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PHT Time Machine: The Mighty Ducks and the most insane pregame intro ever

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the first game of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and their insane entrance into the NHL.

This season the Anaheim Ducks are celebrating their 25th anniversary, with their home opener on Monday night (a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings — the team they played in their first game) coming exactly 25 years to the day of their debut.

And what a trip that first ever game was.

Over at the Athletic this week (subscription required)  Lisa Dillman, Eric Stephens and Joshua Cooper compiled an oral history on the birth of the Ducks franchise.

Among all of the stories was a video of that first game and the on-ice ceremony that preceded it.

We need to talk about this ceremony a little more because even the Vegas Golden Knights, present day champions of the over-the-top pre-game show, would have looked at this and said “hey folks … let’s tone this down a few notches.”

The Background

The Ducks’ entrance to the NHL was part of the NHL’s expansion boom in the early 1990s that saw the league go from 21 teams to 26 between 1991 and 1994, with San Jose, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Florida, and Anaheim itself all entering the league. This era set the stage for yet another expansion surge a decade later when Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, and Minnesota all entered the league.

The Ducks and Panthers were the two teams that entered the league for the start of the 1993-94 season.

What made the Ducks such a unique story is that they were basically a massive hollywood creation masquerading as a hockey team. At least at first. They were originally owned by the Walt Disney Corporation, were set to play their games in the shadows of Disneyland, and were named (originally called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) after the hit 1992 Disney movie, The Mighty Ducks.

When all of those storylines met for the team’s first game, things got weird. Really weird.

The Introduction

First, the video. It is 14 minutes long and while I would highly recommend watching every second of it, do not worry if you are short on time at the moment because we are going to analyze the key moments for you.

0:15 -1:30: The whole thing begins with Lumière, the anthropomorphic talking candlestick from Beauty and the Beast, welcoming hockey fans to the Pond for “a new era of sports entertainment.”

He was not kidding, man.

From there, a Disney on Ice show breaks out with a cover version of the song “Be Our Guest” that includes the lyrics:

“Be our guest, be our guest, yes Ducks season has come (inaudible), tie a bird call ’round your neck my friends and we’ll provide the rest.”

And then later…

“Make it loud, stomp your feet, Mighty Ducks we can’t be beat.
Catch the spirit it’s outrageous tell a friend that it’s contagious.
We can skate, we can score, you keep coming back for more cuz the hockey here is never second best.”

1:24-4:09: From there, “The Decoys” get introduced to a more rock version of “Be Our Guest.” And what were The Decoys? They appear to be the introduction to the regrettable and exploitive “ice girls” era in the NHL.

They perform an elaborate choreographed ice for nearly three full minutes before the real star of the show arrives.

4:10-6:54: The arena goes dark.

Some sort of futuristic zamboni-type machine makes its way on the ice. Eerie, ominous music begins to be pumped in. The narrator speaks: “From the depths of the pond … the mighty ice man cometh.”

A silver-painted, guitar-wielding, vocal-chord shredding maniac climbs to the top of the car and attempts to hype up the crowd while Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll Part 2 blasts throughout the arena.

(As a quick aside: After seeing this I am now one million percent convinced that the IceMan was the inspiration for Charlie Kelly’s “Nightman Cometh” in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Tell me I’m wrong.)

The IceMan, for what it worth, was a spectacular failure and did not even make it through the first game, as delightfully noted by The Detroit Free Press:

There is not, at least based on my searches of the Internet, any video or audio of his rendition of Twist and Shout.

The OC Register profiled the man behind The IceMan back in 2014 when the team celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Anyway, back to this high-priced production…

6:55-9:04: After two minutes of this, it is time to meet the Mighty Ducks’ mascot (no, the IceMan was not the mascot).

It is then that Wild Wing descends from the rafters.

Upon reaching the ice, Wild Wing goes into a two minute ice-dance to the tune of some Ducks themed arena rock song while the scoreboard implores fans to “Rock the Pond.”

Meanwhile, the IceMan makes his return to attempt to hype up the crowd one more time in advance of the formal introductions of the roster, led by goalies Ron Tugnutt and Guy Hebert.

9:04-11:40: The rest of the roster is introduced.

11:41-12:40: There are approximately 240 people skating around the ice, while Wild Wing takes his position on top of a podium at center and plays air guitar with a goalie stick that suddenly begins shooting flames into the air.

(This would be Wild Wing’s most successful attempt to play with fire, having later in his existence tripped and fell into a ring of fire while attempting to jump through it).

The Aftermath

The Ducks went on to lose that season opening game to the Detroit Red Wings by a 7-2 margin, but were we are 25 years later and the team (now just known as the Anaheim Ducks — the whole Mighty Ducks of Anaheim thing was scrapped following the 2005-06 season) is still going strong.

