Guy Hebert cruised up to the parking booth, eager for his first game in net for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, where an attendant at the window greeted him.
Hebert was puzzled when the small woman didn’t believe he was the team’s goalie, but he wasn’t going to waste any time. After all, he was going to embrace the experience. So he reached into his wallet and shelled out the $10 for general admission parking.
When Hebert exited his rental car among the regular folk and walked up to Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, he stopped in his tracks. What was all this? Fans tailgating hours before doors to the arena even opened?
He never experienced this during his time with the St. Louis Blues, and it was all a little surreal for Hebert. The experience was even stranger when it was time to hit the ice with his fellow castoffs.
Sure, he was peppered by 43 shots and allowed seven goals in that defeat to the Detroit Red Wings, the eventual Western Conference champions. Any goaltender worth his salt would love to forget a memory like that. Not Hebert.
All these years later, he can still feel that night in vivid detail. It was the start of something special. The Mighty Ducks lost 7-2 in their inaugural contest, and 25 years later to the date, the franchise takes on the Red Wings again Monday in Anaheim.
“The sound in the building was almost deafening, and as a goaltender you’re taught to block out as much as possible,” said Hebert, the team’s first selection in the 1993 Expansion Draft, during an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The first few minutes of the game I allowed myself to enjoy the moment. First start, first-ever game for an NHL franchise. I better soak it in.”
In those 25 years, so much has changed. Once billed the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — a play on the Disney hockey film “The Mighty Ducks” starring Emilio Estevez — they’re now simply the Anaheim Ducks, and have been since 2006. Gone, too, is the cartoon goalie mask logo that appeared in the sequel, ”D2: The Mighty Ducks.”
The mask is making a comeback this season, though, and the team will debut their alternate jerseys Monday, complete with the familiar purple and teal colors they wore from 1993 to 2006.
The Walt Disney Co. owned the Mighty Ducks (the club was sold to Henry and Susan Samueli in 2005) and the marketing machine ensured they had the hottest-selling jersey when the team kicked off its first season. The team took part in a parade down Disneyland’s Main Street USA during that summer; Hebert recalls how many patrons at the Anaheim park believed they were all actors from the movie.
They even staged a promotional shoot at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and Hebert has the picture in his home to this day.
“No one could believe we were really going to be called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim,” said Hebert, 51. “There’s no way you’re going to be called the Mighty Ducks after that movie. We just embraced it.”
Opposing players were quick to poke fun at their Disney-themed name and logo, but Hebert noted the team had plenty of tough guys – such as Stu Grimson and Todd Ewen – who would set these agitators straight.
“Certainly not Disney-esque to be fighting,” he said with a laugh. “Our rebuttal was ‘hey, we live in a place where it’s sunny and 70 (degrees) every day, go back to Detroit, we’re going golfing after practice.”
It was during that initial trip to Southern California in August when Hebert stepped off the plane, noticed the weather, and said to himself: “Boy, I’d like to make this home. If I could ever play well enough to stay here, what a great career this could be.”
Everything worked out for Hebert, who nailed down the starting job under coach Ron Wilson and was in net for the Mighty Ducks for eight seasons, earning an All-Star selection in 1997. He remains in Anaheim and works for Prime Ticket as a Ducks analyst, giving him an up-close look at the tremendous success the club has enjoyed over the years.
Despite operating in an era whe the expansion draft rules were far less forgiving than the ones that allowed the Vegas Golden Knights to reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, general manager Jack Ferreira assembled a squad that advanced to the postseason semifinals in just its fourth season of existence.
The franchise’s fortunes forever shifted on a trade he completed during the 1995-96 season. Teemu Selanne’s arrival from the Winnipeg Jets sparked the offense, and he holds every major franchise scoring record. .
His No. 8 sweater hangs at Honda Center, and it will be joined this season by that of longtime running mate Paul Kariya and Scott Niedermayer, who helped lead the Ducks to their lone Stanley Cup championship in 2007.
Today, the Ducks are perennial playoff contenders (six consecutive appearances), led by Ryan Getzlaf, the team’s eighth captain in franchise history. The first? Troy Loney, who spent just a single season with the Ducks.
He previously won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that time in Anaheim is still buried into his mind.
“Going to the arena every day when it was sunny and 75 degrees never got old … being part of the Disney Family and learning the Disney Way was a tremendous experience and something I will never forget,” Loney told The Times. “It really helped me to understand that yes, we were professional hockey players playing a game, but we were also part of the entertainment industry.
“All you have to do is look around the league today and it's obvious that the Mighty Ducks were years ahead of all teams in that regard.”
DUCKS VS. DETROIT RED WINGS
When: Monday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.
On the air: Prime Ticket, 830 AM