As we get past the holiday and into the New Year, I reminisced about of the state of Anaheim Ducks hockey one year ago. We were the surprise team in the NHL, first or second in the Pacific; John Gibson was playing his ass off and became an All-Star along with Troy Terry. It was untenable, but it was enjoyable to watch. We know how that turned out. I see where we were then and where we are now. Essentially the second half troubles of last season have continued. I want the team to win, but is that best for the future?
I love it when the Ducks win, and it’s always fun to have that buzz throughout the night and the next day after a victory, especially with how difficult those wins have been to come by. It’s always great to trash your buddies that root for the (often better) team that the Ducks beat, but it comes with mixed feelings. Dallas Eakins can’t possibly be here next year. Kevin Shattenkirk, John Klingberg, Jacob Silfverberg, Derek Grant, Max Comtois, Max Jones, and maybe even John Gibson? There are so many that I don’t expect back. This is the kid’s team now. Losing is in the team’s best interest long term.
However, how you lose is important. Losing the way they have, getting blasted every game, shot totals so ridiculously high…and losing by 3-5 goals nightly has to affect the psyche of young players. Watching Gibson/Lukas Dostal/Anthony Stolarz get peppered constantly is more than concerning. The Ducks now have six games in a row facing over 40 shots.
Look, these kids are professionals, and they will recover. I don’t think anyone is wallowing in a “loser mindset.” They come from the best of Juniors, college, AHL, OHL, whatever. They are NHL players. Most of them are, anyway. It’s painful to get tuned night after night, but they’ll rebound when they get some genuine coaching, and some of the prospects mature.
Pat Verbeek is letting this play out for the pick, and Coach Dallas Eakins is literally tank-commanding. The pragmatic me is thinking, “this is good, one game closer to Connor Bedard.” The fan in me is SO tired of blowout losses, the inability to win in regulation, and bad defense/special teams. I used to be a season ticket holder. I talk night after night to former season ticket holders as well. “I’m glad that I didn’t renew, and the cost went up as well.”
I feel you.
When I came into this season, I expected us to be bad, lose a lot of games 5-4 and have it be fun. This isn’t fun.
I still wear my gear, and I’m not ashamed of the team I support. I take my bullets and barbs from Los Angeles Kings fans. The endless crowing about two cups versus one, how Trevor Zegras is just an NHL 23/shootout/TikTok player. I’ve heard it all.
But I’m not Trevor Zegras. Not Jamie Drysdale. Not even Ryan Getzlaf. I am a seasoned fan. You see, I have been very into hockey since the mid-1980s. I have watched the rise and fall of dynasties. I’ve seen the Russian 5 play, and I’ve seen the Detroit Red Wings be at the bottom of the league. I watched the Chicago Blackhawks with Jeremy Roenick, Steve Larmer, and Chris Chelios be great. Then watched them bottom out and then come back to win two cups. I’ve watched Mario Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr dominate and later have the Pittsburgh Penguins look up the standings at everyone. As a SoCal hockey fan back in the day, when you watched hockey, you watched the LA Kings. I’ve forgotten more about the Kings than most of their current fans will ever know. I watched them be awful for years after Wayne Gretzky and eventually collected those two cups.
Hockey, like life, is cyclical. Sometimes you’re up, and sometimes you’re down. We got to see Anaheim raise the cup with legendary hall of fame players; Scott Neidermayer, Chris Pronger, and of course, Teemu Selanne. The Ducks won the Pacific Division 5 years in a row. Also, we saw the very beginning when Bob Corkum was our starting center. When the team was thuggish, Sean Hill was a starter. But, when Paul Kariya and JS Giguiere arrived, we saw them rise. And what a rise it was, all the way to an eventual Stanley Cup. Nothing felt better and more satisfying than being the first west coast team to have that honor. (Sure, Seattle and Vancouver won it, but let’s talk about in the NHL and not 106 years ago)
So, like every Anaheim Duck fan right now, we have to trust the process. We have to trust time. Know that this too shall pass, and the Ducks will again be a team that defines excellence. A team that will get one and, if we’re lucky, two generational players…and Verbeek will flood the roster with the character and veterans to guide this team from the cellar to the penthouse. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get that second cup.
So, for now, I’ll celebrate the wins and the losses. When I feel dejected or in a quandary about how to feel regarding a win or a loss? I’ll remember the boys raising that blessed silver chalice. I imagine you all remember just how satisfying and complete that felt.
All we have to do? Is wait.