ANAHEIM - Hitting the ice at the Honda Center is extra special for a pair of Habs.
Paul Byron is a lifelong fan of seven-time All-Star Paul Kariya, who proudly sported a Mighty Ducks jersey and called Anaheim his hockey home for nine seasons - and served as captain for eight of those years, too.
Kariya's style of play immediately caught a young Byron's eye, most notably his willingness to engage even the most imposing of opponents on hockey's biggest stage.
"It's always a special place to play. It's incredibly cool to be here. I still remember their playoffs in 2003 against New Jersey and that hit that he got against Scott Stevens [in the Stanley Cup Final]. It kind of idolized him for me," said Byron, who would have been just 14 years old during that memorable run that saw the Devils outlast the Mighty Ducks in seven games. "Especially at my age back then, I was seeing a player like him fighting all those checks and playing against the top pairings from other teams. He was just so fast and dynamic. Coming back here brings back cool memories for me."
Three weeks from now, Kariya will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame. It's a just reward for the now 43-year-old North Vancouver native, who spent the bulk of his career in Orange County, before moving on to Colorado, Nashville and finally St. Louis to close out his career in 2009-10. In the end, he hung up his skates with 989 points (402 goals, 587 assists) in 989 games.
"It's a well-earned honor. Take away a couple of concussions and he would've had an even better career," mentioned Byron. "He definitely earned it for sure. He grew hockey in California here just like Wayne Gretzky did."
Admittedly, Byron is somewhat disappointed that he didn't have the chance to go up against the 2002 Olympic gold medalist. He would have relished the opportunity to put his quickness to the test against a fellow speedster.
"He was pretty quick in the agility race every year," said Byron, referencing Kariya's four consecutive puck control competition wins in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. "He'd be a fun guy to go against, that's for sure."
Like Byron, young gun Artturi Lehkonen has always admired another Ducks great - countryman Teemu Selanne - who is set to join Kariya in the Hall of Fame on November 13 as well.
Selanne, 47, played 966 games for the Southern California-based franchise, compiling 988 points (457 goals, 531 assists) along the way. In fact, he still stands as the club's all-time leader in games played, goals and points to this day.
"Of course it's special to play here because he had such a great career here," said Lehkonen, noting that another rather accomplished Finn also sported Ducks colors and made his mark in the region. "Saku played here also. They're two of the all-time greats who ever played for Finland. Of course it's pretty awesome."
His favorite memory of the 10-time All-Star - who also suited up for Winnipeg, San Jose and Colorado - shouldn't come as a surprise.
"Obviously when he won the Stanley Cup, because he wanted it for so long," shared Lehkonen, who watched proudly as Selanne hoisted the precious trophy in the summer of 2007 when Anaheim dashed Ottawa's hopes in five games. "I was really happy for him that he finally got it here. I remember watching the game."
As for Selanne's upcoming induction, Lehkonen couldn't be prouder.
"He had, and still has a big influence on hockey players in Finland. It's an honor," concluded Lehkonen. "I'm really happy that he was selected. He definitely earned it."