04/15/2014 5:16 pm
Anaheim Ducks fans knew this day would come. Eventually.
They begged for “one more year”, more than once. And one more year they got. Seven times.
The knowledge of the impending arrival of April 13, 2014 didn’t make it any easier to process.
But maybe knowing it was coming, knowing the finality of it, would make it easier to celebrate the most important and most loved player the Anaheim Ducks franchise has ever known. Teemu Selanne.
And celebrate him they did, as the Ducks hosted the Colorado Avalanche in their final game of the regular season at Honda Center Sunday night.
As is customary to close out the season, it was Fan Appreciation Night. But this night was different. From the minute Selanne took the ice, it was #ThankYouTeemu Night, as he appeared in what would be the final NHL regular season game of his outstanding 21-year career.
This wasn’t a game I was going to miss. I decided to forgo my usual seat in the press box to sit in the arena so I could cheer and celebrate The Finnish Flash with the rest of the 17,000+ Ducks faithful.
But the real reason for making this choice was less about me and more about my two daughters. I wanted them to be there to witness history, to see this living legend play. One more time.
And I’m so glad they did.
In the car ride over to Honda Center, I tried to explain to my girls what they were going to see that night. I tried to explain what Teemu means to the Ducks and their fans. I tried to describe his passion for the game and how his contributions extend far beyond Orange County, how this future Hockey Hall of Famer is one of the kindest and best ambassadors the sport has ever known.
I told them that Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf would be sitting out this game and that Selanne would be wearing the “C” on his jersey, the ultimate level of respect given to the ultimate Ducks player.
“Everyone loves Teemu,” I told them. “You just can’t not like the guy. It’s impossible.”
Earlier that day, news had surfaced that it was going to be the final NHL regular season game appearance for another significant player that night, Colorado Avalanche goaltender and former Ducks goaltender, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
The era of Jiggy as a Duck was a bit before my daughters’ time. They weren’t around for his 2003 heroics. They didn’t know how he carried an entire Mighty Ducks team on his back from obscurity all the way to Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final.
They were too young to watch how he battled in 2007, how in the midst of dealing with complications in the birth of his firstborn son, he helped lead the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup title.
So I told them about Giguere, how the Ducks would most likely honor him as well, and how it was pretty special that he and Selanne would be sharing the ice this night.
And I told them that without Jiggy, I wouldn’t even be following hockey and the Ducks. And how because of that, he will always be my hockey hero.
We got to the game right before puck drop, and from start to finish, it was all about Teemu. From the team, to the organization, to the fans, the celebration was done right.
And my girls soaked it all up. They loved watching all of the video tributes to the Great 8. They joined the crowd and stood on their feet to cheer Teemu each time he took the ice in the third period. And they thought it was “awesome” that he was awarded all three stars of the game.
As expected, the Ducks honored Giguere during a television time out in the first period. Even if they didn’t know the whole story, my girls understood Jiggy’s salute to the crowd as the fans cheered for him.
The game was inconsequential, for both teams, but it was good to see the Ducks come back from trailing 0-2 to beat the Avs in overtime, 3-2. The fans remained on their feet as Selanne took his final victory lap around the arena.
And being the gentleman that he is, Teemu didn’t leave the ice without recognizing Giguere, his Cup-winning teammate, as he grabbed Jiggy to join him for one last tour on the Honda Center ice.
My girls looked at me, wide-eyed, just as my own eyes were filling up with tears. Even the fans behind us who had come to cheer on the Avs could appreciate what they were seeing.
On the way home, my younger daughter asked me, “All that stuff they did for Teemu tonight, would they do that for any other Ducks player?”
My answer was simple. “No,” I said. “There will never be another like him.”
As the team shifts their focus and prepares to take on the Dallas Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, my mind is still lingering a bit on the history and the unforgettable images we were so fortunate to witness Sunday night.
I told my girls, “You may not fully understand the importance of what you saw tonight, but some day, it will make more sense, and I promise, you’ll be glad you were there.
“Thank you for buying the tickets and taking us,” they said. Maybe, in some ways, they already know.
Some players transcend the game they play. When it comes to hockey, that’s how you describe Teemu Selanne. How fortunate are we to be here in this place, at this time, to watch him play for this team. In Orange County, California. The “non-traditional” hockey market that became his “happy place.” By choice.
The night was about #ThankYouTeemu. But I think it’s safe to say, our thanks to him will never be enough.
