Like most boys growing up in Canada in the 1950’s and 60’s my world revolved around hockey. There wasn’t much else to do in the tiny Ontario fishing village I called home. I played peewee hockey and my entire family followed the exploits of our local men’s Intermediate B team, the Port Dover Sailors. The Sailors were a powerhouse in their league and won the provincial championship several times during my youth.
Of course, the pinnacle of the hockey world was the National Hockey League. There were six teams, the MontrÃ©al Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. There were only about 130 professional players and every Canadian boy knew each players name, their positions and their stats! The highlight of the hockey year was always the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Stanley Cup is the most prestigious award in hockey. Its rich history goes back to March 17, 1893 when Canada’s Governor-General, Lord Stanley of Preston, first awarded it to an amateur team, The MontrÃ©al Hockey Club. Another MontrÃ©al team, the NHL’s MontrÃ©al Canadiens has won the cup 24 times, my childhood favourite the Detroit Red Wings have won 11 times and the Toronto Maple Leafs have won 13 times.
If someone had told me years ago that a hockey team from Southern California would someday win the Stanley Cup I wouldn’t have believed it. I would probably have said, “A baseball team from Canada will win back to back World Series Championships before a California team wins Lord Stanley’s Mug!”
Strange as it may sound, that’s exactly how it happened! The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and then won again in 1993. The Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Let’s take a closer look at the Anaheim Ducks and their Disney connection!
Yes, baseball fans know that the Walt Disney Company owned the Anaheim Angels MLB team from 1996 to 2003, but to a Canadian hockey fan that fact isn’t nearly as interesting as the story of the Mighty Ducks!
Before it was a real hockey team, The Mighty Ducks was a peewee team in a Disney movie, set in Minnesota and filmed in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area between January 22 and April 11, 1992.
Emilio Estevez played Gordon Bombay, a lawyer and former hockey player who was convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to community service. That’s how Bombay wound up coaching the District 5 peewee hockey team.
The kids never scored and never won . . . the new coach’s task looked hopeless!
Of course it was a Disney movie so naturally the kids slowly improved. They renamed themselves “The Mighty Ducks” and the movie ended with a penalty shot goal which clinched their championship win.
It premiered September 20, 1992 in Westwood, California and was panned by critics. Roger Ebert gave it 2 stars and said: “It must be said that this movie is sweet and innocent, and that at a certain level it might appeal to younger kids. I doubt if its ambitions reach much beyond that.”
Despite the poor reception from the critics, the movie did very well at the box office. Production costs were $10 million and the movie grossed over $50 million.
There were two sequels.
There was even a televised cartoon series!
The biggest thing spawned by the movie was a new National Hockey League team. In December 1992 The Walt Disney Company paid $50 million to acquire one of two new expansion franchises. The Mighty Ducks went to Anaheim and the Florida Panthers went to Miami.
Disney quickly pulled together a management and coaching team to guide the fledgling Ducks. They drafted well in the expansion draft held in Quebec City June 4, 1993.
The Winter 1993 issue of The Magic Years Magazine gives a bit background for the new team. Click on the magazine pages below to see larger versions of the scanned images.
The Duck’s first season opened October 8, 1993 at home, in the newly built arena, aptly named “The Pond”. After a 20 minute pre-game show, reported to cost $450,000, the puck was dropped for the first time at The Pond! The Mighty Ducks lost 7 – 2 to the Detroit Red Wings. Just a few days later on October 13th they recorded their first victory, a 4 – 3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. That first year they went on to set a league record – they recorded 33 wins, 46 losses and 5 ties. No expansion team had ever notched 33 wins in their first season, but in 1993/94 both The Mighty Ducks and the Florida Panthers did.
The Ducks sold out 27 of 41 home games that year, including each of the last 25 games. They sold 98.9% of The Pond’s seats that first season and they could not keep up with the demand for Ducks merchandise. All the Disney Parks and all Disney Stores were displaying Mighty Ducks hats, shirts, toy hockey sticks, pucks and jerseys. Mighty Ducks merchandise outsold any other NHL team in 1993/94.
The Ducks finished 4th in the Pacific Division and did not make the playoffs that first season, but by 1996/97 they had improved. Their 36 – 33 – 13 record put them in the playoffs. They beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4 games to 3 in the first round and then in the second round fell in 4 straight games to the Detroit Red Wings.
Management traded and drafted wisely over the years. The list of Mighty Ducks players and alumni contains some very well known hockey names, Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf along with Hall of Famers Jari Kurri, Adam Oates and Scott Niedermayer are a few that come to mind!
The Ducks made the playoffs again in 1998/99 and 2002/03 before the Disney era ended. In 2005 Disney sold the team to Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli for a reported $75 million.
The word Mighty was dropped from the team name and they became The Anaheim Ducks. They had a 43 – 27 – 12 season in 2005/06 and went all the way to the Stanley Cup semi-final series which they lost to the Edmonton Oilers.
Then in 2006/07 they won it all.
On June 6, 2007 a 6 – 2 win over the Ottawa Senators sealed the Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup victory.
They won the final series very convincingly, 4 games to 1, and proved that big-league hockey really does belong in Southern California!
When this blog was published The Ducks were in third place in the 30-team National Hockey League. Only four points separated them from the MontrÃ©al Canadiens and the first place Nashville Predators. Could another Stanley Cup be in sight?