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License to Hunt Ducks

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mighty Duck captain Paul Kariya remembers what it was like to be a hockey fan. Growing up in Vancouver, Kariya watched his idol, Wayne Gretzky, play for the Edmonton Oilers on television; he studied every move and every play.

That’s why the 24-year-old National Hockey League superstar feels strange when starry-eyed kids look up to him the way he once looked up to the Great One.

“When a kid comes up to me, it’s neat, but at the same time it’s a little uncomfortable because I can remember being that kid, you know. It wasn’t that long ago,” Kariya said after Saturday’s practice at Disney Ice in Anaheim.

Kariya was 17 when he met Gretzky. Local hockey fans won’t have to wait so long to meet their Mighty Duck idols. Fans have a chance to come face to face with the team Sunday at Mighty Ducks FanFair ’99 at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

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Barring trades or injuries, all the players are guaranteed to be there: Attendance is mandatory for players and coaches.

Wingers, defensemen, goalies, coaches and more will be available for autographs, pictures, a pancake breakfast and plenty of hockey talk. There will be face-painting, temporary tattoos and carnival games for kids.

All ticket-holders will have the opportunity to skate on Pond ice and tour the Mighty Duck locker room. Some lucky fans--the highest bidders of a silent auction--will skate for 15 minutes one-on-one with the players.

For Teemu Selanne, a right winger with boyish good looks who led the league in scoring last year and was a finalist for the MVP award, interacting with fans is a special opportunity.

Selanne, an admirer of Gretzky and fellow countryman and future Hall of Famer Jari Kurri, never met his idols as a youngster.

He played hockey in Finland while Gretzky and Kurri were skating far away in North America. Still, Selanne remained an avid fan and says that home ice support is critical to the team. Selanne’s blue eyes light up and he flashes a wide smile when he talks about the fans.

“I think the fans make hockey so special,” Selanne said. “Some nights you’re not ready to play, but when you see the fans supporting you, and they’re into the game, it makes you step up and push yourself to play at the level you should play at all the time.”

Teammate Jim McKenzie, a 6 foot 4, 229-pound left winger, agreed. “Fans have a huge impact [on my game]. . . . Certainly they can feed off of us when we have a big goal, or a big hit or a big save, a big play. But it’s the same way the other way. When we come out, and they’re yelling and screaming, and they’re on their feet making noise, it certainly gets us even more fired up.”

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McKenzie, who never went to an NHL game as a fan, will be at Mighty Ducks FanFair for the first time.

“It’s certainly humbling to see the effect you have, on young kids especially,” McKenzie said. “When you go in and talk to them, their eyes are all as big as saucers, and they hang on every word you say.”

The Disney-owned team does its part to give back to kids. FanFair ’99 is one of three annual Mighty Duck events that benefit children through Disney GOALS (Growth Opportunities through Athletics, Learning and Service).

The nonprofit organization based in Anaheim creates opportunities year-round for underprivileged children between the ages of 6 and 19 to participate in academic, hockey and community service activities.

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Last year, Mighty Ducks FanFair raised more than $100,000 for Disney GOALS.

“This is one way that you can really do something to help inspire a child. By giving us a helping hand, we can extend one to the children who need it most,” said Dave Wilk, founding executive director of Disney GOALS.

Sure, the Ducks’ charity work shows they’re nice guys off the ice, but fans love them because they’re tough when it counts. Charles Protzman of Irvine bought his FanFair ’99 tickets because he is eager to meet some of the Duck enforcers.

“I want to see how big McKenzie and [Stu] Grimson are compared to us. I know they’re big, but you see them on TV, and, oh, they don’t look that big, and then you get up next to them in person, and they’re like 6-5 or 6-6,” he said.

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When fans get up close and personal, they might realize that inside those mighty frames are big guys who sometimes act like big kids.

“The pancakes. I look forward to those,” said 6-foot, 206-pound Mighty Duck Ted Drury.

OK. It’s not just the pancakes. Drury is happy to thrill young admirers the way another pro thrilled him.

Drury recalled being a star-struck young boy in Connecticut when he met NHL Hall of Famer Gordie Howe.

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“I was so excited,” Drury said. “I don’t even remember what I said. I just remember kind of being in awe of him. Just staring at him.”

BE THERE

Mighty Ducks FanFair ’99, 11 a.m.-4 p.m Sunday at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, 2695 Katella Ave. (The pancake breakfast, open to the first 500 fans who bought FanFair ’99 tickets, is sold out.) Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for ages 4-12; admission is free for children 3 and younger. Tickets may be purchased through Ticketmaster, (714) 740-2000; the Arrowhead Pond box office, (714) 704-2400; or the Mighty Ducks ticket office, (714) 704-2701.


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