The day before the Mighty Ducks’ first training camp, Guy Hebert was waiting for a package.
“I’m hoping it will be here today or tomorrow,” he said.
By the next morning, he was in goal for the Ducks, wearing his new prized possession, a $1,500 customized goalie mask designed for a Duck.
While the other goalies in camp are still wearing a hodgepodge of masks from their former teams, Hebert already has one with his own touch. The former studio art major at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., helped create the design.
“It came out pretty good, a lot like I sent the design to them,” said Hebert, who worked with Ed Cubberly, who is based in New Jersey and does masks for many NHL goalies. “We sent faxes back and forth. He wanted to have the logo on it and I wanted something different, so we integrated the feathers onto the sides.”
It’s a mask likely to take a beating, considering the number of shots an expansion team’s goalie might face. Hebert will probably share the work with Ron Tugnutt--and perhaps even Mikhail Sthalenkov or Allan Bester--because Coach Ron Wilson doesn’t think expansion goaltending is a one-man job.
“With all the travel and the fact that we’ll be under pressure and face a lot of shots, more than likely--they’ll need time to recuperate,” Wilson said.
The mask design was something Hebert had been toying with long before coming to Anaheim. It was plenty obvious in St. Louis that Curtis Joseph would be protected and his backup would be available in the expansion draft.
“I kept bragging about it last year. Before I got picked, me and Curtis Joseph used to joke all the time,” said Hebert, who finally decided against the Duck bill design he had envisioned.
“I wasn’t sure what Mr. Eisner would think about it,” he said, referring to Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner. “I didn’t want to be out of line.”
The Disney connection sits uneasy with some hockey purists, but not with Hebert, whose other loves besides hockey are art and fishing.
“Here I am playing hockey for a team owned by a company with the most prolific art studio and animation department anywhere,” he said, wearing a beaten-up Mickey Mouse cap that until recently had worms and lures hanging from it. “I’d love to try to get to meet some of the animators. Maybe some of the animators at Disney could come up with another design for my mask.”
It sometimes seems to him that it’s all an amazing bit of fate, especially when he realizes that one of the reasons he is in Anaheim is because General Manager Jack Ferreira saw him play at the Goodwill Games in Seattle in 1990. An assistant coach on that team was Wilson.
"(Ferreira) told me, ‘The first time I saw you was at the Goodwill Games,’ and I said, ‘Geez, you never know the people who are watching might mean something down the line.’ ”
Hebert, now 26, was a youngster who’d just finished his first season in the minors, and he blossomed at the Goodwill Games, even though Ray LeBlanc was supposed to be the team’s best goalie. The year in Peoria, Ill., had helped Hebert begin to understand how to play.
“I started playing well and suddenly I was doing things I had no idea why I was doing, but they were right,” he said. “It all came together.”
Wilson remembers how Hebert beat Canada in a shootout to make it to the gold-medal game against the Soviet Union.
“He was the reason we got to the final, and he was the reason we almost won the gold medal,” Wilson said. “He showed me a lot under pressure, and I think that will help here because he’ll probably be under pressure here. He doesn’t get rattled.”
Hebert mostly remembers how close the U.S. team came to winning the gold by beating a Soviet team that included Pavel Bure, the Vancouver Canuck star who had a 110-point season last year.
“We damn near won it,” Hebert said. “We were 21 seconds away and they scored with 21 seconds left to tie it. I think it would have been the first time we’d beaten them in a major competition since the ’80 Olympics. I think they beat us, 2-0, in the shootout after four or five shots. We were 21 seconds away.”
Hebert continued to improve and broke in with St. Louis during the 1991-92 season. But Joseph has been firmly entrenched in front of him, especially with his playoff performance this season.
“It was tough,” Hebert said. “People ask me about it all the time. I think he’s the best goalie in the league. . . . Hopefully I’ve learned some things from him. We had a great relationship and I hated to leave, but the bottom line is you’re in this for one reason, to show people what you can do against the best athletes in the world.”
In St. Louis, he had to wait for his chances. When Joseph injured his knee in January, Hebert stepped in and won three games in a week, holding opponents to 1.31 goals per game. He earned his first NHL shutout, and was named NHL player of the week.
But the job still was Joseph’s when he was ready again, and Hebert is glad for his chance with the Ducks, no matter how big the job might prove.
“It’s really something I’m looking forward to,” he said. “In St. Louis, unfortunately we gave up lots of shots. Curtis was No. 1 or No. 2 in the league in shots faced. I have some semblance of an idea what might happen, but it’s nice to get a chance to play night in and night out.
“The bottom line is that maybe you can’t tell how well you played by the score or your saves or goals-against. If the team plays well and you lose 5-4, that may be more important than the fact that you let in five goals.”