Posted by: icingonthepond | September 21, 2015

Book excerpt – The Mighty Ducks are hatched

As some of you may know, I’ve been researching the history of California hockey for several years now. I’ve written several chapters for one book on it, and a few more for another.

One of the former Mighty Ducks and Sharks players I enjoyed speaking with a great deal during this process was Todd Ewen, who passed away over the weekend. I had shared parts of some chapters with him, and he offered honest and constructive feedback.

Rather than continue to guard my writing as if it were a state secret, I’ve decided to share a chapter I’ve written (and rewritten) about the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. I felt prompted to do this after reading about Todd’s passing and looking at the notes from my first interview with him, which began with a discussion about our shared love of playing music and his willingness and ability to play “pickup” in bands, basically playing whatever instrument they needed.

I hope you enjoy this not-so-brief glimpse into California hockey history, however rough around the edges it might be. There will be more where this came from.

The NHL Expands to Anaheim

When people talk about “The Gretzky Effect” on hockey in California, they don’t have to look far – in fact, roughly a 40-mile drive from Los Angeles to the southeast – to discover one of the more prominent pieces of evidence.

The National Hockey League granted The Walt Disney Company a conditional franchise in December 1992. By the end of the following March, less than six months before the team would open its first training camp, the club had a name – The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a sparkling new arena (The Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, later Honda Center) and a general manager – Jack Ferreira, the same man who had been charged with building San Jose’s NHL expansion franchise approximately 370 miles to the north.

The timing was impeccable because the Los Angeles Kings became the first team from California to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 1993, and the attention the sport was receiving was matched only by the acquisition of Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton nearly five years earlier.

Anaheim shared some similarities with fellow California expansion market San Jose. Both were growing and affluent – key components for a league that to this day still derives a lion’s share of its revenue from gate receipts and merchandise sales. And both were eager to fashion a name for themselves the shadow of cities to their immediate north, in the Sharks’ case San Francisco and in the Ducks’ case Los Angeles. More than 20 years later, the two franchises are – at worst – well on their way to that.

These emerging markets reflected a renewed emphasis by the NHL to expand into large U.S. television markets. The blueprint to establish big-market footholds wasn’t new to the league; it had been a driving force behind the NHL doubling in size from six to 12 teams in 1967, when, not so coincidentally, it also happened to place teams in Northern (the Seals) and Southern California (Kings).

The Oakland/California Seals followed a successful pro team in the old Western Hockey League in the 1960s. Likewise, the Kings followed the WHL’s Los Angeles Blades. As the WHL’s Seals and Blades faded, the Gulls began setting WHL attendance records in San Diego during their eight-season run from 1966 to 1974. So California was not uncharted territory for the NHL.

In February 1993, Gary Bettman was selected the league’s first commissioner and his mandate from the owners who hired him was to sell the game in the United States and complete expansion plans while ending the game’s labor unrest. His efforts in the latter yielded uneven results (labor woes cost the league half of the 1994-95 season, all of the 2004-05 campaign and half of the 2012-13 season), but the league has grown from 21 to 30 teams under his watch. And its annual revenues are approaching $4 billion, according to Canadian news outlet The Globe and Mail.

In September 1993 the Mighty Ducks opened their first training camp. The general manager who would guide them to their highest height 14 years in the future, Brian Burke, had begun working as the NHL’s Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations. In addition to his role as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian, the veteran of the Vancouver Canucks’ and Hartford Whalers’ front offices worked closely with the commissioner on matters concerning the direction of the league.

“Everyone talked in the ’90s about the electronic footprint. That’s all you heard, the electronic footprint. You’d hear it in your sleep,” Burke recalled. “If you want that elusive big television contract. If you want Fox to buy the rights to the NHL.

“You look at a map of the continental United States. What markets need to have teams? You want to get as many teams in as many top 20 DMAs (designated market areas) as you can. The Fox guys were saying you need a team in Atlanta, you need a team back in the Twin Cities because we weren’t there at the time. We were trying to cover as many top 20 markets as we can. Columbus was the 20th biggest TV market and they didn’t have a team.

“A lot of the expansion process was how do we flesh out that electronic footprint. We need a team in Florida, we need teams in Atlanta and Phoenix, so that was a big part of allocation of teams. How do we flesh that out?”


The Mighty Ducks enjoyed some immediate competitive advantages that the Sharks had not enjoyed when they began play in 1991.

The expansion Sharks spent two seasons playing in a substandard building more than 40 miles away from the arena they eventually would call home, and they were a family-owned operation. The Mighty Ducks, meanwhile, had a sparkling new facility the moment the season’s first National Anthem was sung, and Disney’s ownership provided valuable marketing muscle.

“The thing that really helped us develop that following (so quickly) was that the team was owned by Disney, because they could use a lot of their marketing tools to help get us out in the community,” Ferreira said.

Some in the hockey community scoffed at the notion of the company that introduced Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and friends to the world having a spot in the lineup of such a tradition-steeped game, but the Mighty Ducks’ first coach, Ron Wilson, and the club’s front office recognized the inroads Disney could help the team make in a competitive, entertainment driven market like Southern California.

“We realized we had a great opportunity to sell in a new market,” Wilson said. “We had a great company backing us in Disney, who gave us a lot of support and instant, at least for us with some fans, credibility. Maybe no credibility as far as Canada was concerned, we were being run by Disney. But they had access to making sure the building was filled and the right way to treat people. All of the things Disney’s known for made it a lot easier from an organizational marketing point of view.”

Disney’s involvement wasn’t an issue for the players, said Todd Ewen, one of the expansion era club’s leaders.