**Photos 1, 2 and 4 via the Anaheim Ducks
03/28/2014 10:26 am
In September 2013, 60 fifth graders from Maranatha Christian Academy in Santa Ana joined Anaheim Ducks Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the Honda Center ice to kick off the Anaheim Ducks Learn to Play powered by Ryan Getzlaf & Corey Perry program.
The introductory inline and ice hockey program for kids age four to 10 that is offered by THE RINKS and funded by the Anaheim Ducks Foundation is now also being backed and supported by two of the Ducks star forwards. And it has seen tremendous success.
Over 1,700 participants have signed up and sold out the two sessions offered since last fall’s program launch (September – January and February – August). The first-time hockey participants start with learning the basics of skating and skills through a four-week session. And for each of the participants that continue in THE RINKS development program, Getzlaf and Perry will purchase Bauer hockey equipment for the kids to keep.
For Chris Banner, who has been playing hockey since he was a teen, the Learn to Play powered by Ryan Getzlaf & Corey Perry program has been the perfect way to introduce his 10-year-old son, Ben, to the sport.
“I’d always wanted my kids to try hockey, but they play other sports as well and I was concerned about the [equipment] costs,” says the Huntington Beach dad. “Ben tried the program and has loved it.
“The coaching staff has been great. They really connect with the kids. And having the equipment provided as a part of continuing on with the program makes it all a great value. This is the perfect way to keep hockey growing in Southern California.”
The program is currently offered for both ice and inline at six of THE RINKS locations (Westminster ICE, Yorba Linda ICE, Lakewood ICE, Irvine Inline, Corona Inline and Huntington Beach Inline). Equipment provided to the participants includes skates, shoulder and elbow pads, shin guards, a helmet, hockey pants, gloves and a jersey.
Both Getzlaf and Perry are thrilled to see the early success of the program.
“Corey and I are proud to be part of this program,” says the Ducks captain. “It’s another great sign of the growth of the sport in Southern California, which is what we are all striving for.”
“It’s fantastic to see the turnout for Learn to Play,” says Perry. “It’s exciting to see so many new skaters, especially amongst the youth in the area. We look forward to more of the same for years to come and are honored to be part of the program.”
For more information about the Anaheim Ducks Learn to Play powered by Ryan Getzlaf & Corey Perry program and to register, visit anaheimducks.com/learntoplay
**Photos courtesy of the Anaheim Ducks
03/20/2014 9:11 am
This week the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center welcomed nearly 1,000 local fifth graders as they jumped, stretched and ran their way through the second annual Captain’s Challenge Fit Finals.
As a part of the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation and Education) Program, Captain’s Challenge is a physical education initiative that looks to motivate and inspire fifth grade students as they prepare for their California Physical Fitness Test.
The program, offered for free to participating schools through the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, starts with a month-long workbook curriculum that schools incorporate in the classroom. The workbook encourages the students through fun physical fitness activities, such as stretching, jumping and school yard yoga, as a way of getting them ready for their state required physical fitness test.
But the materials also promote other ideals of health and fitness, such as healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices, as well as leadership and character traits, built around the idea of learning “what it takes to be a Captain,” including qualities such as perseverance, integrity and accountability.
After going through the curriculum at school, the students gathered at Honda Center for the Fit Finals, where they were challenged to put what they had learned to the test by going through each of the five assessments required as a part of the state’s testing, including a one-mile run, the sit-and-reach, trunk lifts, push ups and sit ups.
Ducks Captain Ryan Getlzaf joined Wild Wing and Ducks radio play-by-play voice, Steve Carroll, in getting the morning of physical fitness kicked off by speaking to the kids about the qualities of a captain and how important it is to make smart, healthy choices when it comes to physical fitness and everyday life.
Getzlaf then led the students through a brief warm-up, encouraged them to enjoy the day and do their best, and the fifth graders were off and running.
There were more than 160 volunteers on hand to record the students’ results, including Anaheim Ducks staff members, fans from the team’s booster club, the Die Hards, and community partners such as the University of La Verne and Cal State Fullerton.
The Ducks teamed up with Asics to provide each participant with a runner’s bib that contained a chip, allowing the students’ one-mile run time to be electronically recorded. And representatives from the Orange County Board of Education were in attendance, as the Ducks have worked closely with the Board in the development of the curriculum and assessment testing methods.
