By Jenelyn RussoSpecial to AnaheimDucks.com
Plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures provided the perfect setting last Saturday as the Anaheim Ducks hosted more than 2,500 Wild Wingers Kids Club members and their families at Knott’s Berry Farm for their annual End of the Year Party.
Wild Wing, along with Ducks television play-by-play voice John Ahlers, took the stage at Calico Square as Ahlers welcomed the crowd and introduced this year’s Kids Club Captain and (now former) Ducks winger Patrick Maroon, as well as teammates Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Nick Ritchie and Simon Despres.
|“I think it’s great, because it gets them excited right from the beginning of the season. And just being able to be here today and have the opportunity to meet the players is an awesome experience for my kids.” |
Maroon kicked off the event by thanking the fans for their support, as the Kids Club experienced another sellout this year of their 6,500 available memberships.
With the Ducks having their best month in club history, the attention turned to Rakell and his overtime heroics in the previous day’s tilt at Honda Center versus Edmonton. Ahlers asked Rakell about his first career overtime goal that lifted the Ducks to a 2-1 victory over the Oilers.
“Do you have a name for that move? What do you call it?” Ahlers asked Rakell.
Before the Ducks forward could respond, Lindholm chimed in with his own thoughts on his fellow Swede’s highlight reel move.
“Lucky,” Lindholm said.
The microphone was then handed over to several Kids Club members who joined the players on stage with their own questions, giving some insight as to what the players are like away from the ice.
Topics from the young fans ranged from how long the players had been playing hockey (most got their start at three or four years of age) to who is their favorite superhero.
“The Hulk,” answered Rakell with a smile, “because he reminds me of myself.”
Lindholm countered with his own favorite.
“The Flash, because he’s quick like me,” said the Ducks defenseman.
Despres simply said, “Batman,” which drew the loudest cheers from the crowd.
When the players were asked to name their favorite sport outside of hockey, Rakell and Lindholm answered with soccer — or football, as Lindholm said they call it in Europe — while Manson and Despres preferred sports of the more relaxing variety, golf and darts, respectively.
After wrapping up the Q&A session, fans had the opportunity to meet with the players as they sat for an autograph signing session.
“Seeing the kids wear the Kids Club shirts with my name on the back, it's very special, especially since I have an eight-year old son at home," Maroon said. "I know the kids are excited to meet us, and we’re certainly excited to meet them too. We like doing this stuff too."
Attending the annual Kids Club Party for the first time, Manson enjoyed getting the chance to speak with the fans.
“It’s awesome,” Manson said. “The kids were so happy, and obviously they get to spend time at the amusement park, so it’s a win-win.”
|“Seeing the kids wear the Kids Club shirts with my name on the back, it's very special, especially since I have an eight-year old son at home," Maroon said. "I know the kids are excited to meet us, and we’re certainly excited to meet them too. We like doing this stuff too." |
First-time Wing Wingers Kids Club members Kate Leedom and her brother Nic from Tustin, appreciated having the exclusive opportunity to interact with the players.
“It was so fun,” said 10-year old Kate. “I think it’s cool that we got to see some of the Ducks and that we got to get their signatures.”
Added 13-year old Nic about being a Kids Club member, “I think it’s fun because we get to do activities with the Ducks that we probably couldn’t do anywhere else.”
Daiana Leedom, mother to Kate and Nic, appreciates the way the Kids Club membership connects her kids with Ducks hockey.
“I think it’s great, because it gets them excited right from the beginning of the season,” Leedom said, “And just being able to be here today and have the opportunity to meet the players is an awesome experience for my kids.”
The $25 membership fee for this year’s Wild Wingers Kids Club kit included free admittance for all members to Knott’s Berry Farm and the End of the Year Party in addition to a variety of Ducks gear such as a t-shirt, water bottle, knit beanie and wall calendar. Coupons for use at local retailers as well as vouchers for discounted Ducks game tickets were also included.
Jennifer Stice from Orange feels the Kids Club membership is an effective and affordable way for her 13-year old twin sons, Colin and Caleb, to follow their favorite hockey team.
“It’s a great option for our family and offers a ton of things for our kids,” Stice said. “I thought it was fantastic and a great bang for your buck. I’ll definitely do it again next year.”
“Getting to see the players at events like this out in the community is really cool,” Colin said.
It’s been great here today,” Caleb added. “We’ve all had a lot of fun.”
With the possibility of a playoff spot on the fans’ minds, many of the kids in attendance offered their encouragement and support to the players as they head into the final weeks of the regular season. But Manson said the team is careful not to look too far ahead.
“We’re just taking it game by game right now,” Manson said. “We’ve worked really hard to get to where we’re at after the start we had. I’m just excited to see where everything can lead to. We’ve got a lot of confidence in this group.”
For Rakell, who made his second appearance at the Knott’s Berry Farm party, the growth and enthusiasm of the fan base was noticeable and appreciated.
“It’s fun to see how involved they are and how many kids are coming out,” Rakell said. “When I [was] drafted here until now, the fan support is even bigger. All the fans are just amazing to us, so it’s fun to be out here.”
For more information on the Wild Wingers Kids Club, visit www.wildwingerskidsclub.com.