“I didn’t have a problem that Disney was involved, and I don’t think a lot of players did,” Ewen says. “It’s nice to have a corporation like that backing a sport like ours. We’re always considered lower that baseball, football and basketball.

“(Anaheim Sports President) Tony Tavares was instrumental in picking my brain and a lot of other guys’ about how successful organizations did things. He was interested in Montreal (one of Ewen’s former teams) and their history and what they did for their players. He went out of his way to treat the players well, above and beyond the call of duty. He really put us out there with the fans.”


Ferreira’s experiences with the Sharks helped shape the way he would approach his next general manager’s role with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Another factor was the relatively short amount of time he had in which to assemble the team. Expansion franchises for the 1992-93 season in Ottawa, Ontario, and Tampa, Florida, had at least a year of preparation time, not the six months afforded Anaheim and its expansion mate in Miami, the Florida Panthers.

Ducks television analyst Brian Hayward had a front-row seat for both of Ferreira’s expansion projects, as a goaltender and sometime TV commentator with the Sharks and when he double-shifted his broadcast duties with serving as the Mighty Ducks’ goaltending coach during their first two seasons.

“He built the teams differently,” Hayward said. “That experience in San Jose served him very well in building the Ducks. They took a different approach in that expansion draft. Who are your veteran players you bring in? To me, that was the big difference.

“And the Ducks, frankly, had a better coach. Ron Wilson was an excellent coach for an expansion franchise. He’s a defense-first coach.”

History has proven Ferreira knew exactly what he was doing when he picked Wilson, who came from a strong hockey lineage. His father, Larry, and his uncle, Johnny, won Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950s.

The Mighty Ducks job was the first head-coaching position for Wilson, who was a high-scoring defenseman at Providence College (where Burke was one of his teammates) and seasoned in international competition with the U.S. National Team and through playing in Europe, as well as a veteran of 177 NHL games. Wilson surpassed the 500-victory milestone while coaching the Sharks during the 2007-08 season. He also coached the United States to the 1996 World Cup title and led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup Final in 1998.

“He was actually an assistant in Vancouver. And the thing that in the interview that I had with Ron that kind of separated him from everybody else was his knowledge of the league,” Ferreira said. “When I went in and talked to all the candidates, he had a real knowledge of which players were going to be available, which players he thought would be good for us. That kind of separated him.

“Then I knew he was an intelligent guy, and he was a hard worker, which some of the other people I had talked to that had been associated with him said. That really confirmed that he was going to be the guy for us.

“And I wanted somebody who would grow with the team. There were a lot of guys who were a little more experienced and whatever, but I wanted the whole organization to grow together. That’s why we took a lot of younger players and first-year pros when we built the expansion team. I just wanted to get everybody to grow together. We knew there were going to be growing pains, but that was my thought process.”

Said Wilson: “More than anything, the challenge was that it (Anaheim) was my first head coaching job, and you’re kind of overwhelmed by ‘Are you ready for the job?’ (There were) all the organizational things that have to go in when there is no history. There’s no anything yet.

“You spend a lot of time with a lot of people educating them about what your program is going to be, making sure how you travel, how you practice. We tried as best we could to avoid saying we were an expansion team with all these built-in excuses. We just wanted to be as competitive as we could.”

Ewen had run into Wilson – literally – during the overlap in their playing careers in the late 1980s when Ewen was breaking in with St. Louis and Wilson was finishing his career with Norris Division rival Minnesota.

“I didn’t know what to expect because the last time I played against him, he came around the net and I just flattened him. So when he walked in, I was like, ‘Last time we played I kicked your butt’,” Ewen said, chuckling.

“He had a definite plan, and he’s very driven. He’s one of the few exceptions of coaches in that he allowed us a lot of days off because he understood the travel part of it. He was very good with the players. Some are demeaning with players. Some are total textbook.

“Ron has a great attribute in that he knew how to take players and push their buttons to get the most out of them. A coach who can do that will always be successful.”

The button pushing took on different forms, defenseman Jason Marshall recalled. And Marshall would know, having played for Wilson in Anaheim, Washington and San Jose.

“When I was in Anaheim, he yelled a little bit,” Marshall said. “Some responded to that. I didn’t. I’d worry. But he was really good at knowing when to give a guy a smack on the hands and knowing when to back off.

“We always seemed to get on a roll after Christmas, and I think it’s because he kept the practices to a good skate instead of a total beatdown, which some coaches do (when they’re upset).”

Guy Hebert, the Mighty Ducks’ first expansion draft pick, and the player whose goaltending was the backbone of the Ducks teams during an Anaheim career that spanned 1993-2001, minced no words about the job Ferreira and Wilson and the rest of the front office did.

“I think Jack and Ron probably never received enough recognition in putting together a team in no time flat. Especially the short time between getting the franchise, having to draft players and maybe sign a few free agents,” Hebert said.

David McNab, whose ties to California’s hockey history extend to his youth in San Diego in the 1960s, is one of the few remaining members of the original front office team.

“Jack put a terrific team together,” said McNab, then the director of player personnel, now the Ducks’ assistant general manager. “Jack was a smart guy. We were big, we got good goaltending, and we were tough. It was fun.”


Ferreira and Wilson wanted immediately to establish a team identity – toughness. That would be easier said than done for a team named after a series of children’s movies.

“The marketing aspect, just being called a Duck was hard,” Ewen said. “I had fought a lot before, and I knew I was going to fight a whole lot more just being a Duck.”

