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Disney Gets Burned Along With Ducks

The Ducks lost their home opener, 5-1, to the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night, but on the bright side, no one got incinerated during the pregame show.

As I have long suspected, these annual Disney extravaganzas can be hazardous to one’s health. The tangible proof was in the smoldering tail feathers of the home team’s unfortunate mascot, who carries the nickname “Wild Wing,” or as he is known to close friends, “Shame About Joe, But He Needed The Work.”

“Wild Wing,” who gets dropped from The Pond rafters via guy wire like a bloated Halloween pinata before every Ducks home game, was handed the assignment of a lifetime, so to speak, before this one: Take a flying leap over a hellish wall of flames without the aid of a safety or a single cheerleading Decoy toting a cute purple and green fire extinguisher.

“Wild Wing” had completed the course without a hitch during practice but under the spotlight, with the pressure on, he stumbled on the trampoline that was supposed to propel him to safety and instead bellyflopped onto the flaming gas jets.

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Fans gasped. But as soon as “Wild Wing” hit the grill, the flames were doused and the ever-buoyant duck bounded away as if the pratfall were just a part of the routine. And now, I, Wild Wing, will dance a dance to the Mighty Ducks’ 1995-96 season!

No, Ducks director of public relations Bill Robertson later reported in the press box, roasted duck on a hibachi was not the evening’s theme. “Wild Wing” was supposed to hurdle the fire, but did indeed bobble the takeoff and did indeed benefit from a mostly flame-retardant costume.

“He’s fine,” Robertson said, noting that “Wild Wing” had been treated by Ducks team physician Dr. Craig Milhouse for a sprained ankle, knee and wrist, declared fit, and sent back out there midway through the first period, where he could be seen hawking pizzas in the lower level.

“Wild Wing is a trouper,” Robertson said. “He’s our iron man.”

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Thus, a rugged month for mascots across the sporting landscape continued. In Seattle, Mariner Moose breaks an ankle when the three-wheeler dragging him across the Kingdome floor smashes him into the outfield fence. In Cleveland, “Slider” blows out an ACL after falling off the right field wall while celebrating a base hit by Carlos Baerga. And in Anaheim, “Wild Wing” narrowly avoids transformation into a Buffalo wing.

What was that the Phillie Phanatic used to say--it’s not easy being green?

All around, it was a tough night for Disney. The hockey team lost again, for the fourth time in five attempts, but the pregame show is the main event, the snap-crackle-pop diversionary tactic that must always be flawless. (With the notable exception of the Iceman, Opening Night, 1993.) But Wednesday, the production was marred by not only the Wild Wing Incident, but also the misspelling of Paul Kariya’s name--green laser-beam inscription on the ice--during introductions.

Oleg Tverdovsky, OK.

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Mikhail Shtalenkov, understandable.

But Paul Kariya, a.k.a. The Next Gretzky?

Or, if they were spelling it at The Pond Wednesday, “The Next Gretski.”

But then, that’s what home openers are for--to work the kinks out. Work the kinks out, pack the place to the rim and sell loads and loads of expensive merchandise. For the record, the Ducks and their fans made it to magic 17,174 for the 50th home date in succession, so, as always, the night wasn’t a total loss for Disney.

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As for the undercard, the Ducks didn’t play so well. They fell behind in the first period when Vancouver’s Trevor Linden was permitted to skate across all three lines, from Yorba Linda all the way to Fullerton, and rifle the puck between the legs of Shtalenkov. A garbage goal by Jassen Cullimore made it 2-0 in the second period and prompted the first boos of the season at The Pond--believed to be a franchise record.

A goal by Kariya--that’s K-A-R-I-Y-A--pulled the Ducks back to within 2-1 with 18 minutes remaining, but the Canucks stormed back with three goals in the final 7:07, first spinning heads throughout the building and then leaving them shaking.

Next, the Philadelphia Flyers visit The Pond Friday night. Meaning: More diversionary tactics are in order. One good idea is setting off those pregame fireworks inside the arena, which clouds the rafters with smoke which takes more than half a period to dissipate. Wednesday, those middle-class salaries seated in the upper deck needed coal miner helmets to catch the first 12 minutes of play.

But, what you can’t see can’t hurt you, as “Wild Wing” now knows from personal experience.

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