The Anaheim Ducks hoisted their first ever Stanley Cup last Wednesday after their 6-2 Game 5 triumph over the Ottawa Senators. But their road to glory started back in June 2005, when Broadcom Corporation founder Henry Samueli bought the club from the Walt Disney Company.
In his first season as owner The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim made the 2006 Western Conference Finals, but were ousted by the Edmonton Oilers in five games.
Most of the players were already in place for an eventual title run, but Samueli believed that the franchise's image needed to be altered.
After last season, Samueli dropped the "Mighty" in the team name to become the Ducks we know today, and the team's colors were changed to black, white, and gold with and orange trim.
This was to shed their Disney image of a team that was named after a popular early 1990's children's film.
"The Ducks were part of the original name. Maybe the 'Mighty' was more about the Disney side of it," said Ducks forward Teemu Selanne.
Samueli also obtained corporate sponsorship for their arena, and the Honda Center replaced the Disney named Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.
With a new name and logo, new colors, and revenue coming from their corporate sponsor, the fans had renewed enthusiasm for the team and were ready to pack the arena for the '06/'07 season. But before they did, they needed one more vital player for their run.
General Manager Brian Burke had a team that would perennially reach the postseason, but lacked the final piece for the puzzle that would make them serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. That was until they traded for all world D Chris Pronger, who is arguably the best defenseman in the entire league. Along with all star Scott Niedermayer, the team now possessed the best 1-2 combo of defenseman in the game, and could go the entire game with at least one of them on the ice, making it awfully hard for the opposing team to score, and making it much easier for head coach Randy Carlyle.
The Ducks were the favorites to take the Cup before the season began, and they didn't disappoint early on, quickly emerging as the premier club in the Western Conference.
In fact, they went 16 games before losing a contest in regulation, falling to Calgary on November 10.
They acquired hard nosed D Ric Jackman at the February trading deadline, but didn't need to make many changes during a season where they won the Pacific Division by three points over San Jose, and went into the playoffs as the second seed. They were lead offensively by Selanne, Andy McDonald, and Niedermayer, and Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere won 36 games while losing only 10. Their team seemed primed for a deep postseason run with a stout and stifling defense, and outstanding play between the pipes.
In their first round series win in five games over the Minnesota Wild, the defense performed tremendously, only allowing more than two goals in their 4-1 Game 4 loss. Pronger and 22 year old center Ryan Getzlaf led the charge, and were aided by solid play by backup netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. The Ducks always seemed to thrive in the third period, scoring to tie games to bring them into overtime or to win the games in regulation. They won numerous games in overtime, and they were almost unstoppable when the match appeared even, and the games went on to crunch time.
Giguere went into net full time for their second round series against the Vancouver Canucks, and it resulted in another five game series triumph. Three of their four wins were by one goal, and the last two victories came in OT.
They defeated top seeded Detroit in the Conference Finals in six games, also with one goal wins in three of their four victories, with two wins coming in OT. They may end up going down as the best third period playoff team in recent memory, and they quickly ousted the Ottawa Senators in 5 games, a team perceived as an offensive juggernaut.
The Anaheim defense was too much for the league's top line of Danny Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson.
The team played so well over the playoffs that Niedermayer was recognized by the league for his stellar effort with the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the MVP of the postseason.
The road was a long and arduous one for the Anaheim Ducks, but they have a team that will be a contender for years to come. The Stanley Cup may take trips a little more often towards Southern California.
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