Said Ferreira: “The one thing I learned from being in San Jose and now coming down and starting another expansion team was you have to try to establish some kind of identity because nobody gives you any respect when you’re an expansion team. You go in and beat a team, and it’s ‘That team didn’t play well.’ You never get the respect and the credit that you deserve from a hard effort or playing well. It’s always the other team didn’t play well, that’s why they lost because no one expects you to win.

“So what I did with that team was we just wanted a big, tough team. We were not going to be intimidated in any building. That’s what I tried to establish.”

Enter Ewen and Stu Grimson, a pair of hulking wingers who did their part to put the Mighty into the expansion Ducks. The tag team had a combined weight of 460 pounds and a total of 471 penalty minutes in the 1993-94 season, most coming in 5-minute increments.

“Stuey and Ewey – there weren’t many teams willing to take us on,” Ferreira remembered, fondly. “Those two guys really gave us that credibility as far as if we were coming into your building, you had to keep your head up. That’s what we really tried to establish was to have that type of respect or at least we’d get that respect from other teams.”

Their presence was comforting to Hebert on a couple of levels. First, it would establish a physical presence and perhaps keep scores lower, and second, it went a long way toward quieting critics of the team’s nickname.

“Our first team for ’93 with Stu Grimson and Todd Ewen and Jim Thomson and Robin Bawa, you go through the media program and look at the penalty minutes. We were going to be tough,” the goalie recalled. “That might allow us to have a physical presence and win low-scoring games and not be pushed around. And if we had skill guys, they would be protected.

“I don’t think it’s a secret – here’s a team being named after a Disney film. Hockey is a man’s sport. You fight, you spit, you bleed, you lose teeth. That’s how I grew up. Goalies didn’t wear masks.

“A small part of having a tough team early on was the fact that any preconceived notion of what the team was going to be like was instantly shattered when Stuey Grimson and Todd Ewen went on the ice and dropped the gloves for the first time.”

Hayward also recalls the duo’s impact vividly.

“Stuey and Ewey – those two guys loved to fight. Loved it. Especially Todd Ewen, he loved to fight,” Hayward said. “And that was a lot of the identity of the franchise in those early years. Maybe the team’s not very good, but the game’s not going to be easy to play.”

The Mighty Ducks’ toughness stood out more than any other attribute to defenseman Alexei Kasatonov, who was the club’s first All-Star that season at age 34. And no wonder. Kasatonov had been a premier player for the Soviet teams of the ‘80s, winning two Olympic gold medals and a silver and five World Championships for some of the most skilled and precise teams in the sport’s history.

“When we were first starting out I remember we had a lot of fighters, more than the Kings, which seemed important,” Kasatonov said. “The first year was more show, but everyone stayed together, tried to help each other out because it was new for everybody.

“The New Jersey organization (which was Kasatonov’s NHL entry point during the 1989-90 season) was more conservative, more like Russia. Here you had palm trees, the Disney stuff, the shows. Hollywood actors were around.”

Ferreira was familiar with Ewen from his role as a scout with the Canadiens after he had left San Jose. Ewen arrived in the Mighty Ducks’ first trade with more 300 NHL games played and membership on the Montreal Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup champions on his resume.

“There was no better guy to be a tandem with than Stu. We were just on the same page,” Ewen said. “Before that I was usually the only fighter on my team so every game I’d have three fights with three different guys on the other team. My hands got ground up like hamburger.”

Former Ducks radio analyst and ex-NHL forward Brent Severyn remembered his “visits” with the duo as an opposing player.

“It was not fun to come here and play,” Severyn said. “Those were big boys, and I’d always wonder, ‘OK, which one am I going to have to go with tonight?’ ”

The Stuey and Ewey tag team might have been the most unique combination of enforcers in NHL history.

On the one hand there was Ewen, a gifted illustrator who wrote a children’s book, and who is so musically inclined that he plays piano, drums, bass and guitar. On the other, there was Grimson, a devout Christian who eventually earned a law degree from the University of Memphis and at one time worked for the NHL Players Association.

All business on the ice, the duo also brought plenty of levity to their teammates.

“My best memory there was my birthday,” Kasatonov said. “It was the first time I got hit in the face with a pie, by Ewen after practice. For me, it was strange, but everyone thought it was so funny.”

Stuey and Ewey typified a Mighty Ducks cast had plenty of characters – and character.

“They had some real good, strong character players on that team,” Hayward said. “I always put Stu in that category. Especially with (Randy) Ladouceur and Troy Loney (the club’s first captain).”

Added Ewen: “Troy Loney is a quintessential captain as far as I’m concerned. Guy Carboneau, Troy, Brian Sutter. They don’t say a lot, and they always bring their game. When they do say something, it means a lot. That’s how Troy was, when he said something, we all took it to heart.

“Randy Ladouceur was phenomenal in that he had so much experience.

“I don’t know what you’d call us, the tandem nuclear powers? Stuey and myself are at two ends of the spectrum. He’s more a joking, fun-loving, out there charismatic person. I didn’t say much but was determined. That support for all four of us to bring everyone together was part of the chemistry they always question. What does chemistry mean? Having different personalities pointing in the same direction. That was the difference.”

Wilson also valued the leadership of Loney, Ladouceur, Grimson and Ewen.

“Early on, Troy Loney and Randy Ladouceur were foundational guys,” the coach said. “Other people like Stu Grimson and Todd Ewen did a lot of things in the community and made a big difference. We wanted an identity as a hard-working, kind of tough team that people can identify with.”

Ewen recalled one of his first functions as a Mighty Duck, an organization he had told his agent during the summer of 1993, fresh off Montreal’s Stanley Cup victory over the Los Angeles Kings, that he had no interest in joining. Ewen and Grimson went on a radio show in an effort to reach out to potential fans.

