Ducks’ Opener Is for the Birds : Hockey: Players are overwhelmed first by pre-game show, then by Red Wings, 7-2.


The Mighty Ducks entered the NHL Friday with a bang--and a whimper.

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 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, who are expected to be one of the NHL’s best teams this season. The Ducks were outshot in the first period, 20-7, and fell behind, 3-0.

“I think our players were a little overwhelmed by the ceremony--and by the Detroit Red Wings,” Duck Coach Ron Wilson said. “We stood around most of the game and we never got a rhythm going, and unfortunately we just didn’t compete tonight. That’s the worst we’ve obviously played, but we played against a good team . . . It’s just one game; it’s not a whole season. We’ve got 83 to go.”

The Red Wings were trying to avoid a second embarrassment after losing to the Dallas Stars earlier this week in the Stars’ Texas debut after their move from Minnesota.


“They were not going to be denied, and our players were intimidated by that,” Wilson said. “We were caught up in the hoopla. We were hoping it wouldn’t happen, but it did and that’s reality . . . We appeared very tight. We didn’t skate, we were awful in our own end. We stood around and watched.”

The Ducks’ historic first goal didn’t come until 4:13 of the second period, when defenseman Sean Hill scored a power-play goal on a slapshot from the right point after defenseman Bill Houlder’s shot caromed back out to Hill.

That set off the flashing, sparking, red-eyed Duck masks above each goal that will celebrate goals by the home team. It got only one more workout Friday, when Troy Loney scored a power-play goal on a pretty pass from Anatoli Semenov at 11:47 of the third.

“It’s exciting to get the first goal, but that’s small consolation,” said Hill, who also seemed to believe the hullabaloo got to his team.

“We can’t be concerned with all the hype. They put on a great show before the game. I guess we failed to put on a show when it was our turn. It was embarrassing. We had been throwing the puck in and being aggressive. Tonight we didn’t do that.”

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.

Oddly enough, both Tampa Bay and Ottawa won their debuts last season, and the Senators, incredibly, took 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 recent 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.

“It has been a long two or three days. We might just have been emotionally drained after all the hoopla with the parades,” Wilson said. “Most of the people we have are third and fourth line players and they were being treated like celebrities, and maybe we let that affect us.”

The crowd seemed to love their Ducks, especially goaltender Guy Hebert, who faced 43 shots and stopped 36.

They lost their patience with a character called the Iceman though, booing him heartily between the second and third periods when he and skating cheerleaders called the Decoys performed a version of “Twist and Shout.”

Entertainment is supposed to be one of the focuses--at least for now.

“We hope the fans have a great time at every one of our games and that over time we’re going to become a fantastic hockey organization,” Eisner said.

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 5-on-3 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.

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’d be asking them to alternate periods.

Instead, Hebert just gets Sunday off, when Tugnutt will start against the Islanders.