ANAHEIM -- Terry Yake had to think about it for a moment. Standing in the Zamboni tunnel wearing an eggplant purple-and-teal Mighty Ducks of Anaheim jersey, Yake figured the last time he slipped the sweater over his head was …
"The fall of '94," Yake said.
The Mighty Ducks were the butt of jokes, a team born from a Disney movie with a cartoonish logo and Tinkerbell graphics on their television broadcasts. Yet Yake and his original brethren took a certain sense of pride in that jersey.
"I'd say we were a bunch of misfits unwanted by our current teams, and we all got to come together and become one and try and do something special together," Yake said. "I think we bonded very quickly. We were all in the same boat: coming into a new city, brand new building, a new organization, looking for new homes, a new place to live. Together, we had to make something work."
Yake and 14 other original Mighty Ducks held a 20-year reunion Sunday night, 20 years to the day from the franchise's first victory, before a 4-1 Anaheim win against the Ottawa Senators. They were recognized in a pre-game ceremony, and the current Ducks donned those retro uniforms for the game. The arena played 1990s music throughout the game. The local radio and television broadcasters referred to them as the Mighty Ducks and there were 93-cent items in the concession stands.
What once was mocked was again special for the original Mighty Ducks.
"It's certainly nice to get the attention to be the first at something," said Guy Hebert, the team's first goalie. "There's a lot of guys that came from long distances because it was such a special time for us because of the friendships that we built."
The camaraderie between the now 40-something former players is because they were thrown together as castoffs from other teams. They started with no history or respect. Hockey purists were turned off. They never got the best officiating crew and saw every opponent's backup goaltender.
Original general manager Jack Ferreira, now a consultant in the Los Angeles Kings executive office, used this to motivate the group from the get-go.
"When I put the team together, I said, ‘You're all here because nobody wants you,'" Ferreira told the Los Angeles Daily News.
"We felt we had something to prove," Stu Grimson said. "We knew we were NHLers, and we wanted to take our NHL careers to a different level and this is the vehicle to do that. It was as much pride as anything. It kind of motivated you once you got here."
Ferreira acquired Grimson and Todd Ewen -- "Stu-ey" and "Ewe-y" -- as muscle to give the team some respect. They weren't going to win many games, but they weren't going to get intimidated.
"I think the organization made it pretty clear right out of the gate: we weren't going to get sand kicked in our face that first year," Grimson said.
The thing is, the Ducks won 33 games that season, tied for the most by an expansion team. Their 19 road wins were the most by a first-year club. Paul Kariya arrived the next year and eventually Teemu Selanne. Anaheim reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 2003 and four years later, won the Cup in its 14th year of existence. It took the rival Kings 45 years to do so.
The uniforms and name changed in 2006 under the new ownership of Henry and Susan Samueli. Perhaps that made Sunday all the more acceptable to embrace the daffy past.
"Being part of something that is being watched for the first time is cool no matter what you do," said Grimson, the radio color commentator for the Nashville Predators.
"It was a lot of fun for us. This was the most unique opportunity. It was a chance to take on more responsibility than we'd ever had in our careers. We're a collection of third- and fourth-line NHLers from all over the place. We started it. To see it carry on today, to see these guys honor it, it warms your heart. It's a cool deal."
Yake left Anaheim after just one season, but it might have been the most memorable of a 403-game career that included stints with the Hartford Whalers, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals. Now 44, he lives in St. Louis with kids aged 12 and 13, too young to know the movie that inspired their father's former team.
"I'm going to have to sit them down and explain it to them," Yake said.
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