The bang came before the game, accompanied by flashes and smoke, pastel spotlights and a flying mascot that descended from the rafters during a sometimes-hokey Disney-choreographed ice show that the Anaheim Arena crowd of 17,174 cheered wildly amid the din of duck calls.
The whimper came during their 7-2 defeat to the Detroit Red Wings. The Ducks were outshot in the first period, 20-7, as they fell behind, 3-0.
The Ducks' first goal didn't come until the second period, when defenseman Sean Hill scored a power-play goal on a slap shot from the right point after defenseman Bill Houlder's shot caromed back out to Hill. Troy Loney scored a power-play goal on a perfect pass from Anatoli Semonov at 11:47 of the third to cap the Ducks' scoring.
It was more of a happening than a hockey game, as even Walt Disney Co. chairman Michael Eisner sensed before the game.
"It feels like the Academy Awards except I haven't won anything," he said. His name was never called, and the Ducks became only the second of the five recent expansion teams to lose their first game.
Both Tampa Bay and Ottawa won their debuts last season, and the Senators scored a 5-3 victory over Montreal, the eventual Stanley Cup winner.
It was quite a start, but it fizzled quickly: The Senators only won nine more times all season.
San Jose was the other expansion team to lose its opener, falling to Vancouver in its first game in 1991. The Ducks' 1993 expansion companion, Florida, tied Chicago, 4-4, on Wednesday and lost to St. Louis on Thursday.
The Duck players had come through a lot to get to this point, with a public luncheon in their honor Wednesday and a Disneyland parade Thursday, along with the 15-minute pregame show. They said Friday morning they were struggling to keep their focus.
The Red Wings, who were led by left wing Keith Primeau's two goals and right wing Ray Sheppard's four-point performance, scored their first goal just 2:34 into the game, on Aaron Ward's shot from the point. It was the first official goal scored against the Ducks--and it was Ward's first goal in the NHL.
It was only about six minutes before the Red Wings scored again, as Sheppard angled the puck sharply across Duck goalie Guy Hebert's body and into the far corner of the net after deftly reaching around sliding defenseman Mark Ferner.
By the end of the first period, the Ducks trailed, 3-0, with Sergei Fedorov adding a power-play goal on a shot from the right circle with a five-on-three advantage after Stu Grimson went off for roughing and Steven King for holding.
It was to be a tough night for Hebert, who earned the honor of starting partly because he shut out Detroit, 1-0, last season while playing for St. Louis in one of only two scoreless games the Red Wings had all season.
But Hebert was at the Red Wings' mercy Friday. He faced 20 shots in the first period alone, while his teammates were held to a mere seven. Hebert faced a total of 43 shots and stopped 36.
Coach Ron Wilson has said Hebert and Ron Tugnutt will share the starting job because the job of expansion goalie is inhumane. At that rate, though, he might be asking them to alternate periods.
Instead, Hebert only gets Sunday off, when Tugnutt will start against the Islanders.
The Ducks avoided a scheduled Monday arbitration hearing against right wing Terry Yake--who is projected to be one of their leading goal-scorers--by reaching a two-year contract agreement of one year plus an option. Yake, 24, had 22 goals and 53 points in 66 games with Hartford last season, and was entering his option year. Terms were not disclosed, but Yake will receive a significant increase over his $225,000 salary last year. He declined the team's offer of a three-year contract, preferring to prove his worth this season and renegotiate as he enters the option year next year.
"I'm confident I'm going to improve this year and do well, that's the bottom line," Yake said. "Two-plus-one gives you great security, but I'm confident I'll be playing for a lot of years."
Was the Mighty Duck pregame extravaganza an affront to Canada's game? "It's not Canada's game anymore," Al Strachan of the Toronto Globe & Mail said. "The whole league is run by American lawyers. It used to be our game." Did Detroit mind that referee Ron Hoggarth arrived wearing a Disney tie?. . . . The first home stand continues with games Sunday against the New York Islanders.
* SIDESHOW: As entertainment, the Mighty Ducks are a big hit despite losing their first regular-season game decisively. C10