Luca Sbisa can pinpoint exactly when the Anaheim Ducks turned their season around. At the beginning of January, with the team in a tragic tailspin, the Ducks earned victories over fellow doormats Columbus and the New York Islanders. Division rival Dallas awaited next.
“If we really wanted to make a go,” Sbisa said, “we needed that Dallas game.”
The Ducks held a 2-0 lead going into the third, but Dallas quickly tied the game with two goals early in the period. Anaheim managed to put the game away with two more strikes in the middle of the frame and an empty-netter for a 5-2 victory. From there, the team headed out to Western Canada where it took five of six points from Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, giving the squad a strange sensation: winning.
“It felt really weird,” Sbisa said. “Because we had lost so many early on.”
A while back I opined that there was no need for the Ducks to blow up their roster – that this season was an aberration. I am in no way pretending I thought that turnaround would take place in the middle of this campaign. Even with all my optimism I figured they’d need the summer. But the clearing out of Stanley Cup-winning bench boss Randy Carlyle and the introduction of Bruce Boudreau as coach gave Anaheim more than a dead-cat bounce: The Ducks have points in all but two games this month and have a legitimate, albeit far-fetched shot at the post-season now.
“They have coached everything really positively,” said Sbisa of Boudreau and his staff. “We almost stopped believing in ourselves, which is the worst thing you can do – but they didn’t yell at us. They just told us to keep our heads up.”
Several factors have helped the Ducks get back on track: Star netminder Jonas Hiller finally found his range, speedy veteran winger Jason Blake came back from an extended wrist injury and provided a boost to the offensive depth, and Sbisa has played a larger role on the back end. Early on in the season, the Italian-born Swiss national frequently saw ice time in the low teens, but that’s a thing of the past now. Sbisa has already nearly doubled his career high for points (he has three goals and 20 points through 60 games) and ranks second on the team in hits with 135.
“Personally, it seems it’s going better and better,” he said. “Especially since the new coaching staff came in. I know what my spot is on this team. I felt I was progressing my game and points were starting to come.”
Turns out, the Ducks were who we thought they were – it just took a little longer to get there.
PAUL KELLY AND COLLEGE HOCKEY INC.
Some folks have taken shots at Paul Kelly since the former NHLPA head resigned (or was forced out, depending on who you believe) from his post at College Hockey Inc., the lobby group for the NCAA’s hockey division. They claimed Kelly didn’t have any real power and was just a famous face to put out in front of the organization.
But this all misses the point of the value of CHI – to drum up interest in the game – which is locked in a death-battle with major junior for the hearts and minds of today’s elite teen players.
Kelly was light years more effective than his employers, the commissioners of the NCAA’s hockey conferences, because he had the connections in the media and NHL world to attract attention to his cause. He came out to all major events and knew all the right people.
As of now, former Washington Capitals PR champ Nate Ewell is the interim executive director. Ewell worked under Kelly and is exactly the type of guy the organization needs to maintain its relevance – he has the same types of hookup powers. CHI has already faltered in its decision-making abilities; let’s hope it doesn’t do it again.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.