promoted that summer to my current position of Director of Publications & New Media. That position has expanded into other avenues that include social media, allowing me and my staff an insight into our fans that can be gratifying when things are going well and (admittedly) frustrating when they’re not.
• The satisfaction I got from writing Ducks Blog for so many years, though it got me in trouble on a few occasions.
• Watching Teemu make magic on the ice, but mostly off it, and seeing how exceptional he was with fans, media, Ducks staff and pretty much everyone he came in contact with on a daily basis. There are so many great stories about Teemu that I wouldn’t even know where to start.
• Working on the book that commemorated Teemu’s number being retired by the Ducks and him signing it for me with the words: “Great masterpiece.”
• Teemu agreeing to sign an autograph for my dad that read:
• Seeing the artistry of guys like Niedermayer, Pronger, Getzlaf and Perry, and more recently guys like Fowler and Lindholm, and knowing you’re in the presence of greatness.
• Having one-on-one access to guys who are true legends in this game and carry themselves like consummate professionals.
• Working for the Samuelis (who took over the team a few months before I arrived), the most generous owners you could ever hope for.
• Having the privilege to travel to so many great places with this team, including to different parts of Canada, to London, New York, Chicago and even the White House.
• Working with people who became some of my best friends in the world, people with whom I’ve spent countless postgame nights out, NFL Sundays, trips to Vegas. One of them was even the best man in my wedding.
• Being a part of #PaintItOrange during the playoffs and seeing the community come together in the name of Ducks hockey. I’ll never stop feeling thrilled when I see an orange Ducks flag waving from a car window.
• Every email we get from fans saying how much Ducks hockey means to them.
• Being involved in the Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium in 2014, an incredible experience from start to finish that climaxed with a satisfying 3-0 win over the Kings.
• Serving as the boss for AJ Manderichio and Kyle Shohara, two of the hardest-working guys in this organization.
• Clinching a playoff series in dramatic fashion against Dallas two seasons ago and against Winnipeg and Calgary last spring. Beating San Jose in the first round when we were the eighth seed.
• All the incredible plays, overtime game-winners, jaw-dropping comebacks and deafening crowd roars – far too many to properly recollect.
• Learning on the morning of September 7, 2011 that Ruslan Salei (everyone called him “Rusty”) died along with the entire Lokomotiv team of the Kontinental Hockey League in a plane crash on its way to Minsk.
• Losing in Game 7 to Detroit
• Losing in Game 7 to LA
• Losing in Game 7 to Chicago
• Locker clean-out day every year you didn’t win the Stanley Cup.
• Playing a small part in Burkie’s feud with the Oilers and having my name appear on page A1 of the Edmonton Journal.
• Misreading our morning departure time after Game 4 of the Final in Ottawa, missing the bus to the airport and very nearly missing the flight back to Orange County. One day later when I congratulated Randy Carlyle on winning the Cup, he smiled and replied, “You sure you didn’t [bleeping] sleep through it??”
• The time I (wrongly) insinuated on Twitter that Marian Hossa took a dive during a regular season game at Honda Center and immediately felt the wrath of Blackhawks fans.
• Kings fans on Twitter
• Whenever a guy I like got traded or signed away.
• How cold (both in climate and otherwise) the Staples Center press box is, made up for by the fact they have really good coffee and caramel corn.
• All the typos. I hate typos.
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This is by no means a goodbye, since I'm not going anywhere. It's just a recollection of an incredible 10 years with this first-class organization and a job that has meant so much to me in so many ways. I look forward to finding out what’s to come in the next decade – and beyond.
NOTE: This will be the final post for me in this space, which started out as Ducks Blog back in 2007 and became Ducks Off the Ice a few seasons ago. I will continue to write on a consistent basis for AnaheimDucks.com, but that content will run with other features and news stories rather than in a blog.
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As anniversaries go, this one will always be a little bittersweet for me.
Ten years ago on this day, my mom passed away after a year-long battle with lung cancer. One of my reasons for moving down here and taking this job with the Ducks in 2005 was to be closer to her and my dad in her final months. And I know she would have loved to see what I experienced in this building on the night of June 6, 2007.
