Ducks on the bus to meet their loyal followers

Wednesday, 09.25.2013 / 10:00 AM
Curtis Zupke  - Correspondent

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Almost there … almost there … almost there.

The bus needed every pony of its horsepower to make it up a stretch of Jamboree Road near the exclusive area of Newport Beach, Calif., which prompted concern from two Anaheim Ducks riding as passengers.

"Are we going to make it up this hill?" center Peter Holland asked the driver.

Goaltender John Gibson peered over the driver's shoulder to get a look at the speedometer, which topped out at 20 mph as The Beach Boys played on the sound system.

The wheels literally hit the road for the Anaheim Ducks' 20th season Sunday, with the team renting a party bus as Holland, Gibson and other players made appearances at local entertainment centers to mingle with fans and talk about the upcoming season.

The struggling engine of the parquet-floored, beach-themed bus might as well have been a metaphor for these Ducks: While the paint and body look good on the outside, the transmission needs inspection to see if it can get in gear.

That might take time. This was a "caravan" event, but it was practically a tour of Anaheim's walking wounded. Sheldon Souray is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist. Luca Sbisa wore a walking boot because of a sprained ankle. Even Holland wore a knee brace to protect an injury sustained in practice.

Souray turned it into a family day and brought his daughters Valentina, 10, and Scarlett, 6. They are red-haired with freckles -- think Lindsay Lohan in "The Parent Trap" -- and it happened to be Valentina's birthday.

The 6-foot-4, 231-pound Souray folded himself into a children's train ride to tour the Irvine Spectrum before a fan with a Ryan Getzlaf shirt asked him to sign the shirt.

"Do you want me to sign it, 'Ryan Getzlaf?'" Souray joked.

All kidding aside, Souray touched on how much this season means, especially after the Ducks were eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

"That's certainly a lot of motivation this year," Souray said. "I think we want to make sure we don't have that feeling again."

Later Souray was asked by a fan when he'll be back.

"January-ish," he said.

Whether Holland will be up with the Ducks by the time Souray returns is one of the questions Anaheim's staff would like to answer in training camp. While the top-six forward group largely is set, Holland is competing for a spot and it seems like now or never in this, his fifth training camp.

"I honestly believe they have a plan for me, and I think so far their plan's been working," Holland said.

Holland is from Toronto, but in shorts and a T-shirt almost could pass for a California guy. His personable nature makes him seem not that much different from the Ducks fans he chatted up on the bus.

Luke Buntich was one of a handful of fans who were selected to ride with the players and ice girls by winning a social media contest. Buntich made a short video that professed his love for the Ducks, and there is symmetry to his devotion.

"I was born in '93 -- the same year as the Ducks," said Buntich, who wore a No. 93 Ducks jersey with his nickname, "Yogi," on the back.

Standing next to Buntich was fellow contest winner Devin Leyva, who sports a Snoopy-lying-on-the-doghouse tattoo on his leg and owns the Twitter handle @UnicornDelight. In a strange nod, Leyva is from Los Angeles.

"My dad was a Kings fan," Leyva said. "I became a Ducks fan. We made it a rivalry."

Buntich and Leyva, like many Ducks fans, are intrigued by Gibson, the darling of the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships and a highly regarded goalie prospect, and asked him about beating Ducks teammate Rickard Rakell in that tournament.

Gibson shrugged it off. A Pittsburgh product, he also looked right at home in shorts, sneakers and a backward cap. Gibson also happened to be born in 1993 and might well be the goalie of the future in Anaheim, although he was sent to the American Hockey League the day after the event. He made his professional debut last season, gettinginto one AHL game, yet it's realistic to consider him third on the depth chart behind Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth.

But as much as Anaheim can point to its kiddie corps of Gibson and the like, it all comes back to one person who ties it all together in this 20th season, even though he wasn't on this trip.

Speaking to the crowd at the Irvine Spectrum, Souray summed up how good 43-year-old Teemu Selanne looks in camp.

"It's embarrassing that he's that much better [than us] at his age," he said.

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