In a February 28, 2006 Proteau Type article for The Hockey News, this is a snippet of what I wrote about the then-Mighty Anaheim Ducks:
Â“It’s hard not to like what the Ducks have done this year. And what they’re capable of doing in the very near futureÂ…Mighty or not, this flock is on the verge of something big.Â”
Granted, even a broken clock is right twice a day, but it’s tough not to be proud of that particular appraisal Â– especially now that the Ducks have scaled pro sports’ biggest mountain (apologies to Zdeno Chara) and won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
It’s just as difficult not to recognize the abundance of feel-good stories on this season’s NHL champions.
Everyone knows about Teemu Selanne Â– and they should. You won’t find a better ambassador for the game than the veteran winger, whose revitalized career already is the stuff of legend in his native Finland. Seeing the tears in his eyes when he raised the silver mug above his head is what the Stanley Cup is all about.
But there are many more warm-n’-fuzzy examples than Selanne’s.
Look at head coach Randy Carlyle, who never won a Cup during his stellar 18-year playing career, but now joins an even more select club as the bench boss of a champ.
Look at GM Brian Burke, who showed gorilla-sized gonads in remaking the team in his own image, at a pace far faster than a Jason Allison breakaway.
Or how about Dustin Penner, Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz? None of those three were regarded highly enough to be drafted by any NHL team, yet all three combined for 14 goals and 28 points this post-season.
You be remiss without mentioning guys like Francois Beauchemin, Joe DiPenta, Sean O’Donnell, Kent Huskins, Todd Marchant and Travis Moen, all of whom bounced around the NHL (and AHL) as relative afterthoughts before playing key roles at different times in the Ducks’ amazing run.
Then there are players such as Rob Niedermayer and Ric Jackman, both of them fifth overall selections (in 1993 and 1996, respectively) who never quite realized the lofty expectations, but stepped in and stepped up when they had to.
Let’s also not forget the contributions of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who not only handled questions about the size of his goaltending equipment, but also faced his newborn son’s health crisis with dignity and courage.
Finally, there’s Chris ProngerÂ…just kidding, Edmonton Oilers/Tomas Holmstrom/Dean McAmmond fans. You can put down your automatic weapons now.
Perhaps the best story, though, is the fact that you can’t definitively point to a single signing, trade or other transaction as the move that put Anaheim over the top.
Sure, someone might tell you the Pronger deal was the key, but the Ducks won a conference final and a Cup final game without the surly blueliner this spring. Somebody else may argue the signing of Scott Niedermayer two years ago was what did it, but Anaheim didn’t win it all with him in the lineup last year. The deal that dumped Sergei Fedorov’s contract on Columbus in exchange for Beauchemin can be seen as another vital building block, but again, it wasn’t the building block.
No, this was as collective an effort as collective efforts get. This was somebody different making the difference every step of the way. This was the Ducks doing it for themselves, and for the California fans who fell head over heels for them this year.
They may not wind up ranking alongside the dynasties in Montreal, Long Island or Edmonton, but no championship squad will provide a better example of why hockey is the ultimate team sport.
And that’s the best compliment any hockey roster can receive.
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