So you can imagine that when I watched Chris Pronger carrying the puck from behind the net with the seconds ticking down to zero, Ryan Getzlaf shaking his gloves off his hands (looking like an excited little boy) and jumping into J.S. Giguere's arms, the crowd noise reaching a level like none I'd ever heard before, fireworks popping, black and orange confetti falling from the sky and the victory song from "Rocky" coming on ... well, you can imagine it was a little emotional for me. Heck, it was emotional for all of us in the building that night.
And my father -- the guy who grew up on the East Coast rooting for Gump Worsley, Rocket Richard and the New York Rangers, who played hockey in high school, who went to some of the first Mighty Ducks games in 1993 and remembers thinking the Pond was too pretty for a hockey arena -- was here that night. He's been here for countless other home games since then.
He was part of that roaring crowd, he saw the fireworks, picked confetti out of his hair (and still has some of it under glass at home over a 2007 Ducks team photo), saw the Stanley Cup being passed around by the players on his favorite team -- his son's team. When all of it finally died down that night and he was heading out of the arena, I called him on his cell phone. He answered it with one word:
Nine years later, I can still remember it well. It really was unbelievable.
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One more thing:
The final horn that night sounded at 7:35 p.m. Pacific time -- the exact moment the Ducks officially became Stanley Cup champions. So when the clock strikes 7:35 tonight, maybe call a friend, turn to a loved one, someone who shared that magical night with you -- and propose a toast.
I know I will.
Here's a look at MTS Centre at puck drop, as well as a great shot of two of the few Ducks fans in the building Monday night.
(Photo credit: Kyle Shohara)
But after the Ducks broke Jets fans' hearts for the third straight game with another comeback and a dramatic overtime victory, it seems some in Winnipeg are turning to a higher power for Game 4. These photos have been bouncing around social media the past day or so.
Hey, whatever works.
But few people outside of the city of Plymouth, Michigan know this isn't the first time Rakell has scored a big playoff overtime game-winner. Pete Krupsky, the Director of Communications and Community Relations for the former Plymouth Whalers (which recently became the Flint Firebirds) of the Ontario Hockey League, reminds us that Rakell had a mammoth one for them exactly two years ago yesterday.
On April 21, 2013, a then 19-year-old Rakell scored at 10:06 of double overtime to give the Whalers a 4-3 win over the London Knights (Corey Perry's former team) in Game 2 of the OHL Western Conference Finals. A few months later, the former first round pick (30th overall) made his debut with the Ducks, going without a goal in 18 regular season games, but scoring his first NHL goal in a Game 5 victory over Dallas in the First Round.
Here's a look back at Rakell in that game with Plymouth as well as during a more relaxed time:
The schools have in turn submitted photos of their students taking part, and we've put the best ones into a gallery here.
Here's one of our favorites, from Hermosa Drive Elementary in Fullerton:
That first game at the NHL level is a fantasy for every rising young hockey player, but for Noesen (whose name is pronounced STEH-fan NAY-sehn), it was the payoff of two years of incredibly arduous work. The 22-year-old Texas native had to fight back from not one, but two devastating injuries that limited him to just 25 AHL games the past two seasons.
In October of 2013, he underwent major knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL and came back to play just four playoff games at the end of the Norfolk Admirals' season. The following October, Noesen was cut with a skate in a game against Manchester and lacerated his Achilles tendon (commence cringing now), keeping him out another four months.
“My mental game has been pretty strong,” understates Noesen. “Going through this, it was a different type of development. It was more of a maturing development. It was more focused on my overall strength and trying to get my mental game strong. I feel like I’ve accomplished that.”
The connection between Noesen and Anaheim is an interesting one. The Ducks had their eye on the winger going into the 2011 NHL Draft and were all set to take him with the 22nd pick when Ottawa snatched him one pick earlier. Anaheim ultimately traded down and got center Rickard Rakell, who was actually a linemate of Noesen's with the Plymouth Whalers, who are set to become the Flint (Mich.) Firebirds.
The Ducks ultimately got their man two summers later, when Anaheim traded Bobby Ryan to the Senators for Noesen, Jakob Silfverberg and a 2014 first round pick that became Nick Ritchie.
Fast-forward two years -- and countless hours of rehab -- later, and there was Noesen making his long-awaited debut at Honda Center, just missing on a scoring chance in the second period of a 4-2 defeat to the Avs.
