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Kings Not Ducking the Issue

This time next year, grown men will be Mighty Ducks.

There will be about 20 of them. Most will shave on a daily basis. Some will have children of their own. None will need Dad to drive them to practice or Mom to help lace up their skates.

A couple could be former Kings.

This possibility got a few current Kings to thinking the other day after a workout at the Forum.

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Marty McSorley, Mighty Duck?

“I’d have no problems with it,” claimed McSorley, who leads the Kings in penalty minutes (344, in 61 games) and game suspensions and has been known to elicit mighty ducks from opposing defensemen who may be willing to drop the gloves, but not so willing to drop any more of their remaining teeth.

“Mind you,” McSorley said, “it might be a jolt going into the Montreal Forum for the first time. There’ll be catcalls, quack, quack, quack --the whole nine yards.

“But we’re pros. If you’re playing for a class organization, and Disney is that, that will offset all the jokes. You generate your own respect by how you play, anyway.”

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Left winger Luc Robitaille, however, was not so quick to accept a professional future that included delivering forechecks with Donald Duck’s next-of-kin emblazoned across his chest.

“Let me think about it,” Robitaille requested, pausing as he stroked his chin.

“Well . . . I did play for a team called ‘The Mouse.’ Le Sourit, in French. The team was in Ville Anjou, near Montreal.”

Footnote: Robitaille played for Le Sourit when he was 5.

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At 25, playing for anything called the Mighty Ducks “would certainly feel weird, at least in the beginning,” Robitaille acknowledged. He imagined that the name would serve as “great motivation for a coach. He could yell at his team, ‘You guys are playing like Ducks.’ ”

Ultimately, Robitaille concluded, “it’s not gonna be that big a deal as long as they win. If they win, it will be fine. If they lose, people will make jokes. Look at us. When we don’t win, people call us ‘The Queens.’ ”

On a somewhat similar note, left winger Warren Rychel said, “I don’t care if you wear dresses out there, hockey is hockey. It’s always going to be a rough sport. That part is never going to change.

“What do you think’s going to happen--there won’t be any fighting or physical checking just because you have a Mighty Ducks emblem?

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“It’s a different name. It’s a unique name. But putting all the name stuff aside, it’s still an NHL team. To play the game in this league, you have to play physical. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a cartoon logo or not.”

Alexei Zhitnik, the Kings’ rookie defenseman from Kiev, is still feeling his way through the nuances of the English language. “The Mighty Ducks,” not too surprisingly, threw him for a loop.

“What is Ducks?” Zhitnik asked. “Is cartoon? Cartoon on the TV?”

Well, next season on ESPN, yes, it will be.

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“Why you want to name them ‘Mighty Ducks?’ ” Zhitnik wondered again. “Because of Disneyland?”

Zhitnik was catching on fast.

Asked if he could one day picture himself playing for said Ducks, Zhitnik blushed borscht red.

“Oh noooo,” he replied, sounding as if someone suggested he jump off the Forum roof. “I like to play here.”

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What’s in a hockey name? Inside the Kings’ dressing room, it tends to depend on where one is coming from and where one has been.

Assistant coach Cap Raeder’s playing career reached only as far as the World Hockey Assn. He never played in the NHL.

Ask him if he could envision life as a Mighty Duck and Raeder beams wistfully.

“If it was an NHL team,” he said, “I’d love it.”

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Head coach Barry Melrose made it to The Show. He was an underskilled defenseman who played 300 games for Detroit, Toronto and Winnipeg, and can remember every goal he scored. There were 10 of them. Melrose got by on elbow grease and elbows to the kidneys. He was mighty plucky, hardly mighty ducky.

“I thought ‘Anaheim Assassins’ would’ve been a pretty nice name,” Melrose mused. “But, then, I’m a violent person.”

To Melrose’s way of thinking, “a Duck is not very macho. Maybe that’s why they tacked on the ‘Mighty.’ ” He says he “hates ducks,” but that’s because “I hate birds,” a condition rooted in a painful and ugly childhood experience.

“I grew up on a farm,” Melrose explained, “and I was once chased across the yard by a rooster. Roosters can be very aggressive, you know. I shooed this rooster and instead of running away, it jumps up and pecks me on the butt.

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“I’ll remember that to the day I die. My grandmother had to run out and kill that thing.”

Melrose said he actually likes the proposed name for the Ducks’ home arena: The Pond in Anaheim. “That’s how all of us in Canada grew up playing hockey, on a frozen pond,” he said. “It’s traditional. It’s Rockwellian.”

Kings owner Bruce McNall has a theory about this Duck-calling business.

“Based on what I know about hockey players,” McNall says, “their concern is with their contract, not what their name is. I don’t think what they’re called is that big a factor.”

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McNall knows his hockey players. In one form or another, that opinion was seconded by every King questioned about the possibility of donning Duck gear in the near future.

The consensus: Hey, it’s professional hockey, eh?

“It’s an NHL team, is what I’m saying,” defenseman Rob Blake said. “If you’re in the league, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing for the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.”

“I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” forward Tony Granato said. “I like it. They’re trying to change the image of the game, make it more family-oriented. I think we should try to appeal to a younger crowd.”

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Not that Blake and Granato are completely without reservation, mind you.

“It would be a different-looking picture, for sure, to have a guy in a Ducks jersey lifting the Cup on the cover of The Hockey News,” Blake admitted.

And Granato, once a New York Ranger, had to concede that “The Mighty Ducks wouldn’t play in New York. It’s very appropriate for Anaheim. But the New York Ducks or the Chicago Ducks or the Boston Ducks--I don’t think that would work.”

Raeder suspects the name is working just fine already.

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“Look at us,” Raeder tells a writer. “What are we talking about? It’s like a bad ad on television. You say, ‘What an awful ad,’ but you know what it is. That’s what marketing is all about.”

Too wimpy a name for the NHL?

During his days down on the farm, Melrose claims he learned otherwise.

“A flock of ducks flying over you is dangerous, man,” Melrose said. “I had that happen to me while I was on the tractor. Let me tell you, that’s a scary time.”

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