When The Mighty Ducks Became Mighty
Most people who are fans of the Anaheim Ducks remember the early days of the franchise. From 1993-96 the Ducks didn’t make the playoffs. Finally, they did, beating the Phoenix Coyotes to win their first playoff series in franchise history before moving on and getting swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings. Two years late, they’d make it to the playoffs again, before Detroit swept them once more. From 2000-02 they didn’t make the playoffs, and people started to wonder if they could ever return.
Then the magical, miraculous 2003 season arrived, and that is when things started to shift. The Mighty Ducks changed things up behind the bench, hiring, who was an unproven coach at the time, Mike Babcock. The team wasn’t filled with star-studded power, except for J.S. Giguere and, of course, Captain Paul Kariya. The team started out slowly, having an 8-7-6-3 season record at the end of November.
They hovered around .500 heading into the year, and it wasn’t until a pivotal win against the Colorado Avalanche in early January that the Mighty Ducks started to pick up steam, winning seven of thirteen games in January, eight of fourteen in February, and then, ten of seventeen between March and April to finish the season strong with a record of 40-27-9-6. That gave the team 95 points, enough for seventh place in the West.
Most people remember the story of how the Mighty Ducks became Mighty. They upset the perennial Cup favorite in Detroit, they defeated the top-seed Dallas before sweeping Minnesota. They had made it to their first Stanely Cup Final. They would push the New Jersey Devils to Game 7, winning 2 overtime games (Ruslan Salei in Game 3 and Steve Thomas in Game 4) because the captain, Paul Kariya, scored the most indelible playoff goal in Anaheim Ducks history during Game 6.
What I really want to focus on is the fact that, outside of Kariya and Giguere, the Ducks didn’t have a lot of stars that year. Not a lot of players on the ’03 team wowed a lot of fans. Yes, they had the experienced Adam Oates, Petr Sykora, and a few trades in-season. However, for the most part, there wasn’t a player who was a “mega-star” that led the way. The team built on grit, hard work, and the belief that they could beat any team, any time, anywhere.
That attitude was the reason they flew all the way to Game 7 of the SCF before succumbing to New Jersey. The mixture of youth and experience, a coach willing to be a taskmaster, and an inner belief that they could win, those three aspects were the reason that team, in particular, is remembered by myself, and those who were there for the ride, as one of the most special teams in Anaheim Ducks history.