“Stu and I did an interview on the radio the first day I came into town, and it was quite funny because we were getting some unbelievable questions, like ‘What’s the name of that thing that cleans the ice?’ Just bizarre questions,” Ewen said.

“A year later, and this goes toward everybody in Anaheim, we did the same show a year later at the same time, and they’re like, ‘Why aren’t you on the diamond formation on the penalty kill?’

“Did everybody go to school? It just took off. They just brought us in as a family and really gave us the support.”


The task of building a competitive team was made slightly easier for Ferreira, McNab, assistant GM Pierre Gauthier, and Director of Hockey Operations Kevin Gilmore because of two key changes the NHL had made for this round of expansion. The first was the rules of the expansion draft, and the second was the Mighty Ducks’ and Panthers’ first two Entry Draft positions.

“The biggest difference was the expansion draft,” Ferreira said. “When I started the San Jose team, each team could protect two goaltenders. When we came down here to Southern California, the expansion rules were that each team could protect one goalie. That was significant because it’s your most important position, especially when you’re an expansion team.

“When we came down to Southern California, there was Guy Hebert and Ron Tugnutt, there was more to pick from. We had also drafted Mikhail Shtalenkov, but our plan was that we were going to let Tugnutt and Guy fight for the No. 1 job, have Mikhail be down in San Diego for half a year and then come the middle of the year we would try to trade one of the two goalies, whichever one didn’t win the job. Try to get a player, which we did. We ended up getting Stephan LeBeau (from Montreal for Tugnutt).

“When Mikhail came in, with Mikhail and Guy, the goaltending was pretty much solidified for the five years that I was the general manager there. We never had a question who was going to play goal. The players didn’t care if it was Guy or Mikhail, so that was pretty special thing to have. It all started because each team could only protect one goalie so there was a bigger pool to choose from.”

Unlike the previous Entry Draft, in 1992, when expansion teams Tampa Bay and Ottawa picked No. 1 and No. 2, the NHL added a twist for the Mighty Ducks and the Panthers in 1993.

“The NHL did it perfectly in my opinion the one year we came in to play,” McNab said. “Our franchise wasn’t granted until March of 1993. Usually it’s an entire season. When we came in, we picked 4 and 5, whatever the reason was. There were teams having miserable years anyway, they didn’t want to throw us ahead of them. Usually they pick first.

“For our first two years, with us and Florida, they had a coin flip and the winner got to pick either fourth in the 1993 and second in 1994 or fifth and first. But you were guaranteed to pick 1 or 2 after your first season.

“What happens with a lot of expansion teams is you need a bad year or two to get an influx of pretty good players.

“We picked fourth in 1993, and that’s when we got Paul Kariya. Going into the 1994 season we knew we were picking second. And we knew both Florida was going to pick first. Both teams could try to win and we still were going to pick first and second. It gave a certain sort of feeling.

“It wasn’t like you said at the trade deadline, ‘We’ve got to lose here. We have to help our draft pick. Winning some games and finishing with the seventh-best record doesn’t help us.’ We could just try to win every game. We had 33 wins, Florida and us. Two very good seasons. It was a great way to go. It helped the teams.”

Kariya joined the Mighty Ducks for the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season and immediately made an impact on the club.

Two of the other top-5 picks from that 1993 draft would make their presence felt later in the Ducks’ history.

Hartford, under the direction of Burke, selected defenseman Chris Pronger with the second pick, and Florida took forward Rob Niedermayer one pick after Kariya. Niedermayer later would be acquired at the 2003 trade deadline and would team with Kariya to help the Ducks to their first Stanley Cup Finals berth. Burke then put the finishing touches on assembling the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup Champion team with his acquisition of Pronger during the summer of 2006.


In Guy Hebert and Mikhail Shtalenkov the Ducks had a goaltending tandem that was not only good for an expansion team, but any team in the NHL. After Tugnutt’s trade to Montreal, either Hebert or Shtalenkov was in net for every Ducks game but eight from 1994 through the 1997-98 season. The team’s goals-against average was below 3.00 in three of those five seasons and very close to it in a fourth.

“It was Guy and Mikhail. I can’t forget Mikhail because Mikhail was the perfect backup guy,” Ferreira said. “He worked his butt off. He was one of the hardest workers on the team, and he had a great ability to come in cold.”

The good-natured Shtalenkov could not believe his good fortune of making the NHL in California.

“I was a guy from Russia, and I’d only heard about California. When I came here in ’93 I didn’t expect to find things how they were,” he said. “I wondered how is it possible to play hockey when there is sunshine all the time?

“It was very important to me that they drafted me. They gave the chance to play in the NHL, the best league in the world. I have real good memories about everything – the team, California, the people around town and at the games.”

A chance set of circumstances led to Hebert landing in Anaheim. Fired by San Jose at the start of the 1992-93 season, Ferreira was scouting for the Canadiens when he saw Hebert, who played in only 37 NHL games over two seasons before coming to the Mighty Ducks.

“What Guy brought was really stability,” Ferreira said. “When you talk about a player that was now going to be given a chance. He was the backup to Curtis Joseph in St. Louis, and that previous season I was working with Montreal, and we were going to make a trade with the Blues. I went and I followed St. Louis for about five games. Cujo was hurt and Guy played three games. So I got to see him, and he played well. So when it came time for expansion, we were looking for a goalie, we jumped on Guy.

“It’s crazy how things work in this game because Cujo got injured and I was there at the right time. He gave us stability from Day 1. The goaltending was always stable between those two guys.”

