Anaheim Ducks Fan Stories: How I Caught the Hockey “Blood Virus”

Anaheim Mighty Ducks Chris Kunitz (second to left) celebrates the goal by teammate Corey Perry (10) on Dallas Stars goalie Mike Smith, defenseman Stephane Robidas (3) and right wing Jere Lehtinen (26) in the first period at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday November 21, 2007. (Photo by Sharon M. Steinman/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
Anaheim Mighty Ducks Chris Kunitz (second to left) celebrates the goal by teammate Corey Perry (10) on Dallas Stars goalie Mike Smith, defenseman Stephane Robidas (3) and right wing Jere Lehtinen (26) in the first period at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, on Wednesday November 21, 2007. (Photo by Sharon M. Steinman/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images) /

We all have a story about how we became fans of the Anaheim Ducks. Our newest contributor shares the story about how he caught the hockey “blood virus.”

Editors Notes: I would like to welcome our newest contributor, Phil Dunn, to Pucks of a Feather. The story about how he became a fan of the Anaheim Ducks was certainly a fun one to edit, and I hope you enjoy it just as much as I did. 

The first hockey game I ever attended just happens to be the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. It was 1993. I showed up at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood to get a peek at Wayne Gretzky, but the truth is, I was there for the beers and the bros. I had no clue about hockey, no appreciation for the sport, and a very little enthusiasm for any of it.

We had seats way up next to the top wall where Rogie Vachon‘s #30 jersey hung. One of the more amusing parts of the game to me was draining out those beers in a classic Forum fixture, the urinal trough. It was fun to be with my drunken college buddies, shouting like an idiot who thought they knew something, yet, really had no clue about things other than water polo, surfing, and Coors Light.

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Fast forward seven years, and I found myself at the “side-by-side” rink in Huntington Beach. There was one of those old, junky rinks that someone purchased so his local daughter could hone her goalie skills on her way to some eastern US college.

I’d just taken off my skates after my second season of adult league play at SXS. The Flyer’s and Pens were heading into overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs that year. My fireman pal, a hilarious guy with French-Canadian family roots, who I’m still friends with today, conned me onto the roster. I practiced by rollerblading on the boardwalk in Newport Beach. I’d never previously touched a puck. I was 32 years old.

I vividly remember my inaugural game the season before. Emerging from the bench for my first spin around the ice prior to the faceoff, I clipped the yellow dasher between the bench door and fell flat on my face. My teammates laughed nervously, knowing they’d have to share the sheet with my non-existent skills. Welcome to the bigs.

Oh, and that Flyers-Pens match-up? Turned out it was the longest modern era Stanley Cup playoff game in history. May 4, 2000, 92:01 worth of overtime! Three years later, the Mighty Ducks would come closer with a win against the Dallas Stars at the 80:48 OT mark. They would go on to lose in the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur.

I watched every moment of the Flyers-Pens game that night, exhausted from our earlier adult league game, and thoroughly enthralled with the sport and its subtle brilliance. Several teammates gathered around the 4:3 ratio TV screen to shout obscenities and revel in the drama.

In years prior to that night, I would take dates to the Anaheim Ducks games and quickly became infected with the jaw-dropping beauty of the sport. Actually playing the game in those adult leagues took my appreciation for the sport to another level.

Playing the Game Gives You a Deeper Appreciation for Hockey

Here are just a couple of points a beer league player can attest to which give pause. When you watch an NHL game, you see the puck go over the glass quite often. Until you get on the ice and try to snap a wrister yourself, you don’t quite appreciate what that game stoppage actually means.

So, what’s that about? The NHL rinks are filled with absolute beasts who put so much velocity on simple passes and casual shots that carries the puck over the high glass dozens of times in a typical game. When you play in beer league, you realize how incredible that seemingly trivial action is. The puck hardly ever goes over the high glass in rec games! You’re weaklings compared to the real-deal-Holyfield studs of the NHL.

Another beastly observation: watch the boards from an angle when you view your next NHL game on TV or in person. They move quite a bit, flexing forcefully when those aforementioned beasts bang into them. In the adult leagues? Very little movement at all. The NHL arena is a playground of potency — a supercharged tank of mayhem with some of the most incredible athletes ever assembled.

Catching the Hockey “Blood Virus”

Now, back to the Anaheim Ducks. My attendance at home games has been consistent ever since the late-1990’s. I used to buy seats in the sixth row up from the corner where the Ducks shoot twice from Angels legend Bobby Grinch. To me, a SoCal kid growing up idolizing baseball players, that was cool.

My ex-wife and I courted while going to Ducks games, and I was once thrown out of a late-season San Jose Sharks-Anaheim Ducks match-up for hitting a Sharks fan square in the face with a big half of a lime that had been soaking in my vodka soda. It was a classic 2nd man in scenario, where this loud Sharks goon was taunting other fans.

People started pelting him with peanuts, and my laser lime strike nailed him just as the ushers were beginning to realize what was going on. I got the parking lot penalty box for the sin of blasting that poor San Jose sap.

In the early 2000s, I quickly sensed the Anaheim Ducks ascendancy. I’d scrape together all of my extra money to get into those regular season games, then take out a second mortgage to pay for the playoffs. In ’07, I went to every home playoff game, including the Cup games, until my money ran out. I missed Game 5 in person, every bandwagon fan and their brother jacked up the scalping prices; instead, I hosted an epic watch party at my Costa Mesa home. Thoughts on that run and the earlier achievements leading up to ’07 deserve a second article, if not a novella.

My blood has the hockey virus, and I feed it every year with a steady diet of home games, in person, and road games with the Ahlers and Hayward soundtrack.

What Makes Hockey So Enjoyable?

Final thought on the reason for hockey obsession. There are all kinds of common cliches passed around by semi-fans. You’ll hear the bit about hockey being the best game to see in person. Some people dismiss the game as if it’s not interesting on TV and can only be appreciated in the arena.

Here’s a deeper bit of wisdom I stumbled upon during a recent meditation on the sport. It probably explains why it’s not so easy to be a fan and carry on a social conversation during a game (and perhaps why the game isn’t suited to the typical American patterns of stoppage, banter, and advertising in baseball, football, and basketball.)

Hockey is the one sport where offensive possession is completely fluid (for the most part.) The offensive team has possession of the puck. It can be taken in the blink of an eye. Basketball is not the same. The offensive team is only somewhat vulnerable to steals. The number of steals in basketball compared to possession changes in hockey is quite significant.

That small twist makes hockey more engaging for the mind to watch. It’s high-speed stakes. The ability to score and counter-attack can happen in the blink of an eye. That’s why there’s not a lot of kicking back when people watch hockey. With basketball, football, and baseball, the possession is clear, and there’s a build-up to the score. Faster with basketball. Slower with football and baseball. That’s just one of the things that makes this game so magical.

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