In the last installment of our Ducks Throwback series, we’ll be taking a look at not one, but two very special dates in Anaheim Ducks history. First, we’ll look at their first-ever game on October 8th, 1993. And after that, we’ll flash forward to their silver season game on October 8th, 2018.
Going Way Back
The 1993-1994 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had not played a single game, and already the hype was built up around Anaheim. The team across the street in the California Angels had been producing fluke seasons since 1987, and the locals were excited for a new team to watch. Along with that great new prospect came the fact that the team was to be run by another Anaheim staple in the Walt Disney Corporation.
Michael Eisner, the former owner of Disney had decided to try and get into the sports business by purchasing an NHL team to mirror the hit Mighty Ducks movie that his company produced the year before. After paying the entrance fee, along with an extra $50 Million to their soon to be rivals in the Los Angeles Kings, they were set to play their first-ever regular-season game at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. But first came the expansion draft and the 1993 NHL draft.
Eisner’s Team Building
The Mighty Ducks and their sister team in the Florida Panthers had to pick from a list of unprotected players, and the Mighty Ducks went with a powerful defense and veteran leadership over youth and offense. After that, they used their fourth overall pick to select Paul Kariya from the University of Maine. He was still a full season out from playing with the team in Anaheim, but he did show quite a lot of promise.
After the team-building and all that fancy ownership magic, the team was finally ready to play against one of the true NHL contenders in the Detroit Red Wings. Their schedule was a tough uphill climb, but the Ducks still wanted to impress their fans enough to keep them coming back. And there were plenty of fans to impress at the sold-out Pond.
The Not-So Mighty First Game
After a flashy Disney On Ice™ show and the unveiling of both Wild Wing and the Iceman, the Mighty Ducks participated in their first puck drop.
The Disney magic wore out after the opener, as Detroit burned the Mighty Ducks for three goals in the first. The usual Sergei Federov and Steve Yzerman magic of those old Stanley Cup days in Detroit. However, the game eventually started to turn for the Ducks. Bill Houlder made a wicked slapshot attempt towards the net, and although Terry Yake would miss the puck on his rebound attempt, defenseman Sean Hill of all people would bang it in for the inaugural goal in Ducks history. It was still 3-1 Wings.
Unfortunately for Anaheim, Detroit would put four more unanswered goals in their net, and it was a blowout loss to start their existence. However, one more historic goal for the Ducks would take place in the third period. Troy Loney became the first Mighty Ducks captain to score a goal off of a feed right in front of the net by Anatoli Semenov and Alexei Kasatonov. 7-2 Wings.
The game was over though, and it was simply for the books. The Mighty Ducks would go on to be a fearsome road team that showed the NHL what an expansion team could really do, and they finished off 33-46-5 and in fourth place of the Pacific, just eleven points short of the playoffs.
Twenty-five years later, the Mighty Ducks had seen much more than most would have expected. Two Western Conference championships, California’s first Stanley Cup champions, plenty of trophies for individual efforts, two Hockey Hall of Fame inductees, and six Pacific Division banners, five of which were done in the span of five straight years. They even went through ownership and identity changes, becoming the Anaheim Ducks. Still, through those twenty-five years, they were the Defenders of the Pond, and the 2018-2019 season was their chance to defend it yet again against the Red Wings, exactly twenty-five years to the day.
The Ducks and Red Wings had both gone in very different directions as franchises over the span of the many years of Ducks hockey played between these two games. The Ducks had suffered through their worst season in the span of a few years the previous season, and they were swept in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by their upstate rivals in the San Jose Sharks, but they made a strong comeback at the beginning of the 2018-2019 season by beating them and taking their first three games straight. The 2017-2018 Red Wings didn’t even make it close to the playoffs, as they were still trying to get out of the mediocrity slump they’ve been in for the past few years. They sat at 0-1-1 through their first two.
Bragging Rights On the Line
Still, the battle was set to be a masterpiece in Ducks/Wings history, as it gave both teams the opportunity for bragging rights. Ducks fans wanted the equalizer to add on to the list of Ducks and Red Wings rivalry that already existed, while the Wings fans wanted to have that 2-0 victory in their twenty-five-year games. The 1-1 2018-2019 Red Wings against the 2-0 2018-2019 Ducks.
