Here come the Ducks: Anaheim a mighty draw


In Oklahoma City, there is a Mighty Ducks fan club. In Rhode Island, The Providence Journal has adopted the Ducks as the home team, running a story after every one of their games and a staff-written Ducks notebook on Sundays.

Even here in Baltimore, Channel 2 sports director Scott Garceau has established the Anaheim team as "Our Mighty Ducks."

Tonight, the Washington Capitals may have their first weeknight sellout since New Year's Day 1990, when the Los Angeles Kings came to Landover. If the Capitals get the full house, the reason will be the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, an expansion team that has captured the imagination of children and hockey fans everywhere.

"All the attention is exciting," Ducks leading scorer Terry Yake said yesterday after practice at the Piney Orchard Ice Arena, where dozens of children wearing Mighty Ducks sweat shirts and hats crowded around the protective glass, waving hands, sticks and trading cards. "Everywhere we go, there are hundreds of kids. It's like having a Mario [Lemieux]. Who knows what they're coming to watch? The emblem? The logo? It doesn't matter. They come. They cheer.

"If we were getting blown out of every game, it might not be fun. But we're earning our respect on the ice. Teams we play know they have to show up or we'll take the two points home.

"Sure, people make jokes about our name, but the name grows on you, and if you have a sense of humor, you can make a few of your own and enjoy it."

The Ducks' 14-22-2 record has them tied with last season's Stanley Cup-finalist Kings for third in the Pacific Division. The Ducks have lost 13 games by one goal. At their home rink, The Pond at Anaheim, they draw an average of 16,606 fans, which is 97 percent capacity.

The home team should draw, but what is happening on the road is phenomenal. The Ducks have played to 284,606 fans, an average of 15,811 per game, and fifth-highest in the league, according to a Ducks official.

Tuesday night in Uniondale, N.Y., the New York Islanders had their first weekday sellout in three years. It was Duck Call night.

"Everywhere we go, it's a special night," said Mighty Ducks coach Ron Wilson. "It's funny. And it's exciting. We come in under this cloak of comedy, and we end up stealing points from the home teams. We have 14 wins, nine of them on the road. It's pretty good.

"But it has been incredible. The Islanders sell out. Most of the places we go, there are sellouts. In Chicago, we drew their largest crowd of the season. We're the Mighty Ducks, not the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Detroit Red Wings. And yet, 25 or 30 percent of the fans in the arenas are people who are rooting for the Ducks.

"It seems everything is working for us. The popularity of the rTC Mighty Ducks movie, Disney, the way we're playing. We're marketing to the youth, the little kids. If we can corral a lot of youngsters now, maybe they'll grow up hockey fans and some of them will remain Mighty Ducks fans. We have the possibility of being America's Team in hockey."

Tonight, at USAir Arena, the Capitals are about to learn about the phenomenon.

When this season's schedules were being formulated, Washington's vice president of marketing, Lew Strudler, requested that the Mighty Ducks visit on a holiday night or a Sunday afternoon. He got a night between Christmas and New Year's, and he also may get a sellout for only the second time this season.

Washington's only other sellout came Nov. 26 against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- a team with another funny bird in its logo.

"We're going to have kids galore here," said Strudler. "We're getting hundreds of calls from parents who want to bring their children. The kids want to see them. It's the appeal of the movie, of Disney. We're getting a lot of people who haven't been to another game all year."

There are groups of kids celebrating the holidays and birthdays and other groups of kids coming with their hockey clubs, such as Kevin Krieger, 14, of Ellicott City, who was at Piney Orchard yesterday and will be going to tonight's game with the Howard County Huskies.

Still others will be coming with their families.

"They're pretty good for an expansion team," said Thomas Jensen, 11, of Bowie, who also was at practice and who will be at the game with his family.

"Normally, I root for the Caps, but I'll probably have to root for both the Caps and the Ducks in this one."


Opponent: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:35

TV: None

Radio: WMAL (630 AM)

Tickets: 1,600 available

Outlook: The Capitals played well Tuesday against the Florida Panthers but still managed just a 3-3 tie. Now they play the Mighty Ducks, a team that has taken to the road the way a duck takes to water. The Mighty Ducks shut out the New York Islanders, 3-0, Tuesday to end the Islanders' six-game winning streak. The victory gave the Ducks an 8-4 road record, and the farther from home, the better they play. In road games outside California, they are 10-7. Another quirky thing about Anaheim is that it is 12-10-1 when it is outshot and 2-10-1 when it has more shots. Washington reports C Kevin Kaminski (sore back) will play tonight and G Rick Tabaracci (wrist) could start and will be ready for a backup role. D Al Iafrate (sprained knee) is day-to-day, and D Kevin Hatcher (broken hand) and LW Todd Krygier (separated shoulder) are out. The Ducks report RW Jim Thomson (reconstructive left shoulder surgery) and LW/C Anatoli Semenov (dislocated elbow) are out, and RW Patrik Carnback (strained groin) is day-to-day.

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