For fifth grade teacher Juanita Priesand from Davis Magnet School in Costa Mesa, having her students participate in the Captain’s Challenge Program is a great motivator in preparing them for the California Physical Fitness Test.
“The program has been really good for the kids,” says Priesand. “Having the preparation time here before they take the actual test at school motivates them to improve upon their times and scores.
“The workbook has also been very useful, as there are several kids who need that extra ‘push’ in getting excited about physical fitness. And I appreciate that the curriculum presents leadership qualities as well. ”
Priesand also stated that for a newer program only in its second year, she was impressed with how organized and smooth the process has been during the Fit Finals.
“My class participated last year as a pilot class, and this year, all of the fifth grade classes from our school are in attendance,” says Priesand. “The Ducks do a fantastic job with the program.”
After completing all five of the assessments, the students ate some lunch and then had the opportunity to visit with vendors in the Expo area. Organizations such as Whole Foods, Microsoft, the American Heart Association and the YMCA were on hand with information to support the physical fitness and healthy lifestyle education the kids received.
And no Anaheim Ducks event would be complete with out the chance to play some hockey. Wild Wing tended goal as the students took turns out on the street hockey rink.
The day wrapped up with the event’s Closing Ceremonies, where Steve Carroll helped Wild Wing host a raffle. Anaheim Ducks hats, signed pucks, sticks and jerseys along with $100 Asics gift cards and an Xbox 360 were just a few of the prizes handed out to some lucky kids that afternoon.
It was a fun day of physical fitness, leadership and learning to make healthy lifestyle choices, as the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program continues to inspire, challenge and produce positive change for local students—all through the sport of hockey.
For more information on the Captain’s Challenge and the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program, visit ducksscore.com.
03/14/2014 11:48 am
It felt like a summer day, as members of the Anaheim Ducks Wild Wingers Kids Club program headed out to Knott’s Berry Farm last weekend for the club’s annual End of the Year Party.
Experiencing yet another sell out this season of the 5,500 kits available, close to 2,500 members and their families gathered at Calico Square to spend some time with a few of their favorite Anaheim Ducks players.
Ducks television play-by-play voice John Ahlers, along with Wild Wing, welcomed the crowd and introduced Anaheim Ducks Jakob Silfverberg, Frederik Andersen, Patrick Maroon, Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell.
Ahlers kicked things off by asking Silfverberg about his time in Sochi, Russia, where he represented his home country of Sweden in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. With his silver medal around his neck, the Ducks forward talked about what an honor it was to play hockey for his country and come back with a medal.
Goaltender Frederik Andersen and defenseman Hampus Lindholm spent their Olympic break a bit differently. The Ducks rookies both kept up with their workouts and ice time, but also took a trip down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for some rest and relaxation on the sand.
As several young Ducks fans all dressed in their orange gear lined the stage ready to ask questions of their hockey heroes, the conversation shifted to the paths these players took to make it in the NHL.
Andersen, Lindholm and Rakell were all drafted by the Ducks, with Rakell just getting called up to the big club a few days prior. Silfverberg was acquired via the trade with Ottawa over the summer that sent Bobby Ryan to the Senators.
But Patrick Maroon has taken quite a different path to the NHL and the Ducks. Drafted in the sixth round, 161st overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the St. Louis, MO native had been up and down, toiling around in the minor league system for several years before being traded to the Ducks in 2010.
Now, the gritty forward, who is quickly becoming a fan favorite, regularly makes the line-up and is grateful for the opportunity.
“There’ve been a lot of ups and downs over the years, but being traded to the Ducks meant that I got chance to play,” said Maroon. “I’m thankful I get to play hockey in California for the best team in the league.”
Ducks fan Gavin got into it with Andersen about which ice cream is the best—Gavin prefers vanilla, Andersen likes chocolate. And there were high-fives and hugs all around for the young guests from the players.
After wrapping up the Q&A session, fans got to get up close and personal with the players as they sat for autographs and photos with their supporters. And then as part of their membership, Kids Club members got to enjoy a full day at the park, taking in the sunshine and all Knott’s has to offer.
I’ve said a number of times that this is my kids’ favorite event of the season, because there isn’t much that beats seeing hockey players right in front of you. Some kids are shy and quiet in the presence of these super stars. Others are bold. But I’m sure they are all awestruck, no matter their age.
I know as a parent who has watched my daughters grow up with this team, their smiles never get old.
For more information on the Wild Wingers Kids Club Program, visit wildwingerskidsclub.com or visit their Facebook page.