October 8th finally rolled around, and it was time. Red Wings fans and Mighty Ducks fans crowded the yet-again sold-out Honda Center for the home opening ceremonies. After the flashy introductions and the throwback sweater warm-ups for the Ducks, the puck dropped, and the revenge tour was underway.
Much Of the Same Once More
The Ducks started off by giving up multiple close opportunities to the Red Wings offense right in front of John Gibson, but he was just lucky enough to either fight them off or let his defense remedy their mistake. But then, off of an attempted clear off the stick of Gibson, Tyler Bertuzzi scored the opening goal for the Red Wings with some help from Michael Rasmussen and Frans Nielsen. 1-0 Wings at 11:06 into the first.
The Wings fans went nuts as they did in the first game, and for the Ducks fans, they weren’t hoping for a repeat performance of ’93. It didn’t look good, however, as the defense was a mess throughout the entirety of the first period and most of the second. There were multiple breakaway chances for Detroit, and Gibson was left up to dry in front of a budding Wings offense. As always, he stood tall under pressure while warding off all of the potential goals for the Wings.
The Ducks would experience a very important moment of Dèjà Vu at the 9:03 mark of the second. Defenseman Hampus Lindholm received a nice pass from Andrew Cogliano and Kiefer Sherwood, which lead to a great wrist-shot goal to tie things up. It was 1-1 again in the second period, with plenty of time to go. The fun times wouldn’t last for very long, as the Red Wings took the lead back with 5:04 left in the second. It was Darren Helm’s first of the season, and the assists were on Danny DeKeyser and Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings goalie. 2-1 in favor of the Wings again.
The Battle Goes On
The Ducks looked lethargic throughout most of the third period, giving up bad opportunities to Detroit yet again. It didn’t seem like they could pull themselves to muster the passion to play at the same level as the Wings, but as much as time can change, so can momentum. Max Comtois fed the puck into the Red Wings zone to Adam Henrique, and after his bid was stopped by a sprawling Jimmy Howard, Jakob Silfverberg was there to put home the rebound. The Ducks found their luster, and it was tied up again at 2-2 with 11:31 left to play in regulation.
Anaheim started to pull away with all the scoring chances late in the third, but Jimmy Howard managed to keep the score tied with some John Gibson-like saves. He continued to rob goal after goal during the overtime period, after which the game went into a shootout.
All Or Nothing In the Shootout
Rickard Rakell went first but to no avail. Detroit would miss their first bid, and the Ducks were letting one of the younger players take his chance. Troy Terry was up in the shootout, and the eyes of the hockey world were set on the man who had once scored three shootout goals in one game to seal up a gold medal for Team USA in the World Juniors. The Ducks needed another repeat performance in a night where they hadn’t hoped for any.
“So for the first time [it’s] Troy Terry in a shootout. Remember he did some magical things. AND HE SCORES! And he may have established himself as one of the Ducks’ go-to guys!” – Fox Sports Prime Ticket broadcaster John Ahlers.
The Ducks had the lead in the shootout, and although Sam Steel missed his opportunity to put the game away, Gibson would have his own chance. Would the game go on, or would the Ducks finally lay to rest their twenty-five-year embarrassment?
“So Gus Nyquist has to score for the Red Wings to extend this shootout. Gibson out. Nyquist in. SAVE JOHN GIBSON AND THE DUCKS WIN!” – John Ahlers
With that save, the Ducks had taken their sweet revenge in front of a grown home crowd in Anaheim by the final of 3-2. The man who created them, Michael Eisner, sitting next to the man who brought them their fame in Henry Samueli watched the growth of twenty-five years play out right in front of them in one night.
It was a very special achievement in a season that was less than acceptable, but all Ducks fans could finally lay to rest that blowout game they sat through all those years ago. It made the night just a little more historic.
Statistics Courtesy: hockey-reference.com Pictures Courtesy: The LA Times, Pinterest, Iron Mountain Daily News, and Yahoo! Sports