Hayward’s broadcasting job allowed him to watch every Mighty Ducks game in person. His job as goaltending coach and 11 years of NHL experience between the pipes lent added insight to the netminders.

“Guy was a revelation,” Hayward said. “Ron had been a guy who had played a lot of games with Quebec. Guy was kind of an unknown quantity. He was Curtis Joseph’s understudy and barely played. He came in and did a real nice job.

“There was one year where start to finish – might have been the third year of the franchise – I thought Guy Hebert was among the top 10 goaltenders in the NHL, and that’s saying something for a guy who is breaking into the league with an expansion franchise.

“A lot of teams had passed on him at that point. That’s really saying something. It’s a credit to Guy. He turned himself into a real good goaltender.”

That would come as no surprise to Ewen, who briefly played with Hebert in Peoria, the St. Louis’ International Hockey League affiliate, and practiced with him during off seasons in St. Louis.

“The consistency of Guy Hebert is what made him who he was,” Ewen said. “I knew he was a consistent goalie. I never had to question whether he was going to make the stops he had to. And he’s just a great person. I was very optimistic with him in net.”

Hebert’s impact on his understudy cannot be underestimated either.

“Guy was a great goalie and just a great partner to be with in the net,” Shtalenkov said. “Inside the room and as a person, I respect him a lot. He was playing more than me, but he took time to help me. When something bad happened, I was there to help him.”


Both the Mighty Ducks and Florida Panthers won 33 games during their expansion season. To put that into some perspective, it took the San Jose Sharks (a ’91 expansion team) three seasons to win as many games and seven seasons to do it twice. Among the ’92 expansion clubs, it took the Ottawa Senators six seasons to win as many games and the Tampa Bay Lightning four seasons.

“We won 19 road games that year. We had 33 wins. If we had one more win, we would have made the playoffs because they changed the playoff rules that year, and previously it was the first four in each division made the playoffs,” Ferreira said. “We finished fourth (in the Smythe Division), the Kings finished fifth, but then they changed the format to the winner of each division got in and the next six were by points. Well, Winnipeg had two more points than we did and they made the playoffs instead of us. Still, it was kind of satisfying for us to win 33 games.”

As rewarding as that first season was, more good things were in store for the franchise in the coming seasons.

Posted by: icingonthepond | November 25, 2014

Wading through data

During my “down time” I’ve taken to re-reading chapters I’ve written for Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds and scanning the interviews I’ve conducted over the past 5-6 years, and I’ve concluded many of you I’ve spoken to are right — that is A LOT of information.

So I’ve reached the conclusion that the first book needs to focus on youth hockey and the influences for its growth. So yeah, the pros will be covered to some extent, but not in the comprehensive manner I’d originally thought. That is a different dragon to slay.

So while I’m sure Stanley Cup-winning coaches Darryl Sutter and Randy Carlyle have compelling stories to tell. I KNOW men such as Buddy McKinnon, Ludi Graf, Jeff Turcotte and James Gasseau (among hundreds of others) do.

And that’s really the point — honoring the players, coaches AND PARENTS who made the growing youth hockey trend what it is today.

So we press on! Thank you for your patience and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

A side note: Graf, now 82, recently retired and U-T San Diego ran a nice story on his career.

Posted by: icingonthepond | July 26, 2014

Californians at NHL Prospects Camps

The hockey season doesn’t end, it just goes through different phases. At least that was the impression I got from talking to the two California-born and -trained prospects selected in June’s NHL Entry Draft recently.

Gracious though they were, it was clear Thatcher Demko (2nd round, Vancouver) and Chase De Leo (fourth round, Winnipeg) were craving a bit of a break. They won’t say it but who could blame them.

Demko played well into April, helping lead Boston College to the Frozen Four despite the youngest player in NCAA hockey this season. He emerged as the Eagles’ starter in net as the season wore on and stayed there with impressive results (16-5-3, 2.24 GAA and .919 save percentage).

De Leo and the Portland Winterhawks advanced to a Game 7 against eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton in the WHL finals. De Leo played a big role in the Winterhawks’ success, racking up 81 points (including 39 goals) in 72 regular-season games and adding 19 more points in 21 playoff games. And he had a plus-49 rating and was solid in the circle.

At the end of May, it was on to the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. Then, the bubbly had barely dried on the Kings’ second Stanley Cup in three seasons when the draft rolled around in late June.

Within two weeks, most NHL teams held their prospect camps. Here is a partial (I hope mostly complete) list of Californians who participated. Bear in mind, the state has a large number of players who are established in the American Hockey League and those guys usually don’t attend prospects camps these days.

Western Conference

Ducks – F Nic Kerdiles, D Scott Savage, F Chase Souto and F Brian Williams

Comment: I watched one of their scrimmages and was thoroughly impressed with Kerdiles’ play (2 goals, 1 assist, involved in every facet) as well as that of Savage (who attended as an undrafted invitee). Kerdiles (2nd round, 2012) left Wisconsin after his sophomore season to sign with the Ducks and fared well in an AHL cameo at season’s end. Savage was a BC teammate of Demko’s and was the Eagles’ second-highest-scoring blue liner as a true freshman. He made plays and was a physical presence. Williams flashed elite skating and hands, and given his smaller stature (5-8, 175) was also engaged physically, particularly in the offensive zone. Williams scored 36 goals in the WHL, and someone has to give him a chance in the pros. I did not see Souto play unfortunately.

Sharks – F Matt Nieto, Savage

Comment: Interesting that San Jose would have Nieto, who had 24 points and played 66 games in the NHL, at summer camp, but he has only played 20 games total in the minors so perhaps they thought more experience was necessary. … And yes, Savage attended TWO prospects camps, something that is not unusual for college free agents.