03/11/2014 10:06 am
It was all fun and games, food, and hockey talk at Dave & Buster’s in Orange as the restaurant, bar and arcade played host for this year’s Anaheim Ducks Die Hards End of the Year Party.
Over 250 members of the team’s booster club came out to celebrate the Ducks, and with the regular season coming to a close, the focus is all on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Pacific Division leaders look to take care of some #unfinishedbusiness heading into the NHL’s second season.
There was a flurry of trade activity earlier that same day that saw the Ducks send goaltender Viktor Fasth to Edmonton and forward Dustin Penner to Washington, as well as the arrival of Dallas Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas.
And with Penner as the originally scheduled Ducks player guest of the evening, it was Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen who stepped up and did a fantastic job filling in, just as he has done all season for Anaheim.
Serving as the backup to Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, the 24-year old rookie from Denmark has posted some impressive numbers in his first season up with the club.
Sometimes referred to as “The Great Dane”, Andersen currently leads all NHL rookie goaltenders in wins, with a 15-4-0 record, along with a 2.17 goals against average and a 9.27 save percentage.
After a career-high 49 saves against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 2, Andersen was to be sent back to the Norfolk Admirals (AHL) the following day, but remained in Orange County due to bad weather on the East Coast.
The weather delay ended up being to Andersen’s benefit. With the Ducks trading Fasth earlier in the day, Andersen was called to practice that morning and will remain with the club in his backup goaltender role, a spot he has definitely earned.
Anaheim Ducks radio color analyst Dan Wood was on hand and led a Q & A session with Andersen so the fans could get to know a little more about the Ducks third round pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
His hockey hero growing up was former NHL goaltender and current head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, Patrick Roy, and he credits his father as the reason he started playing the goaltender position. Andersen also had plenty of good things to say about his partner in the crease, Jonas Hiller, and the Ducks goaltending consultant, Dwayne Roloson.
“He [Hiller] is a great guy. I learn so much from him just watching him on the ice,” said Andersen. “And Roli [Roloson] has been very helpful. He was a great goalie, he’s just coming out of the league, so he has a lot of good tips.”
On the lighter side, fans learned that Andersen doesn’t consider himself much of a poker player, he likes to play golf and watch baseball during the off season, and when asked about owning a dog, he said he wasn’t quite ready for such a commitment.
“I don’t know about a dog,” said Andersen smiling. “I’ll keep my focus on the ice.”
For a very unexpected season, some of Andersen’s favorite highlights with the Ducks include his win over the Los Angeles Kings, playing (and winning) at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers last November, and the Outdoor Game experience at Dodger Stadium in January.
With great poise and confidence for such a young player, Andersen said there isn’t a team out there that makes him nervous. But for right now, he’s focused on the playoffs, admitting that even with the trades the Ducks have made, the pressure doesn’t change.
“I know they [the Anaheim Ducks] believe in me,” said Andersen, “so I’ll always want to do my part to get better and win.”
After the Q & A session, some lucky fans won some great raffle prizes, including a Ryan Getzlaf signed puck and a Scott Niedermayer signed jersey. Additionally, a few of the Die Hards won the chance to play some games in the arcade alongside Andersen, including air hockey (where Andersen only allowed one goal) and Mario Kart.
It was a fun time had by all, as the fans always appreciate the chance to get “up close and personal” with players from their favorite team. And as the Ducks head into the final stretch of the regular season, they know that Andersen will play a key role in getting the team where they want to be come playoff time.
Follow Freddy on Twitter at @f_andersen30
And for more photos from the event, visit the Anaheim Ducks Die Hards page on Facebook
03/06/2014 12:06 pm
Last week, the Anaheim Ducks were back in action after a two-week break that saw seven Ducks players travel to Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympic Games.
And while NHL-starved fans headed out to Honda Center on Friday night to welcome the team (including five medal winners) back to the ice, I headed to a different rink to watch some kids play hockey who are just beginning to learn the skills of the game.
I wrote recently about the new Top Flight Street Hockey League offered by THE RINKS, a street hockey program designed specifically for players with special needs. But I knew I needed to get myself out to THE RINKS – Huntington Beach Inline and see these kids in action.
And I’m so glad I did. Over 35 participants and their families came out on a rainy night with their sticks and jerseys ready to play some hockey. And it was a joy to watch.