They were reasonably successful in year one (by expansion team standards), winning 33 games and then making the playoffs for the first time in their fourth year of existence. In the two decades since they have been a consistent playoff team, played in two Stanley Cup Finals, and won the whole thing during the 2006-07 season.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
 Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

 Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
 The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins questions include defense, trade bait, and Malkin’s bounce-back

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Three pressing questions for the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins

1. Is the defense good enough?

In the opinion of general manager Jim Rutherford, yes. He has repeatedly defended the construction of his defense and at one point even went as far as to call it the best defense he has had during his time in Pittsburgh. High praise considering he has been in Pittsburgh for two Stanley Cup winning teams.

This team, though, is not coming off of a Stanley Cup win and there is little objective evidence to suggest this defense is anything better than ordinary. They were 12th in the NHL in goals against this past season and even that ranking was driven significantly by the performance of Matt Murray in net thanks to some of the best play of his career from mid-December on.

As a team, the Penguins were one of the worst teams in the league at preventing shots, average in preventing scoring chances, and a little below average on the PK. They have one great defense pairing in Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin (one of the best pairings in all of hockey) and then a bunch of flawed players and question marks after that. Other than shipping out Olli Maatta over the summer, the Penguins have done nothing else to change the look of their defense. Rutherford obviously believes in this group, and he is taking a pretty big bet that he is right.

2. Who is the next salary cap casualty or trade chip?

This is probably more of a preseason question than a question for the season, but somebody has to go.

Trading Phil Kessel was supposed to alleviate some of the salary cap crunch, but taking Alex Galchenyuk as part of the return and signing Brandon Tanev in free agency quickly erased that savings. Add that to the returning contracts for Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson and the Penguins have a significant chunk of money going to depth players that probably are not moving them closer to another championship. It has put them in a position where they have to move out someone else.

As it stands, they are slightly over the salary cap and still have to re-sign RFA Marcus Pettersson. After this season, Galchenyuk, Justin Schultz, Jared McCann, Dominik Simon and starting goalie Matt Murray will be in line for new contracts. So who goes?

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure]

Johnson or Gudbranson could be an option to go off the blue line and would probably the ideal trade bait, while Bryan Rust or Nick Bjugstad seem like logical candidates at forward.

3. Will Evgeni Malkin bounce back?

It is a good bet that he will.

The final offensive numbers from this past season look good (better than a point-per-game average) and he had a great start to the season, but his production really slumped over the final three quarters of the season and especially at even-strength. His defensive game was also lacking and he will be the first to say the 2018-19 season was not his best. He can be better, and the Penguins need him to be better. Malkin is a proud player and will no doubt be motivated to show this past season was a fluke and that he is still one of the league’s best and most dominant players. A driven Malkin playing at his best is a season-changing player, and if he gets back to that level it will be more valuable to the Penguins than any other potential offseason addition could have been.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

P.K. Subban, Lindsey Vonn announce engagement

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Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban are engaged, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Vonn, who retired in February with a female record 82 World Cup wins, and Subban, a New Jersey Devils defenseman, have dated for more than one year.

Vonn was previously married to fellow Olympic skier Thomas Vonn in 2007. They announced divorce plans in late 2011.

Vonn reportedly grimaced when asked in 2013 if she would get married again.

“No, thanks!” she said, according to Vogue then. “I am definitely not getting married. To anyone.”

After her divorce, Vonn dated Tiger Woods and NFL assistant coach Kenan Smith before dating Subban, going public in June 2018.

“Right off the bat, I knew he was different,” Vonn said, according to a Vogue magazine announcement of the engagement. “But I’d been married before, so I was pretty hesitant to let myself think that I could find someone that I would want to be married to again. After a few months of dating, I knew he was the one I wanted to be with, though.”

Subban, 30, also owns an Olympic gold medal playing for Canada in Sochi.

“Lindsey’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Subban said, according to Vogue. “There are people in life that deserve to be with good people. They have that person who takes care of them and makes them smile, and she deserves to be with someone who loves her more than anything else in the world, and I do.”

Vonn and Subban would become one of the most prominent married Olympic champion couples, joining the likes of tennis players Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf and gymnasts Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner.

For more from Nick Zaccardi check out Olympic Talk on NBC Sports

Remembering Chris Drury’s Little League World Series conquest 30 years later

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The summer of 1989 for the Trumbull, Connecticut little league team began with crowds featuring only their parents. By the end of August, their final game of the season saw 40,000-plus people turn out at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

On the mound for Trumbull that August 26 afternoon was a cherubic two-sport star. Chris Drury had turned 13 six days earlier and was eager to continue a winning year. Just four months before the 1989 Little League World Series, the future Stanley Cup champion and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer helped lead his pee-wee hockey team to the U.S. Amateur American Hockey Championship. His Greater Bridgeport, Conn. team went 64-2-1 en route to the title, and now Drury was trying to cap off the summer with another tournament win.