Kings – F Patrick Newell

Comment: Nice move by the champs to invite a former Jr. King to prospects camp. Newell is a St. Cloud State commit who scored 43 points in 59 games for Clark Cup champion Indiana of the USHL.

Chicago – F Fredrik Olofsson, F Nolan Stevens

Comment: The Blackhawks picked Olofsson, who skated as a Mite and Squirt for the Santa Clara Blackhawks, one pick before the Jets took De Leo in the fourth round (98th overall). Stevens is a former Jr. King who has committed to Northeastern.

Minnesota – D Gustav Oloffson

Comment: Fredrik’s older brother, a 2013 second-round pick, signed with the Wild after one season at Colorado College.

Vancouver – Demko (see above)

Winnipeg – De Leo, G Eric Comrie

Comment: Comrie (2nd/2013) came back strong from hip surgery during the 2012-13 season to go 26-25-9 with a 2.57 GAA and .925 save percentage for Tri-City of the WHL. He and De Leo are close friends and former LA Selects teammates.

Eastern Conference

Detroit – F Mitch Callahan

Comment: The needle is pointing way up for the 2009 sixth-round pick. He made his NHL debut this past season and played a well-rounded game for Grand Rapids of the AHL, scoring 26 goals among his 44 points. His coach told me a few months back he trusts him in every situation.

Florida – F Rocco Grimaldi

Comment: Derailed by a knee injury his freshman season at North Dakota, Grimaldi was stellar the past two seasons, scoring 36 and 39 points. The highest drafted of any of these prospects (33rd overall in 2011), Grimaldi joins a rebuilding franchise that is intent on working in its prospects.

N.Y. Islanders – G Blake Weyrick

Comment: Surprisingly not selected in the entry draft despite being ranked as high as third by NHL Central Scouting (mid-term). Like Nieto, Grimaldi, Kerdiles, Demko and Stevens, he came up through the USNTDP program. He de-committed from Brown and could play for Tri-City of the USHL, which holds his rights.

Philadelphia – G Merrick Madsen

Comment: Like Demko and Weyrick, Madsen is another tall (6-4) goalie. He spent this past season with Minot of NAHL and has committed to Harvard. The guess here is Philly will let him take his time to develop.

Tampa Bay – F Adam Erne

Comment: A 2013 second-rounder, the former LA Select got a taste of the AHL with Syracuse after scoring 62 points in 48 games with Quebec of the QMJHL. He is part of a large stable of talented forwards in the Lightning organization.

Washington – D Garrett Haar

Comment: A 2011 seventh-round pick, Haar played this past season with De Leo on Portland and had 45 points in 61 games after spending two seasons at Western Michigan. Let the pro apprenticeship begin.

One notable prospect who did not attend a camp, and it’s likely due to his contract status is forward Chase Balisy, who completed his eligibility at Western Michigan but apparently had not signed with Nashville, which drafted him in the sixth round in 2011. He could become an unrestricted free agent in August through a loophole Ducks fans (Justin Schultz) are painfully familiar with.




Posted by: icingonthepond | January 14, 2014

Culver rink closing ending an era

News of the Culver City Ice Arena’s pending closing next month hit many of us who have played hockey at the facility over the years hard.

For all of its quirks (I once had a stick blade break off in the boards, which I  swear also swallowed up pucks from time to time), the rink is one of the few remaining links to the early days of hockey in Southern California.

Opened in 1962, it not only served as the LA Kings’ practice rink for many years, but it was part of GLAMHA (Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association), a league that I write about in the upcoming hockey book, Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds. It surprises many to discover that organized youth hockey existed in the state more than 50 years ago, but it did. And though the community was small, it was strong and often thriving. It produced NHL players, college stars and even an Olympic hockey player.

CCIA also was home of the Marina City Sharks, among other youth hockey clubs, an organization that produced several hockey pros, including Anaheim Ducks draft pick Brian Salcido and Matt Ford.

And no one who has ever played there will forget its hockey shop owners, Hans and Barbara Matzel.

A former rink owner told me several years back that this day would come. Not specifically, but that in general single-sheet rinks couldn’t make in California because operating costs have gotten too high. Multi-sheet facilities would be the only way for the numbers to make sense. The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks have partially proven that theory wrong by taking over operation — and in some cases outright owning — several single-sheet rinks and running them from a centralized office.

I can’t count the number of games of pickup hockey I’ve played at lunchtime at Culver City over the years. I don’t remember the games specifically, though I remember dreading walking up the creaky stairs to the locker room in my gear some times. What I cherish are the long-lasting friendships I’ve made there.

I realize there are other newer rinks with better amenities around, and those are enjoyable to play at. But they can’t replace 52 years of history. At its highest levels, the game is nothing without its history — ever hear of the Stanley Cup? That tie to the history of the game is one reason the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic outdoor games are so popular.

The NHL is bringing the outdoor hockey experience to Dodger Stadium in less than two weeks; it’s unfortunate that one of the region’s indoor rinks will be readying to lock its doors at the same time.

I don’t know if I speak for any other hockey players, but it feels as if part of me is about to be lost.

Posted by: icingonthepond | December 3, 2013

NHL Stadium Series jerseys

This morning was the unveiling of the jerseys for the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks for next month’s Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium.

Taking a look at both, I think the Kings are the clear winners here. Their design mixes the crown (which I MUCH PREFER over their current home plate logo) with a gray as the dominant color (another nice touch) and black sleeves for a traditional look. LA is featured on the shoulder. My one beef is their website only posted a slow-loading unveiling video, not photos (at least not right away). You can check that out here. I would love to see the Kings turn this into their primary home/road jersey scheme and ditch the current models all together.