"I definitely had a little bit of jitters in the beginning," Noesen said afterward. "As the game went on, it’s starts to be hockey and those feelings go away. It really was a dream come true."
Here's a little more on Noesen:
Favorite NHL player growing up
Mike Modano. I’m from Texas, and he did a lot for our community in Dallas. Brett Hull was also a guy everybody looked up to as well.
Favorite hockey moment of your career
Probably getting drafted. It was kind of a surprise where I went, so it was fun. I had an idea that I was going to go pretty early, but I wasn’t really sure. You never really know. I got a text from my agency saying I was going to be the next pick, and I got really excited. My family started getting really pumped up too, so it was fun.
I have a lot. I like being myself before games, but there are too many too list. I always put my left stuff on before my right stuff. That’s one I can share.
Sports you’ve played besides hockey
I played a little bit of football growing up. I was a quarterback, but I broke my finger one too many times.
Miracle. That’s everyone’s favorite. Slap Shot too.
Favorite TV shows
I’m really into Sons of Anarchy right now. I’m really into Breaking Bad now. I like Friday Night Lights, being from Texas.
I’m a big country music guy. I’m big into hip hop too.
Someone on your iPod you’re ashamed of
I’ve got to admit I’ve got a little “Barbie Girl” by Aqua on there.
Anything chicken. I’m a steak and potatoes kind of guy.
Favorite Orange County restaurants
I like Saddle Ranch. Lazy Dog is good too. It’s got a modern, laid-back sort of feel.
Favorite vacation spot
Last summer I went to the British Virgin Islands with my family and one of my buddies, and that was pretty cool.
Fans who tweeted with that hashtag had their tweets and photos displayed at Honda Center and on the Fox Sports West broadcast. Meanwhile, fans submitted questions to Fox Sports West analyst Guy Hebert using the hashtag #AskGuy, and he answered several of them on air. During the first intermission, George Parros took part in a Twitter Q&A answering questions submitted by fans using #AskGeorge, and you can see that chat here.
One unique aspect of the night was the Ducks players wearing jerseys during warmups that listed their Twitter handles on the backs, and the Ducks were the first NHL team ever to do that. Those who aren't on Twitter had either @AnaheimDucks or #NHLDucks on their backs, though Corey Perry (#ScoreyPerry) and Sami Vatanen (#TheVatman) had their own unique hashtags that are used often by fans on Twitter. Here are some photos, and here is a mention of it on last night's SportsCenter. Cam Fowler wore the lone #DucksSocial jersey, and we held a contest in which we awarded the jersey to the fan who tweeted the best photo of Fowler wearing it. Here is the nicely done winning entry.
The jerseys, by the way, were autographed by the player who wore them and put on sale in the Ducks Team Store (there are some still remaining).
And oh yeah, it certainly didn't hurt that the Ducks routed the visiting Oilers 5-1 to claim a third straight Pacific Division title.
During the first intermission, we ran a segment on the video board in which the Ducks read harsh tweets about themselves. In case you missed it, here it is (and it's spectacular).
UPDATE: There has been some negative reaction on social media to the video because of an accusation that the tweets we used were fake. Full disclosure: Some of the tweets we used were edited, enhanced, changed a little bit or two tweets were combined into one -- all so we could get the best reactions possible from the players. That’s the reason why if you searched on Twitter for each tweet, you may not have seen them pop up. The point of the whole thing was to provide entertainment, let's not forget.
When he was granted a wish by the Make-A-Wish foundation, he knew immediately he wanted to go to Anaheim and see the Ducks play in person.
The 14- year-old from Beverly, Mass. (about 20 minutes outside Boston) was set to go in October to see a Ducks game and meet the team. Unfortunately, that week a couple Ducks players were diagnosed with the mumps, and he was unable to visit the Ducks locker room (the rest of the trip went ahead as planned). When his two favorite players -- Cam Fowler and Corey Perry -- heard the news, they wanted to make sure that the team made it up to Shaelin when the Ducks played the Bruins in March in Boston.
This morning at TD Garden, Shaelin received the royal treatment. He rode to the morning skate with Fowler and Perry, received his own locker in the Ducks locker-room, went to the gameday team meeting and watched the skate, followed by lunch with the team. Shaelin will be back at TD Garden to watch the Ducks take on the Bruins tonight.
