Mighty Ducks '95-'96 : When Ya Gotta Have Heart, Ducks Turn to Hebert : Hockey: His attitude and ability to roll with the punches have made him a steadying influence on his teammates.


They knew they had nobodies, so they trotted out a feathered mascot, cheerleaders on skates and a tone-deaf dweeb in an attempt to win over the crowd.

Nice try.

Forget Wild Wing, the overstuffed mascot that some die-hard puckheads would just as soon whack like a pi~nata as he comes down that wire before games.

Forget the Decoys, those Tonya Harding wanna-bes who have since been banished to the stands.

Forget the Ice Man. Please, forget the Ice Man.

Hockey fans soon discovered the real star of Disney's first stab at professional sports.

He's Guy Hebert, the man in the mask. It's his name the fans bellow after yet another tremendous save.

The Mighty Ducks have drafted well, unearthing young, creative centers, wingers and defensemen certain to keep the paying customers on the edge of their seats for seasons to come.

But to find the Ducks' heart, their backbone, and most often their savior, you have to look at Hebert, 28.

"He's the reason for the small successes we've had," Duck captain Randy Ladouceur said.

Minding net for an expansion team could have proved maddening, sending the most even-tempered soul screaming into cold, dark nights. A goaltender for a new team could count on shots, shots and more shots. Victories would be tough to come by and frustration would be the rule rather than the exception.

Right from the start, Duck management made a point of establishing a rough-and-tumble crew bent on defensive play, but they knew even a proven NHL goaltender might suffer from shellshock as established snipers fired shot after shot.

In two seasons, Hebert has saved what he could, won when possible and managed to crack a smile at all times. In 91 games for the Ducks, he has won 32, lost 47 and tied seven. His goals-against average is 2.95.

"A lot of people didn't understand how good he was," Coach Ron Wilson said. "He's the best-kept secret in the game."

How? Why?

The search for answers begins far from The Pond, in the quiet countryside of upstate New York, where the ponds are sponsored only by Mother Nature.

Hebert grew up in Troy, N.Y., played at Hamilton College, a Division III school in Clinton, N.Y., and maintains close ties to the area.

Hebert met his wife, Sarah, when they were sophomores at Hamilton. His best fly fishing holes are at Lake George. His favorite mountain biking trails are near Lake Placid.

His family remains entrenched there.

When he was young, when others predicted at age 5 that Hebert would some day play in the NHL, his parents urged him to try other sports too. "Get away from the rink," his folks said. "Play baseball. Football. Soccer."

But Hebert always returned to play hockey when the season rolled around. Disappointment never seemed to linger long because there was something new to look forward to.

It's the same now.

Teammates say he can be as intense, as driven as anyone who plays the game. But he also can tune the game out, turning to other diversions to relax.

"He's got the perfect personality," Ladouceur said. "There have been times when he's been as frustrated as anybody else on the team, but he's got that attitude to roll with the punches. It's the perfect attitude for a goalie on an expansion team.

In his youth, Hebert escaped the pressures of age-group hockey by playing other sports. Now, he turns to fishing and mountain biking, and to his Sarah.

This past summer provided the perfect tonic after Hebert's second season in goal for the Ducks.

His best friend got married. His sister got married. He and Sarah were married.

Hebert could have spent the off-season fretting about hammering out the details on a new contract with the Ducks, but he turned matters over to his agent, Brian Cook, and went on with his life.

"My folks had been waiting for years for me to marry this girl," said Hebert, who finally tied the knot on July 29. "It was nice to have the wedding to worry about."

The Heberts honeymooned on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Hockey seemed worlds away.

Eventually, the deal--a three-year contract that will pay Hebert a bit less than $1 million per year--was done, and the newly rich newlyweds packed up and moved to Orange County for the upcoming season.

Now, it's back to work.

The Ducks didn't want Hebert going to another team, according to General Manager Jack Ferreira. He watched Hebert stop on-rushing attackers, provide stability and consistency, and captivate the fans. Re-signing Hebert was a no-brainer.

"He's been as steady as a rock for two years," Ferreira said. "That's been very important to us to establish the franchise and get better. If our goaltending stays consistent, we can beat anybody. We're still not explosive. We have to keep games close.

"We made a decision that we wanted Guy here [for another three seasons]. There was never any question that he was going to be here, and we wanted it settled by the time training camp started."

The sides agreed to a contract Sept 1.

Hebert then spent his off-ice time during training camp talking about his contract and what it means to be a Duck for three more seasons. He spoke of the upcoming season and renewed his belief that it's possible for the third-year Ducks to reach the playoffs.

After two seasons as Curtis Joseph's seldom-used backup in St. Louis, he remains grateful for the opportunity to be the Ducks' starting goaltender.

"The chance to be the starting goaltender in this organization is probably better than being in 99% of the organizations," Hebert said. "I'm happy to be in the right place at the right time."

Said Ferreira: "He's been a big plus for us. He's like a pitcher. He can stop a [losing] streak. He can start a [winning] streak. Our guys don't have to worry about who's in goal.

"His personality has helped him establish the support of fans and he's helped us with what he's done as far as appearances and charity work."

In many ways Hebert outshines teammate Paul Kariya, a top draft pick and a member of the 1992 Canadian Olympic team that won the silver medal.

Certainly, Kariya gets his share of advertising exposure, particularly in Canada, but Hebert's ESPN SportsCenter fantasy commercial remains a classic. There was Hebert talking about skating pairs with Tai Babilonia.

Hebert has helped Del Taco sell burritos and he did a spot for Prime Sports, spending six hours after a recent practice filming the commercial.

Life is good.

"It's nice to have the weather we have here," Hebert said. "You can go play golf almost any time. It helps you keep your sanity. It's nice when you get home from a long road trip and it's 3 a.m. and instead of putting on a heavy topcoat, you can take your jacket and tie off."

Sometimes, he misses upstate New York and looks forward to the day when he can return to fish on a perfect spring day on Lake George.

He'll search for lake trout or salmon lurking only five feet below the water's surface.

Perhaps he'll head to the Florida Keys to fish for tarpon.

Maybe he'll take his mountain bike to Lake Placid, to the village that hosted the 1980 Olympics.

"Some days, you have to forget about hockey," Hebert said. "You have to go fishing all day. I think that's important."

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