The players took to the rink and warmed up with some passing and shooting drills. They then split up into their teams for the night’s contest–the Stingers, the Green Machine, the Screaming Super Sonics, and Moose Jaw–and took turns rotating through two- to three-minute shifts for the duration of the game.
The experience had all the elements of a big league tilt, including in-arena music, an announcer calling the play-by-play action and cheering fans in the stands. And for those who needed a little extra assistance, there were friends, family members and volunteers out on the rink lending a helping hand.
In its second full season, the Top Flight Street Hockey League has been a great addition to an already strong offering of introductory hockey programs made possible by the Anaheim Ducks Foundation and THE RINKS. And for kids like 14-year old Darren Nalbandian, the league provides him the chance to learn how to play what has become his favorite sport.
“It’s so much fun here, I’m really enjoying it. I’m a big fan of hockey and the Ducks,” says the Huntington Beach resident.
And Darren’s father agrees.
“It’s a fast paced, fun environment. All of the kids get along,” says Steve Nalbandian. “Darren has picked up hockey so much faster than any of the other sports he’s played.”
The response to the program has been extremely positive, with new players and volunteers signing up each session. Continued interest will allow for expansion of the league to additional rink surfaces at Huntington Beach Inline and possibly other rink locations as well.
“Our goal is to continue to grow the program and be able to offer more teams that are further segmented by age and ability,” says Marketing Manager for THE RINKS, Jesse Chatfield.
Peter Yencso is helping with that effort by bringing kids from his school to join him at the rink in learning street hockey fundamentals.
“I’m a big fan of the Ducks and I like to hang out with everyone here who is into hockey,” says the 14-year-old from Fountain Valley. “I’m getting better and better at it each day I play.”
“This program has been terrific for him,” says Peter’s father, Dave. “He plays other sports, but this is by far his favorite. Kudos to the Ducks organization for providing a way for my son to learn how to play hockey.”
In addition to learning the skills of the game, such as stick handling, passing and shooting, the program is providing additional benefits for its participants.
“I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve seen improvement in other areas with their kids, such as socialization,” says Chatfield. “Their kids are becoming more articulate and are more focused at school.”
As they made their way up and down the rink during the game, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by how much fun these kids were having. It was hockey at its basic and best level–kids learning and playing for the joy of the sport. The contest ended in a scoreless tie, but you’d never know it as they all high-fived each other through the handshake line. Goals or not, they all had a fun night.
Another example of how the sport of hockey is often bigger than just a game.
The smiles on the faces of these players definitely proved that.
For more information on the Top Flight Street Hockey League, visit anaheimducks.com/topflight
02/28/2014 10:09 am
The kids who participate in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim got a very unexpected surprise last week when they arrived at the Club’s location on Broadway for their afterschool programs.
Earlier that day, a group of over 50 volunteers consisting of staff members from the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center, as well as Anaheim Ducks fans, were busy working to renovate the club’s multi-purpose and teen rooms as a part of the Anaheim Ducks “Power PLAY!” makeover project.
New paint, flooring, logos and graphics, furniture, built-in work stations and even a ping pong table were donated and installed, bringing new life to their most used spaces.
“The kids are going to be blown away by this,” said Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim, Michael Baker. “And this is such a pick-me-up for our staff.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim have enjoyed a longtime partnership with the Anaheim Ducks organization, participating in their charity ticket program as well as having experienced a visit with the Stanley Cup back in 2007 when the Ducks brought California its first NHL Championship.
With a mission statement that aims “to inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, healthy, and caring citizens,” the Club provides essential programs, seven days a week, in areas such education and career development, character building, sports and the arts—all with the goal of making sure these kids feel a sense of belonging.
And for the volunteers participating in the renovation project, having the chance to make an impact on these kids was just as rewarding.
“Being able to participate in something like this makes me proud to be a fan of hockey and the Ducks,” said Ducks season seat holder, Anita Brady. “I love the Ducks and I love hockey, but I especially love all of the good things the Ducks do in the community for the youth. And a project like this allows us fans to join them in helping out. It’s a great opportunity.”
Partners such as The Home Depot, Pepsi, Wahoo’s Fish Taco and Print Technology Solutions joined the Ducks and the volunteers in providing the makeover to the Club.
“Most of the kids here are on scholarship, so we rely on our local businesses and community partners to be able to provide these programs for the youth we serve,” said Baker.
