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Clayton Stoner, Nate Thompson could be big-game players for Ducks

Clayton Stoner, Nate Thompson could be big-game players for Ducks
Ducks defensemen Nate Thompson, left, and Clayton Stoner are hoping to make a big impact on the blueline this season. (Chris Carlson, Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The serenity of nature, the magnificence of untouched land and the peaceful quiet lure Clayton Stoner and Nate Thompson to the mountains of British Columbia and streams of Minnesota each summer.

"It's about self-confidence, being out in the wilderness, knowing your surroundings . . . you bring that assurance in yourself to life and work," said Stoner, who fishes and hunts big game in Canada.

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"To get out there by yourself to just catch fish . . . it's pretty good," said Thompson, an avid fly fisherman of rainbow trout.

The Ducks also were inspired by their off-season catches.

Thompson, a seven-year NHL veteran center raised in Anchorage, Alaska, was acquired during the summer from the Tampa Bay Lightning for fourth- and seventh-round draft picks after the Ducks had parted with three of last season's centers.

"My big asset is to do all the little things well, be a foot soldier to complement everybody," Thompson said. "They told me they appreciate the way I play — hard work ethic, grit, nastiness. They stress that. My other attributes of killing penalties and winning faceoffs help. I think they see that when you get deep into the season — a deep playoff run — you need those types of guys."

Stoner's playoff prowess last season earned him a four-year, $13-million free-agent deal with the Ducks.

The former Minnesota defenseman helped the stingy Wild upset Colorado in the first round and extend defending champion Chicago to six games in the Western Conference semifinals.

Ducks General Manager Bob Murray said he was moved to pursue Stoner at a steep price because he saw a player "starting to come into his own."

Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau also was looking for ways to curtail defensive breakdowns that led to the team's playoff loss to the Kings in the West semifinals.

"He was extremely good," Boudreau said of Stoner. "He was big, he was tough, he was physical. He's a good get. Our job is to protect the middle of the ice, that's the fastest way [opponents] get to the net."

Stoner already is sporting three preseason facial scars as proof he's committed to standing his ground.

"Got into a fight in San Jose and hit with a stick in the face yesterday," Stoner said. "They wanted some depth here in the defensive area, someone who could be responsible and not afraid to clear the front of the net, play a physical game, stand up for teammates and be reliable for keeping the puck out of the net.

"I know my game. . . . You grow and find the niche that can keep you around the NHL, what helps the team the most. I fell into the role and I enjoy it."

Thompson and Stoner have played against each other since they were at the junior level in the Western Hockey League. Thompson spends summers in Minnesota and has practiced in the off-season with Stoner. Since arriving in Anaheim, they have become carpool buddies.

"It helps with being familiar with a guy. Having the same interest, it's easier to bond and be a good teammate," Thompson said. "He's a hard-nosed, blue-collar guy and that's the way I like to play. A lot of times we can be out there on the ice together, hoping we make it hard on the other team."

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Boudreau suggests Thompson can score 15 goals, and the center's 50.9% success rate in nearly 1,000 faceoffs last season should be a help. The Ducks finished 20th in faceoff success last season at 49.2%.

"He's someone we needed," forward Andrew Cogliano said. "We didn't really have a fourth-line guy. He's a specialty player — blocks shots, plays his role. All the teams that win Stanley Cups, they have those guys, and those guys are big parts because they do the right things and all they worry about is doing the little things. They don't get credit, but the guys in the room give 'em credit."

Last summer, on a licensed hunt in British Columbia, Stoner generated some controversy when he killed a grizzly bear and posed for a photo while holding the bear's severed head.

In response, Stoner released a statement: "I grew up hunting and fishing in British Columbia and continue to enjoy spending time with my family outdoors. I love to hunt and fish and will continue to do so with my family and friends in British Columbia."

Hockey's a little like hunting, Stoner said — stay alert, see things out of the corner of your eyes.

"You want your strengths to exploit their weaknesses," Stoner said. "We were brought here for a reason. If we're doing our job, we should be a better team this year. You hold yourself accountable."

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