Facing Kang-Tu Little League from Taiwan, a country that had dominated the event for the previous two decades having won 13 of the 20 previous tournaments, Trumbull fell behind early but rallied with four runs in the third and fourth innings. Drury’s bases loaded two-run single extended their lead to 4-1.

After loading the bases in the top of the fifth, the Far East representatives were unable to cut the deficit any further after Drury induced a force out at third base, putting Trumbull three outs away.

“I don’t think any of us understood the magnitude of what we were doing while we were doing it,” Drury told the New York Daily News in 2009. “We were just playing baseball.”

The first two outs came way of a fly out to left field and Drury’s second strikeout of the game. When the ball came off the bat for what would end up being the final out, it first appeared like it was going over the wall as a two-run homerun, but left fielder Dan McGrath quickly settled under it on the warning track and the celebration was on.

Drury and his teammates were everywhere following their conquest in Williamsport, as documented by Sports Illustrated in 1989. They appeared on Good Morning America, met Mickey Mantle at his restaurant in New York City, visited President Bush in the White House, and attended the first two games of the 1989 World Series in Oakland, with Drury throwing out the first pitch before Game 2. There was even an appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade among the many experiences the team was a part of in the months following the championship.

The winning didn’t stop there for Drury as he got older and eventually turned his focus to hockey. He helped Boston University win an NCAA championship during his freshman year and ended his collegiate career as a Hobey Baker Award winner. As he entered the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, Drury won the 1999 Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and two years later he won a Stanley Cup as he development a penchant for scoring big goals in the postseason. He was also a part of two silver medal winning U.S. Olympic teams in Salt Lake 2002 and Vancouver 2010.

Following his time with the Avalanche, Drury would spend a season with the Calgary Flames and three with the Buffalo Sabres before finishing his NHL career in 2011 after four years with the New York Rangers. Upon retirement, he took a job in the Rangers organization as director of player development and these days he’s the team’s assistant general manager.

The thrill of a winning a Little League World Series title stayed with Drury as he grew older and experienced success on a professional level. Nothing could top the summer of 1989.

“It made me realize at a young age how much fun winning is,” Drury told the New York Times in 2008. “I wouldn’t trade it for the Cup. I wouldn’t trade it for a national championship in college. Each one was so unique. Little League was such a big thrill at such a young age. I don’t think I could rank them. They’re all No. 1 to me.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sabres’ Dahlin says he’s better prepared for second NHL season

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last season didn’t sit well with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

Unaccustomed to losing and no longer a rookie, Dahlin told The Associated Press on Thursday he feels better prepared and is far more driven to help transform the Sabres into contenders.

”I’m putting more pressure on myself. We’re going to be a winning team and be in the playoffs,” Dahlin said. ”I think everyone is putting more pressure on ourselves now, and we’re ready to go.”

The first player selected in the 2018 draft is so eager to put last year behind him, he was among the first Sabres players to hit the ice at the team’s practice facility, some three weeks before teams open training camp. He arrived in Buffalo from his native Sweden on Tuesday, and would have been back in town a few days earlier if not for travel complications.

The rookie of the year finalist is motivated after how Buffalo unraveled immediately following a 10-game winning streak that had the team briefly sitting first in the overall standings at the end of November. The Sabres then won just 16 of their final 57 games to miss the playoffs for an eighth straight season, the NHL’s longest active drought.

”We played so well in the beginning of the season, so that made you frustrated because we know how good we can play,” he said. ”Yeah, we’re going to get something good going on here.”

Expressing unhappiness and acknowledging frustration is new for Dahlin, who spent much of last year looking mostly at the bright side. When asked late last season if Buffalo’s 49 losses (including overtime and shootouts) were the most he ever endured in one year, Dahlin smiled and responded by saying the team’s 33 wins were also a season-high for him.

A year ago, Dahlin was expressing hope he’d simply make the season-opening roster. Now he’s begun to find his voice as a key member of the team.

”I feel more prepared. I feel more mature,” said Dahlin, who turned 19 in April. ”Like that one year of experience, I know what’s coming this season. I feel more comfortable in my position.”

He said he spent much of the summer adding weight and strength to better handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule and face elite opposition.

Dahlin’s rookie season mirrored much of that of his team when it came to inconsistency. He had a goal and eight assists during the 10-game win streak, but followed with two goals and four assist over his next 17 games.

Though he led Sabres defenseman and finished third among NHL rookies with 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists), he closed the season with a goal and six assists in Buffalo’s final 19 games.

Dahlin showed some rust Thursday, when the usually smooth-skating player took a spill – ”Oh, yeah, I slipped,” he said – while being untouched at the blue line. He bounced back a few moments later, when he drove in from the right point and converted Jason Pominville’s no-look pass for a goal.

Declaring himself ready to go, Dahlin already had his first face-to-face meeting with new coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday.

”He seems like a really good coach and a good man,” he said of Krueger, who takes over after Phil Housley was fired following two sub-par seasons.