And with just a few hours and a little elbow grease, the spaces not only looked better, but were more functional, something the staff and the kids they serve will definitely appreciate.
“It’s so motivating when businesses and community partners stand beside us and support us,” said Baker. “We are grateful for the Ducks and all that they do.”
For more information about The Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim and the programs they provide for over 2,400 local kids each year, visit theboysandgirlsclub.org
01/31/2014 10:53 am
I’ve only been to Dodger Stadium a few times in my life.
That may sound odd coming from a California native who loves baseball. But as a lifelong Angels fan who lives only 15 minutes from the Big A, I just haven’t made that 40-mile drive up the 5 freeway very often.
But on a Saturday in January, I did. And it wasn’t to watch America’s pastime, but another sport that has more recently captured my heart and the hearts of residents all over the Golden State.
Yes, adjacent to downtown Los Angeles, in the middle of a baseball diamond, sat a hockey rink, as iconic Dodger Stadium played host to one of six 2014 NHL Stadium Series Outdoor Games. The nighttime tilt featured the Los Angeles Kings taking on the Anaheim Ducks. Two of the top teams in the Western Conference, and the league, both of whom have raised Lord Stanley’s Cup within the last seven years.
An outdoor hockey game. In California. For the first time. Ever. History was made. And it was incredible to witness.
Late in the afternoon while the sun was still bright and shadows began to creep over the infield, I stood on the top deck of this beloved LA landmark and took in that now familiar scene of an outdoor rink surrounded by palm trees and the San Gabriel Mountains. And I decided that it was perfect.
What made it perfect wasn’t the fact that it was exactly how the sport of hockey is typically experienced outdoors. For hockey purists, this scene was missing some important elements like gently falling snow, frigid temps, and teams from cities like New York, or Boston, or Toronto.
But what made it perfect was that it was exactly how the sport of hockey is experienced in California. With daily highs of 75 degrees, sunshine, clear, cool nights, and expansion teams with connections to Hollywood and Disneyland.
When it was first announced that Los Angeles was on the Stadium Series schedule, it wasn’t an idea that was readily accepted.
An outdoor game in LA? What about the ice? There was so much angst and hand-wringing by skeptics over what the ice conditions would be like in this setting that you would have thought the entire ice surface was going to melt into a huge puddle right underneath the players’ skates.
I was never worried. And neither were Dan Craig and his team of ice magicians, the crew assembled by the NHL to build an ice rink where few thought an ice rink could be built. It was 60 degrees at puck drop that night and according to the players, the ice surface wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t much different than the ice they typically play on indoors in this region.
As the sun set, I stood in that same spot on the top deck, perched high above all of the arriving fans in their respective jerseys, and watched as the crew slowly removed the insulated thermal blankets that covered the ice surface to reveal the familiar painted lines and circles. There was a hockey game to be played here. This was really going to happen.
The atmosphere created by the league that night went far beyond just an ice rink on the infield grass. There was a beach volleyball court in left field. There were fans throwing footballs and tossing Frisbees. The outfield was home to a group of women doing yoga. A smaller rink sat near home plate, where local kids played street hockey, the way most kids in this region are introduced to the game. There was a red carpet entrance. The rock band KISS was in right field with their face paint and pyrotechnics. There was even the USC Marching Band.
It was an absolute spectacle. And it was awesome.
Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully welcomed the crowd and introduced the teams to a standing ovation from the crowd as the players walked through a palm tree lined entrance created in center field. It had to be Scully, as no other voice in that setting would have been appropriate other than his.
And then entered Wayne Gretzky, The Great One, the one person who has had the largest influence on the state of hockey in California. Kings fans and Ducks fans alike agree that without “The Trade”, there would not be, among other things, an outdoor hockey game happening in Los Angeles.
Gretzky stood between Kings captain Dustin Brown and Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf and dropped the ceremonial puck that represented the culmination of 25 years of unprecedented growth in the sport in California. This was clearly more than just a regular season game for this region, these teams and their fans. It was the recognition that California hockey has truly become a force to be reckoned with.
All of the production and flash aside, there was a game to be played and two points on the line. The Ducks entered this contest at the top of the league standings, having defeated the Kings at Honda Center just two nights before. The Kings came in trying to reverse their recent losing woes and find their scoring touch.