The Ducks went all in with the Orange while keeping the giant webbed-foot crest that inhabits their third jersey (which I think should become their primary one as their current home/road jerseys are among the drabbest in the league). The Ducks, who provided a photo gallery of their jersey, have OC on the shoulder and their current color scheme in stripes on the sleeves. It’s really bright but could make a nice third jersey in the future.

Nonetheless, both jerseys are winners and positive editions to the franchises’ jersey catalogs.


Posted by: icingonthepond | August 20, 2013

CAHA president’s balancing act published an interesting look at CAHA President Steve Laing over the weekend. As you can read here, the gist is how he has balanced an often-harrowing career in law enforcement with being a timekeeper for the Anaheim Ducks.

I’d have liked to seen more detail about his six years as CAHA’s president, because I hold the opinion that he has had a massive influence on the youth game in California, far beyond what many people realize. Two areas come to mind immediately.

Without Steve’s vision, we don’t have “pure” high school hockey in California, and we certainly don’t have it at the levels we do now (i.e. Santa Margarita winning a USA Hockey National Championship). Steve continued to champion that as an alternative (or addition) to travel hockey. High school hockey’s benefits are many: players play with their schoolmates, far less travel is required and the expenses tend to be significantly lower. At some schools, the JV programs serve as sort of an introduction to the sport for some players. (This fills a significant gap in youth hockey in California – there are plentiful programs for younger players who want to start, but what about ones in their teens?)

And high school hockey is only going to continue to grow. The Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League will announce the addition of several new schools in the coming days. Between varsity and JV programs, there could be at least 20 teams in the league this season.

Steve and the CAHA board (whose members also do not get near the recognition they deserve for their commitment to the sport and hard work on behalf of it) have championed measures to reduce hits to the head by increasing penalties for such hits. The transition was not always smooth (for players, coaches and refs), but greatly reducing opportunities for concussions is well worth the short-term growing pains.

Steve, like so many who work in our great game of hockey in California, is an example of someone who dedicates a lot of time to the sport while also working outside of it.

To him, and the many other coaches and administrators, I say, THANK YOU.


Posted by: icingonthepond | May 28, 2013

Game 7: NorCal vs. SoCal … 1969

After tonight’s Game 7 at Staples Center we will know which team from California will represent the state in the Western Conference Finals against an Original Six team (Chicago or Detroit).

And while the Kings-Sharks matchup is the first Game 7 between the franchises (who also met in the first round of the 2011 playoffs), it’s not the first Game 7 between the Kings and a Northern California NHL team.

That happened in April of 1969, when the Kings rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the California/Oakland Seals, 5-3 in Oakland in Game 7.

The Kings won that series despite being cumulatively outscored, 25-23. The key to LA’s clinching victory probably was its ability to kill penalties, including a two-man advantage during the first period.

“Our inability to score on those first period power plays, especially the one where we had a two-man advantage hurt badly,” Seals coach Fred Glover told the Los Angeles Times.

Lowell McDonald stole the puck from Norm Ferguson to score what proved to be the winning goal at 7:37 of the third period. McDonald earlier had set up two first-period goals by Ted Irvine (father of professional wrestler Chris Jericho).

The victory sent the Kings into a series against the St. Louis Blues, who interestingly enough are the team the current Kings defeated in the first round this season in six games. Last season’s Cup winner knocked out the Blues in five games in the second round.

Note: The historical research is part of my upcoming book on the history of hockey in California, Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds.

Posted by: icingonthepond | April 17, 2013

NHL opportunities knocking (whether knowingly or not) highlighted two California hockey players who forever will be linked by their draft year (2010), their round (first) and their backgrounds playing for the now-defunct LA Hockey Club.

Forward Beau Bennett, taken 20th overall in ’10, is making a strong push to remain in the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, according the league’s website. Unfortunately, the story did not make the California connection, though plenty of other ones have. also weighed in on Emerson Etem‘s growing role with the Ducks, and make no mistake, it is growing. Interesting to read NHL Network analysts Kevin Weekes‘ take on working out with Etem when Etem was just 13. The accolades Etem receives for his work ethic are justified (as I’ve witnessed those workouts in Venice), as are the ones about his upbeat attitude.

That is something else Bennett and Etem, share – phenomenal, team-first attitudes and a truly grateful outlook for all the sport has given them (and undoubtedly will give them).

But they’ve got company from California this season.

In the past month, two defenseman have made their debuts and both will be profiled in the upcoming issue of California Rubber Magazine.

Matt Tennyson made his first NHL appearance on April 1 and has played three games, picking up two assists. Though he played just a few seasons for the San Jose Jr. Sharks growing up, his family now calls California home. Tennyson was part of a large group of players I affectionately termed the Cali-mazooans, who played for Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. That group included Brett Beebe, Garrett Haar, Chase Balisy, Dennis Brown, Robert Francis and J.J. Crew. Tennyson signed with the Sharks last spring and has spent most of this season in the AHL.

And lastly but not least is defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, whom I spoke to this week for a story. As with the other three, Ruhwedel was a delight to speak with. Unlike the other three, Ruhwedel jumped directly from college to the NHL through a whirlwind of events last week.

Consider that last Thursday (April 10), he was playing in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh against eventual champion Yale. Less than 36 hours later, the smooth-skating defenseman was on his way to Buffalo for a physical, to sign his contract, get his gear and play in an afternoon game, which the Sabres won.