Earlier this month I made my annual visit to Oak Grove Elementary School, whose principal, Jill O’Connell-Bogle, is a longtime family friend. There I spoke in front of approximately 275 fourth- and fifth-graders about what I do for the Ducks, and I spent most of the time answering questions from the kids, some harder to answer than others.
The Oak Grove visit is always made even more fun by the fact that one of the teachers, Mr. Elliott, is a massive Kings fan who encourages his students to pass on that passion with their questions. This was of course much easier to take before the Kings won two Stanley Cups in two seasons, and just so happened to knock off the Ducks on their way to the second one.
As is custom in the days following my visit to the school, I receive fantastic thank-you notes from each and every student. And I read every one.
Once again, this year's batch was incredibly entertaining, creative and of course heartfelt, except from those from Mr. Elliott's class, which mixed in just the right touch of mean spiritedness.
Here are some of my favorites, with my comments below each:
This kid has good instincts, although I want to believe the word "outstanding" is underneath the Wite-Out.
Alyssa really loves Capture the Flag.
Mad, but never that mad.
Well that came out of nowhere. But yes, I do. Who wouldn't love Buffalo Wild Wings?
Did my boss tell you to write that?
Annnd here come Mr. Elliott's students.
Yes, I do know all of that.
Can't say I approve of this one.
Something fishy's going on here...
... and there it is.
You know, I never thought to ask him.
Another thing I never thought to ask.
I'm thinking Sophia's a cat person.
Daisy is nothing if not blunt.
The 23-year-old defenseman had little indication he would be dealt, and certainly thought he was in the clear when he noticed the NHL trade deadline had passed at 3 p.m. Eastern.
“It was by the end of the deadline, so I wasn’t expecting it whatsoever,” said Despres this morning following his first morning skate as a Duck at Honda Center. “Then my phone blew up. I’ve never gotten traded in my life, so it was definitely a shock.”
Despres, who is soft-spoken but looks you right in the eye when he speaks, admits he was a bit upset when he first heard the news. “I was definitely [ticked] off a little bit at the beginning,” he says. “I was with the organization for six years, so it was definitely tough on me. Some of my friends, I’m leaving them behind. But I’ll make new friends here, and it looks like a really good team to be with.
“So far, I like what I’ve seen in the room,” Despres says. “The guys are really nice, they have good team chemistry, and it’s a really good team. So I’m excited about the opportunity to be with the Ducks.
While the realization of being traded sunk in, Despres’ focus inevitably had to turn toward getting to Phoenix to meet up with his new team, who were playing the Coyotes the following night.
“I found out about the trade around 3:30 Pittsburgh time, and at 4 my agent told me I should leave that night,” But the paperwork wasn’t done, so they couldn’t book my flight yet. When they finally called me about getting a flight that night, I had like 15 minutes to pack. I got on the plane, got to Phoenix and I landed around 1 a.m., which was 3 a.m. Pittsburgh time. So, I was definitely a little tired when I got to the hotel.”
He didn’t run into his new Ducks teammates until the following morning over breakfast at the hotel, when he ran into Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Palmieri and another player picked up by Anaheim at the deadline – former Panther Tomas Fleischmann. “They were of course very welcoming,” Despres says. “It’s a small world in hockey, so we all know a little bit of everyone.”
Despres took part in the morning skate at Gila River Arena in Glendale, and he was thrust into the Ducks lineup back there last night, wearing No. 24 and playing a major role in a 4-1 Anaheim victory. In just over 20 minutes of ice time, Despres had an assist and a plus-3 rating with a game-high five hits. Ducks fans can expect more of that physicality this season and beyond.
“I’m a physical defenseman,” Despres says. “I make a good first pass. I’m a strong skater, and I get the shots through to the net.”
Oh, and the name of the French-Canadian from Laval, Quebec? According to him, it’s pronounced see-MONE de-PREE, and here is audio of him saying it, for good measure.
Click here if audio won't play
Despres will temporarily reside in a nearby hotel until he finds something permanent in Orange County (and Ariane is joining him out here soon). And now that he’s had time to digest his sudden and unexpected change in locale, he’s relishing it.
“This is very good team in a nice city with warm weather,” Despres says. “I’m really excited about the opportunity.”