The Ducks got on the board early in the first period with a goal by Corey Perry and never looked back. They added a tally by Matt Beleskey and a late empty net goal by Andrew Cogliano as the boys in bright orange defeated the Kings 3-0. Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller was an absolute wall, pitching a shut out in front of the announced 54,099 in attendance (an obvious nod to 99 himself). The Ducks raised their sticks in salute to their fans as fireworks shot into the night sky.
After the game, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was peppered with questions about future outdoor games such as this, and while he was hesitant to give any insight into the league’s plans, it’s apparent that this format can work well, in most any region. While some feel that too much of a good thing could take away from the uniqueness of this type of event, I think that each market should get the chance to experience this in some form. The players loved it. The fans loved it. And no matter how many outdoor games were played prior to the one in Dodger Stadium, there was nothing that compared to seeing an outdoor game happen in our own SoCal backyard.
As I left the ballpark that night, I lingered a bit on the top deck, looking down again on the memorable night that was, grateful for the opportunity to be a part of history.
It was 25 years ago that I graduated high school, just a few months before Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles and changed the face of California hockey forever. Looking back, I never would have imagined that this is where hockey would be today in the state I call home. But it is a beautiful sight to see.
At every level, from youth to pro, the sport is the strongest it has ever been. And it’s continuing to grow. Kids from California are getting their start in hockey here and are not only going on to play in NCAA Div 1 programs, but are being drafted by NHL teams. The future of the sport here is bright.
I’m glad my home state finally got its moment in the hockey spotlight. Maybe this will put us one step closer to dropping the idea that California is “not a viable hockey market.” It most certainly is.
The history of hockey here may not be as storied or as celebrated or have as many years in the books as in some other regions. And that’s okay.
I think that hockey fans in California realize that while there’s something special about having history in the sport that you love, there may be something even more special about being a part of making history in that sport.
And those at Dodger Stadium that night got to do just that.
Well done, California. I’ve never been more proud to be a native, and a hockey fan, than I am today.
In case you missed Five for Fighting’s performance during the second intermission, you’ll want to check out this unique version of their song “100 Years” and the emotional tribute video that accompanied it. Be sure to listen for the shout out to Teemu. Awesome.
01/09/2014 11:10 pm
We here at When Girls Love Hockey enjoy shining the spotlight on all the fantastic grass roots programs and education initiatives that the Anaheim Ducks provide for our community in an effort to grow the sport of hockey. Their commitment to this effort has introduced the game to thousands of local kids and adults and has drastically changed the landscape of hockey in Southern California.
And now, through THE RINKS program, they’ve added a new experience to their already comprehensive offering with the introduction of the Top Flight Street Hockey League, a hockey league designed specifically for players with special needs.
This eight-week program is for participants of all ages and abilities, and will teach the fundamentals of the sport, like shooting, passing and stick handling, through weekly group clinics and games. The program will take place on Fridays beginning Friday, January 10, 2014, from 5:30–6:30pm at THE RINKS – Huntington Beach Inline.
Now in its second season, the league got its start last fall through a three-week Learn to Play clinic held for special needs participants that focused on introducing the fundamentals of street hockey. The response to the clinic was so great that it was determined that there was a real need for a program like this to serve the local special needs community.
“After the completion of our Learn to Play clinic, we received an enormous amount of positive feedback, with parents and players asking, ‘What’s next?’ That’s how the Top Flight League was born,” says Marketing Manager for THE RINKS, Jesse Chatfield. “We then offered an eight-week fall season and the response has been tremendous.”
The fall season saw 25 participants, and Chatfield says that he expects 30-40 participants for the winter season. He went on to say that the goal is to offer the eight-week sessions four times a year, and depending on demand, possibly additional nights and locations.
With support and funding from the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, the $89 registration fee for the eight-week season includes a stick that the participants can keep, as well as a jersey, a team photo, and a trophy.
The rink used at the Huntington Beach Inline location is fully accessible for all players requiring a wheelchair or other mobility assistance. The approach includes segmenting the players into teams by age, ability and functioning level. There is typically one coach for each four or five participants, and parents or other family members who typically assist those who need one-on-one attention are welcome on the rink.
So if you have a family member or friend you think might be interested in this new street hockey program, pass the information along. There aren’t many things better than giving kids, no matter their ability, the chance to learn how to play this great sport.
For more information on the Top Flight Street Hockey League, click here or visit the-rinks.com/topflight.
And to register for the eight-week session beginning January 10, 2014, click here.
**Images courtesy of THE RINKS
12/23/2013 9:23 am
As December quickly comes to a close, I find myself, as most people do, reflecting back on the on the moments and memories that defined the year for me.
