The Orange County Register drawing depicted an Ottawa Senators player with an army of Canadian supporters behind him. Facing him was an Anaheim Ducks player with only one supporter, an actual Duck. The animal is quoted as saying: “Just worry about the guy in skates.”
The Ducks are keenly aware they stand in the way of Canada ending its 14-year Stanley Cup drought. And they’ve taken stock of the fact most observers have picked the Senators to beat Anaheim in the NHL’s championship series which gets underway Monday night at the Honda Center.
“A lot of the predictions, it’s the Canadian-U.S. thing,” Ducks GM Brian Burke said Sunday at a news conference. “A lot of the Canadian media are going to pick the Canadian team. That’s fine. We’ve got more Canadians on our team than Ottawa has.
“We’re very content to be the underdog. And it’s clear to us that we are.”
Having Canada back a team hasn’t helped in the last two finals. The Red Mile was rocking in 2004, but Calgary still fell to Tampa Bay. Whyte Avenue was crazy last spring, but Edmonton couldn’t knock off Carolina. Now Parliament Hill is hoping to party all night long.
“Hockey in Canada is unbelievable, the fans really support their teams,” said Ducks veteran winger Teemu Selanne, who began his career in Winnipeg. “It’s going to make this series even more special. I remember last year in Edmonton, the crowd was unbelievable.
“During the national anthem, that was something I’ve just never seen before.”
Jason Spezza was four days short of 10 years old when the Montreal Canadiens captured Canada’s last Stanley Cup on June 9, 1993. The star Senator won’t deny he’s thought about what it would mean to his native country.
“We’re hockey historians, too,” said Spezza. “Having that opportunity to bring the Cup back to Canada and become Canada’s team is definitely another driving reason for us to try and win. First and foremost we want to try and win for the guys in the dressing room and for each other, but there’s definitely a little more behind it playing for a Canadian team.”
The Ducks feel they’re well-equipped to handle the Canada factor.
“I think last year was a tremendous learning experience for us in that respect,” said Ducks forward Todd Marchant.
Anaheim played both Calgary and Edmonton in last spring’s playoffs, and this year had to get through Vancouver.
“Listen, hockey is quote-unquote Canada’s Game,” added Marchant. “That’s where it was founded. There’s a passion for it. That being said, I’m American, and I have a passion for it. I love it too.”
Three Canadians kids are hoping to dash Canada’s Cup quest. Ryan Getzlaf of Calgary, Corey Perry of Peterborough, Ont., and Dustin Penner of Winkler, Man., are coming of age in these playoffs and while they’re still officially referred to as the second line for Anaheim, they were the best unit in the six-game victory over Detroit in the Western Conference final.
“I hope it’s a snowballing effect now where we’re going down the hill with a lot of speed,” Penner, wearing a Winnipeg Jets T-shirt, said after practice Sunday. “The way we’re playing, we’re getting a lot of confidence and hopefully we can keep that up for this series.”
There has been so much focus on what Anaheim has to do to stop Spezza’s top line with Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley that somewhat lost in the shuffle is the fact Ottawa will have its hands full with the Getzlaf line. They’re playing so well right now that it would surprise few if Senators head coach Bryan Murray decided to match up his top shutdown defence pair, Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips, against them instead of Selanne’s top line.
“A lot of nights this youngster line has been our best line,” said Selanne.
The matchup makes a lot of sense. Penner is six foot four and 245 pounds, Perry six-three and 202, Getzlaf six-three and 213. The Sens will need the six-three, 216-pound Phillips and six-one, 226-pound Volchenkov to slow down the big Anaheim kids. It’s something the Red Wings weren’t able to do.
“They clear the front of the net pretty good,” Perry said of the Sens’ top defence pair. “They shut down the rush pretty well. We’re a cycle line and like to play down low and those two guys big bodies and like to be physical on guys. We have to make sure we move our feet and keep skating.”