By Matt Vevoda
One day after pulling off a team-record 11th straight home win that again thrilled their fans, the Ducks performed in front of 15,000 screaming ones at Honda Center.
For the 10th straight year, the arena became the largest classroom in Orange County as host of the First Flight Field Trip for students in grades 3 through 6. The enthusiastic throng filled the arena with ear-shattering cheers while the home team took part in a practice and subsequent skills competition.
“It was a great day for the kids,” said defenseman Steve Eminger. “They were making a lot of noise out there, so I think they enjoyed themselves.”
The theme for this year’s event was “Discover the Puck” and the players had a hand in teaching the kids (from Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties) all that goes into the hard disk of vulcanized rubber. Interactive exhibits were also set up throughout the arena to showcase the mathematical and scientific elements that can be seen in the great sport of hockey.
While they took part in a lighter-than-normal practice, the Ducks helped the crowd work through an official First Flight workbook. Pre-recorded questions were asked on the Honda Vision by George Parros
and James Wisniewski, with prizes (such as autographed sticks and jerseys) awarded to the select students who provided correct answers.
“It’s a different day,” said center and alternate captain Saku Koivu
. “It’s an easy and fun day for us. More importantly, you see the kids and they are having a lot of fun. You see a lot of smiles. That is always great.”
After a brief departure from the throngs of their smallest, yet arguably most rabid, fans, the Ducks re-emerged for a skills competition that always closes the event in exciting fashion.
The roster was split into two groups – one donning black home jerseys and the other white away jerseys - for contests (Hardest Shot, Shooting Accuracy, Breakaway Challenge) normally seen during the NHL’s All-Star weekend. The arena was also split in half, with each side of students cheering on for their squad of Ducks.
The White team jumped ahead early when rookie Matt Beleskey
registered a 97-mile-per-hour shot to best a field of 10 competitors. Corey Perry
would keep the White team ahead when he showed pinpoint accuracy in knocking down four targets in four shots in the Shooting Accuracy competition.
Koivu looked like he was going to give the Black team the victory in the Breakaway Challenge after he twice was given total scores of 46 from a panel of five judges (three students along with goalies Jonas Hiller
and Vesa Toskala).
But Bobby Ryan
, on the final attempt of the contest, ensured a sweep for the White. The winger batted the puck up in the air, caught it in his gloved hand and flung it behind his back past the goalie ( Watch the video
). He was awarded with a perfect score of 50 and a loud ovation of “Bobby! Bobby!” chants from the students.
“That was actually a pretty good one from him,” said Koivu. “I haven’t seen that before. We were having fun. It was nice to have this before the tough weekend we have ahead of us.”
After notching that 11th straight home win (also tied with Washington for the longest home streak in the league this season) last night against the Oilers, Anaheim has a big back-to-back set this weekend before the Olympic break. Two points back of the eighth spot (currently held by the Flames) in the Western Conference, the Ducks play at Calgary on Saturday and at Edmonton on Sunday.
“We’re concentrating on two tough teams in a back-to-back situation,” said Ryan, who scored two goals last night to up his team-high total to 27 on the season. “Edmonton played us well, so we know that we’re not going to go in there and just steal two points like it’s going to be an easy game. We have our work cut out for us on this road trip.”
Though eight Ducks will participate in the 2010 Olympics, they first want to help get as many points as they can from this weekend before heading to Vancouver to play for their respective countries.
“We’ve played well for quite awhile now,” said Koivu, who will captain Finland beginning next week. “You look at the standings. We were out 12 points at one point and now we’re right there near the eighth spot. We didn’t win enough games early in the season, so we’re now forced to play catch-up hockey until the end. When that happens, every point is huge. We have two more games and it would be big for us to get to two wins, then enjoy the break and get back at it.”
Just before the practice portion of the First Flight Field Trip got underway, Ryan Getzlaf
skated by himself a half speed for approximately five minutes in front of the crowd. The center, who sprained his ankle on Monday against the Kings, is trying to make his way back into the lineup this weekend. He also is scheduled to play for Team Canada at the Olympics.
“It’s still going well,” said Getzlaf, who was no longer wearing a protective boot on his left leg in the locker room afterwards. “Today was more or less just a test day. It was something to get out there and see how it is, so we have something to measure it against the next couple of days and make sure everything is moving forward the way we want it to.
“It has to happen quickly. I went out there today and worked it a little bit in the gym. We’ll see how it reacts tomorrow.”