And as my mind carefully rolled over each piece of my 2013 story, I realized that this year was the first year in a long while that was filled with both extremely intense highs and lows.
There were so many positive things that happened for me, both personally and professionally. And it seemed that for each of those wonderful days I experienced, there were other days that were equally as difficult. It made for one very dynamic and emotional year.
One of the moments that stands out for me happened just a few weeks ago when I flew east to the city of Boston to watch the Ducks play as they visited the Bruins at TD Garden.
But in all honesty, my trip there had less to do with hockey and much more to do with keeping my emotional sanity.
The months leading up to that October trip were hard months. I spent most of my summer dealing health issues, and for those of you who live with chronic disease of any kind, you know the struggles that can accompany that battle.
At the same time, I came alongside my friend as she and her family dealt with some news that both broke our hearts and stretched our faith in ways I could have never imagined.
So during a time when I am typically recharging my batteries on the sand and under the sun of our beautiful Orange County beaches, I was instead riding an emotional rollercoaster that about gave me whiplash with its twists and turns.
It was exhausting.
When September and the new school year arrived, instead of being refreshed and rejuvenated, I was depleted and dry.
And as the calendar crept closer to Halloween and I stared down that quickly approaching tunnel of holiday chaos, it felt like a vice grip on my head, tightening with each day.
A friend recently referenced it as “living on the very edge of the envelope.” And I had been living on the edge of that envelope for far too long. I knew I needed to do something.
At about that same time, the opportunity came up for me to go to Boston and attend the Ducks/Bruins game with full media access.
So it took it.
At a time when I was weary, and craved some time away, I did something I had never done—I took a trip, by myself, doing something that I love, so that I could take care of me.
It was amazing. And it did wonders for my soul.
The Boston air was clear and crisp and cool. I caught the very end of the glorious colors that blanket that part of the country during the fall season, and for this California girl, it was captivating.
I filled my days there with experiences unique to the city and its love for the sport of hockey. I rode the subway to North Station. I had lunch at one of the most popular sports bars in the country, The Fours, where I ate a “Bobby Orr” steak and cheese sandwich. And then I visited the defenseman’s famous statue that sits out in front of the arena, capturing the moment of his game-winning overtime goal against the St. Louis Blues to clinch the 1970 Stanley Cup.
I sat in the black and gold seats of the lower bowl for the Ducks morning skate, and spoke with head coach Bruce Boudreau and some of the players in the dressing room following their practice.
A huge, impressive space, TD Garden may be a newer arena, but it is filled from end to end with countless reminders of the Bruins rich 90-year history and the club’s undeniable contribution to the NHL. And the entire organization was welcoming.
That night, I watched the October 31 tilt between two of the best teams in the league seated next to one of my dearest friends, Shawn Hutcheon, who covers the Bruins for The Fourth Period. There isn’t anyone I know personally who knows more about the game of hockey than Shawn. Despite the Ducks’ shootout loss, it was an honor to watch our teams play alongside him.
I tried my best to take it all in, grateful for every moment. And being able to have a short break from my typical responsibilities at home brought some healing to my body, heart and mind that I desperately needed.
When I arrived home to the hugs of my husband and daughters, I was thankful for the time away, but I knew this is where I needed to be. I had a few tinges of “mommy guilt” during those four days, but you know what? My girls were fine. They enjoyed Halloween with their friends, just like they do each year. They got extra helpings of “daddy/daughter” time. And their eyes were opened just a bit to “all that mommy does around here.” I call that a win.
As I think back over that adventure, with a much clearer head, I’m grateful for all I experienced and how it changed me for the better.
I’m thankful for friends who are even more wonderful in person than they are over the miles, and for those same friends who get me and my love for the sport of hockey.
I’m thankful for my husband, who understands me well enough to know that I needed to make that trip, and for family and friends who graciously stepped in to help with my girls. I couldn’t have (and wouldn’t have) done it without their support.
I think taking time to reflect back on what has happened over the course of a year is a good thing. I learned that it is often in the difficult times that we do the most growing, something I already knew, but lived out in a very real way this year. I learned that solitude is not a bad thing, and neither is setting aside some time to take care of ourselves.
And most of all, I discovered that for each dark day, there is a bright day ahead. I’m grateful for all of them, every moment—the good days and the hard days—for it is in the weaving together of these moments that we make a life.