All of this for a player who spent exactly one season playing AAA hockey in California (for the Jr. Kings) and only a handful playing AA growing up in San Diego county.

This is the first time the state has had four players make NHL debuts in a single season, to say nothing of the fact that 40 percent of said season was lost due to a lockout.

Congratulations to these four!

Posted by: icingonthepond | January 17, 2013

2013 California NHL Draft prospects, mid-term

NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term draft rankings were released this week, and there are four players with ties to California who were listed: Eric Comrie, Adam Erne, Merrick Madsen and Trevor Moore.

There also were a handful of players who, in my opinion, were overlooked. It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me because the CSS rankings tend to trend heavily toward CHL prospects, usually at the expense of U.S.-born players in the USHL. More on that later.

Here are the four that CSS ranked:

Eric Comrie is the second-ranked North American goaltending prospect, and it’s not hard to see why he’s generating buzz that he could be a first-round pick come June. The 6-foot, 175-pound Comrie has a 20-14-3 record, 2.62 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage for a young, middle of the pack Tri-City Americans team in the Western Hockey League. The former LA Select is tied for fourth in wins, is seventh in save percentage and eighth in gaa in the WHL.

Left wing Adam Erne is rated 13th among North American skaters and is enjoying an excellent season with Quebec of the QMJHL. Erne scored a goal in Wednesday night’s CHL Top Prospects game, and leads his team in scoring with 54 points (20 goals and 34 assists) in 43 games. He’s also plus-9. He played two seasons of Bantam hockey for the LA Selects.

Left wing Trevor Moore is the 108th-ranked North American skater, and is enjoying a fine season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He leads the Storm in scoring, with 38 points (15-23) in 35 games and has been among the league’s top-10 or close to it in scoring all season. The 5-10, 175-pound Denver University commit also played for the LA Selects.

Merrick Madsen, who is playing for Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, checks in as the 34th-ranked North American goalie prospect. Madsen has committed to Harvard. Prior to going to prep school, he played for the California Heat, West Valley Wolves and Valencia Express. His mom is the Heat’s club president and his father coaches at the club.

The first three players on this list all were teammates for the Selects’ 95s, coached by Sandy Gasseau, Rick Kelly and Bill Comrie. A handful of their teammates also could gain some consideration, including USNTDP defenseman Scott Savage and Shattuck St. Mary’s center Max Becker. Savage has 5 points and is a plus-4 in 29 games for the national program, while Becker was third on SSM’s varsity with 48 points (12-36) through 38 games.

Three other prospects have generated a fair amount of buzz, and with good reason, yet none appear in the rankings, adding fuel to my belief of the CSS’ bias.

USNTDP goaltender Thatcher Demko has been very good this season, compiling a 13-5-2 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in 22 starts. He’s been even better in international competitions. He helped Team USA win the Four Nations Cup in November, with a .936 save percentage and a 1.67 gaa. The former San Diego Jr. Gull and LA Jr. King stands 6-4, and it is a head scratcher to me why he isn’t ranked when every coach and scout I’ve spoken with has raved about the Boston College commit.

Another goaltender who has had a very good first half to his season is former Orange County Hockey Club netminder Artt Brey, who started 12-0 for Dubuque in the USHL and had a 16-3-2 records midway through the season. The win total and his 2.11 gaa were tied for second in the league, and his .907 save percentage was in the top 10. He’s a ’94, and that in part explains his omission.

And Moore’s Tri-City teammate Garrett Gamez also has generated some buzz. The 6-foot, 180-pound DU commit had 10 points (6-4) with a plus-3 mark in his first 27 games of junior. He played for LA Hockey and OC Hockey.

Posted by: icingonthepond | January 16, 2013

NHL debut candidates from California

They’re halfway through NHL training camps — already! It’s been just three days, and I see three candidates from California to possibly make their NHL debuts in the near future, and a fourth prospect with ties to the state to be in a team’s lineup come this weekend.

1. Wing Beau Bennett spent some time in Penguins practice on a line with All-Stars Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on Tuesday. Bennett, a former LA Jr. King and LA Select who is in his first pro season after two NCAA seasons at Denver University, led Pittsburgh’s AHL club (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) in scoring with 24 points in 30 games. It’s a not a stretch at all that he will be in the Penguins’ lineup on opening night, and I have no doubt he will play several NHL games this season

2. Defenseman Matt Tennyson is in camp with the San Jose Sharks after a making a strong showing during his first pro season, ranking near the top of the Worcester (AHL) scoring list all season. Tennyson, who played two seasons for the Jr. Sharks before heading off to Juniors, spent the past three seasons at Western Michigan University with several other Californians before leaving school to sign with the Sharks as a free agent. If he doesn’t make the opening night roster he almost surely will be the first D-man called up.

3. Wing Emerson Etem also is in camp with the Anaheim Ducks. His skating and scoring touch give him a chance to be with the club at some point this season, though his first pro season, after an absolutely dominant WHL campaign a year ago, has been sluggish at times. The Ducks have three forward openings to fill with younger players and/or veteran free agents, and Etem (like Bennett a 2010 first-round pick) certainly is in the mix. The guess (emphasis on guess) is that he will play up at some point this year but not at the start of the season.

Honorable mention goes to Bennett’s DU teammate, Jason Zucker, who made his debut with the Minnesota Wild last season. He has been off to a strong start with the AHL Houston Aeros, leading them in scoring for much of the season. With the Wild perpetually searching for more offense, he’s in a good position to start the season with them. But Minnesota is loaded with prospects, and it might decide he needs a bit more seasoning in the A before bringing him up.

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