Anaheim Ducks: An Ode to the Legendary Paul Kariya

Paul Kariya #9 of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)
Paul Kariya #9 of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI) /

Forty-six years ago, Anaheim Ducks legend, Paul Kariya was born. Today, we honor him and his career with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

To most, October 16, 1974, might seem like an insignificant date. However, it marks the beginning of a legendary tale for the Anaheim Ducks. On that day, 46 years ago, Paul Kariya was born. And while the day may have passed us by, it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to move forward without tipping out hats to one of the great.

For those of us who have seen him play, we know his accomplishments. He was known as a rising star, and his achievements are to be commended and revered. Though he played in the NHL for 15 years, in Nashville, Colorado, and St.Louis, there is only one place that will truly ever be his home.

That home is with the Anaheim Ducks. He will not only be remembered as a franchise cornerstone, but he will also forever be remembered, long after his playing days, for moments that no single word can describe.

Forever memorialized in the rafters of Honda Center, generations will look up and remember the legend that once graced the ice. It is only appropriate that, in an ode to Paul Kariya, we look back with fondness at his career with the Anaheim Ducks.

From Meager to Mighty

Kariya’s career with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim spanned 1994-2003. Within his first few years in the league, Kariya was paired with his forever best friend, Teemu Selanne. From then on, Kariya and Selanne formed what is probably one of the best scoring duos to play for the Anaheim Ducks franchise.

Whether it was 100+ point seasons, the 50 goal scoring years, or leading his team in the playoffs, Kariya’s star shone brighter amongst the elite. Nothing seemed to stop what would become one of the best players this game had ever seen.

One of his finest moments was leading the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to the Stanely Cup Playoffs in 1997. After four seasons in the league, the Ducks were finally making their first playoff appearance, facing off against the Pheonix Coyotes.

Leading up to Game 6, the Anaheim Ducks were on the brink of elimination. Nevertheless, the 22-year-old Kariya led the way and saved his team from elimination. Not only did he score twice, but he scored the overtime winner that would force the series to Game 7 and back to the Pond. Although they would lose in the second round to the Detroit Red Wings, Kariya showed that on the biggest stage, he shined the brightest.

’03 Hero

Six years later, the Mighty Ducks made an even deeper run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Once again, Kariya showed his overtime scoring prowess. This time, in what would remain one of the most unlikely upsets in Stanley Cup Playoffs history. During Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings, Paul Kariya scored the game-winning goal. He would also go on to score the opening goal in Game 4, and the rest is history. The Ducks had swept one of their biggest rivals, the Red Wings.

From there on, the Ducks toppled the top seed, the Dallas Stars. The road through Minnesota was rather easy, and, for the first time in franchise history, the Anaheim Ducks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. Finally reaching the greatest stage in the NHL, it seemed as if nothing would stand in Paul Kariya’s way of finally winning the coveted Stanley Cup.

Concussions and Comebacks

Unfortunately, something extremely critical would come into play, stopping Kariya from reaching that summit: concussions. Throughout his playing career, Kariya would suffer six concussions. However, none of them left as big of an impact as the concussion he received in Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils.

After a reckless hit from Scott Stevens, everyone feared the worse when Kariya went down. Laying lifeless on the ice, it would be several seconds before he would finally breathe. In those moments, those who were there lived it. Those who watched from home sat idly by, watching in terror.

Although I did not know who Paul Kariya was at the time, the unfamiliarity with the player didn’t stop me from feeling fear in my heart. Finally, when he started to get up, we all let out a sigh of relief. After a hit like that, he was surely done for the series, or so we thought.

Defying all odds, Kariya came back to the game with a little less than 10 minutes left to play. The crowd erupted, shocked that our captain was coming back to the ice. I believe I speak for everyone when I say, I didn’t see that coming. The fact that he came back into the game, at the time, made him my favorite player.

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The Anaheim Ducks already had the advantage over the New Jersey Devils, but after Kariya went down, it felt like a huge loss. Without him, it looked like the Devils might find a way to end the miracle run. However, when he came back, losing no longer seemed like an option.

His presence on the bench along would have been enough to say that the Ducks were back in it. At least if he was on the bench, that gives the rest of the team an incentive to step up and force the series to a Game 7.

Nevertheless, there are no words adequate enough to describe the end of this story. With under three minutes remaining in Game 6, Kariya was back on the ice! Everyone was hoping he would score a goal that would bring down the house.

As Kariya was about to enter the Devils’ zone, I could imagine everyone was thinking that he would pull off a dipsy-do type goal, the one where he goes between his legs, or behind the back and just undresses Martin Brodeur. Had he scored in that fashion, it would’ve been reminiscent of his early days.

Instead, Kariya unleashed every ounce of anger in one heavy slap-shot that easily could’ve brought the house down. The shot whizzed past Brodeur, who had no chance to stop it, and of course, everyone who saw the telecast should remember the famous line coined by the great Gary Thorne, “Off the Floor, On the Board, Paul Kariya!”

While everyone remembers the New Jersey Devils winning the Stanley Cup in Game 7, Anaheim Ducks fans will take Paul Kariya’s goal with them to the grave. With much respect for players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Joe Sakic, and all the greats who have and will play this game, no goal will have the same reverberating impact as Kariya’s infamous goal.

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Everything that came before that goal, and everything that happened after it, will be imprinted on our brains forever. Anyone who has seen the goal, whether live or via replay, feels the awe-inspiring emotion of watching our beloved captain rise from the ashes and do the unthinkable.

We never want to see a player go through that ordeal, but the fact that Paul Kariya did it in the national spotlight on one of the biggest stages, was an incredible sight to see and will go down as one of the greatest goals not only in franchise history but of all time.

Oh Captain, My Captain!

It was a privilege to watch such a legend thrive under the California sun. The memories are forever imprinted on our hearts. Now, I’m going to get a little personal here, and while I know he won’t see this, it’s worth saying anyway on behalf of all Anaheim Ducks fans.

To Paul, thank you. You made the dreams of Mighty Ducks fans come to life. While you never had the chance to raise the cup, to countless fans, we all know that without you leading the way, this franchise wouldn’t be where they are today. Thank you for leading by example and playing with valor and courage.

Countless times, you stood up to the bully. The passion you had for the game, goal after goal, will never be forgotten. Though you are not on the ice anymore, your legacy as a Mighty Ducks Captain will not be forgotten. You, dear sir, will always be known as the one who protected the Pond.

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