MIGHTY DUCKS : Many Happy Returns at Final Informal Skate

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Back together again. Well, almost.

The Mighty Ducks came from far and farther for one final informal practice Thursday, the last day of the longest summer vacation of their lives. All but two--Valeri Karpov and Patrik Carnback--of the 24 players on the Duck roster were present for the scrimmage.

Rookie Paul Kariya, who waited out the lockout at home in North Vancouver, Canada, had his bags packed for days, canceling flight reservation after flight reservation in anticipation of a resolution of the NHL labor dispute.

"Delta's probably pretty mad at me right now," he said after the 90-minute workout.

Tough guy Stu Grimson faced a similar situation, ready to leave his home in Winnipeg at a moment's notice.

"I had my bags by the door for two days," Grimson said.

Peter Douris left Boston's Logan International Airport as the season's first heavy snow began to fall.

"It's been a really mild New England winter," Douris said, glancing outside at the Southern California drizzle.

Karpov flew from Moscow, where he had been playing for the Central Red Army team, on Thursday.

Carnback's status is less certain. His contract with the Ducks expires at the end of this shortened season, and he agreed to play the entire season in his native Sweden shortly after the lockout began.

The Ducks would like him back, but Carnback's agent, Neil Abbott, says it would probably take a new contract for him to return. Duck General Manager Jack Ferreira is discussing contract possibilities, but there's still the touchy matter of how serious Carnback's commitment to his Swedish team is--after all, the demand for a full-season commitment was rescinded for other players.

"If we say we'd like to come back, what do we violate and who do we get upset?" Abbott said. "It's not inconceivable that he could be back by the time the season (NHL) starts, but I don't want to say he will be."

Tim Sweeney, left unprotected in the waiver draft, also faced uncertain prospects. The waiver draft, postponed when the lockout was imposed Oct. 1, might not be held, according to Ferreira.

Sweeney, the Ducks' fourth-leading scorer last season with 43 points, has recently been wearing a jersey from a pro-am league in New England. Presumably, he'll don a Duck jersey for today's workouts.

Thursday afternoon, the Ducks gathered at Grimson's home to listen to a conference call detailing the agreement.

Bob Corkum, the Ducks' player representative, said he expected the players to vote by secret ballot later Thursday. He expected that the proposal would by passed by the union members.

The Ducks will travel to Lake Arrowhead today to begin training. The two-a-day practices are not open to the public.

They will probably open the season on the road, perhaps at Edmonton next Friday, although the NHL has not released its schedule and might not until Saturday. Their first home game could be against the Kings, but that also remains to be determined.

The Ducks will announce their ticket policy only after the schedule is released.

Kariya, expected to battle Quebec's Peter Forsberg for rookie of the year honors before the lockout began, skated occasionally with members of the Vancouver Canucks early in the lockout. As the weeks passed, he worked out on his own, however.

"It's nice to get back in the team atmosphere," said Kariya, who had a team-leading eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven exhibition games. "I had pretty much been in a summer routine for the last three months. It was getting pretty monotonous."

Of the short and sweet, week-long training camp, he said, "It doesn't matter if we're ready or not. We have to do it. We're all well-conditioned athletes, it won't take us long to get in shape."

With the scrimmage completed and at last a season to look forward to, Grimson surveyed the scene at the Ducks' practice rink in Anaheim.

"Economic issues aside, I think we all enjoy being out here on the ice," he said. "Now, the focus has to turn back to the team."

Times staff writer Robyn Norwood contributed to this story.

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