The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings both admit they have enjoyed their European vacations this week -- Anaheim here in London and the Kings in Austria before arriving here. But now both clubs are ready to kick off the regular season.
They will have that opportunity Saturday evening as the first game of the NHL Premiere Series takes place here at the O2 Arena. Game 2 is Sunday night. Both games face off at 5 p.m. local time (noon ET).
Saturday’s will be telecast on the CBC and HDNet, while Sunday’s is scheduled for Versus.
Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger, who was named Ducks captain Friday, has seen a lot during his career. But he admits spending four days in a European city to prepare to play the first-ever regular-season NHL game staged in Europe is one of the most unique of all those experiences.
“It’s a little bit odd, but I think we are trying to make the most of it,” Pronger said after Friday’s final preseason practice. “It’s the start of a pretty important stretch of games for us to start the season. It’s against our arch-rival, so we have to be prepared, ready and focused because we know they are.”
Ryan Getzlaf, who enjoyed a coming-out party during the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs, has played in enough big games already in his career to know when his team is ready and when they are flat. He says that the Ducks are ready.
Friday, Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford was happy to hear Pronger’s observation because he believes his team will be ready. He felt the excitement and the buzz from his players as they ran through their first, and only, practice here in London.
“I was talking to Nelson Emerson and I don’t know if he is the moral compass of the coaching staff, but he is the energy compass,” said Crawford. “This morning, he was saying; ‘I feel that the season is right upon us.’
“There’s a subtle feeling that comes over a team and you could see that today. There’s a little bit more focus in their eyes, there’s a little bit more energy in their practice right now. I felt that today. Is that because we are playing here in London in the first NHL regular-season game in London? I think that adds to it.”
Dustin Brown, the Kings’ excitable young forward, is already champing at the bit to get things started for real.
“It’s a little bit of a zoo right now,” he said, sitting among a throng of media in the post-practice dressing room. “I’m sure tonight we will have a team meal and start to really focus in. This arena has an NHL-type feel to it and it’s starting to feel like NHL opening night.”
It also helps both teams that they will be lining up across from each other Saturday night. They are natural and bitter rivals. Even the pre-season games generate impassioned play and hard feelings. That passion will be ratcheted up Saturday night, making this the perfect showcase for a European audience eager to see the best the sport has to offer.
“We don’t like Los Angeles and they don’t like us,” said Anaheim GM Brian Burke. “It’ll be a bitter battle. It always is when you play them. These will be physical games because we don’t like each other.”
|Anaheim Ducks rookie Bobby Ryan will make his much anticipated debut Saturday in the first game of the NHL Premiere series.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but excited,” Ryan said. “But this is the team to do it with. I’m sure the veterans will walk me through it and show me the way. They’ve already told me it’s going to bump up another level, so I’m expecting that.”
Los Angeles defenseman Jack Johnson played in the final five games of the regular-season last year to get his first taste of NHL live. Saturday, however, will be his first Opening Day with the club. He will likely play a central role in this bitter rivalry for a long time to come.
“We’ve been talking about it all week, trying to get ready for this, for playing the defending champs, the best team in the world,” Johnson said. “So, we definitely think that this is the start of things.”
But make no mistake, there will be more than pride at stake when the puck drops Saturday. More importantly, there will bed valuable NHL standings points up for grabs. The Kings and Ducks play in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division and know that points are at a premium.
Anaheim compiled 110 points last year, but battled Dallas and San Jose for the division title all the way into the last week of the season. They are both aware that Colorado missed the final playoff spot in the West by a mere point and that Toronto also suffered the same cruel fate in the East.
So, there is no time to take a night off, not even in a tourist destination like London.
“We’re in a very competitive NHL and a very competitive division,” Crawford said. “It’ll take 95 or 96 points again this year to make the playoffs. We are not in a position to let even one game go by.”