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Excitement Grows on the Eve of Ducks Opening Night

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara /

IRVINE, Calif. -- On the cusp of Ducks Opening Night, the level of excitement inside the locker room is impossible to ignore. It was evident at the start of training camp, and it carried on through the preseason - there is a different vibe this time around, and the players can feel it.

Veteran defenseman Michael Del Zotto noticed it immediately on the first day of camp. "As soon as we came in, just from Dallas [Eakins] talking to us, and the changes he's implemented, just in the culture and within the locker room, you can tell right away," Del Zotto said. "There's a newfound excitement."

Even in practices, like the one the team went through today at Great Park Ice, there's a noticeable change in the atmosphere. "Just look at how upbeat our practices are," the 29-year-old Del Zotto said. "Guys are working their tails off, but they're also enjoying it and having fun out there. That's a recipe for success when you're holding each other accountable, you're working hard but also enjoying every day, too."

So what kind of Ducks team can you expect to see this season? Defenseman Korbinian Holzer breaks it down. "We're going to be relentless in every aspect of our game," he said. "This team will never quit, I can guarantee that. We're going to go out and work hard. Everybody is going to work their tails off like we do in practice. We have a good mix of speed and skill."

Even though last season is very much a thing of the past, Holzer says he and his teammates haven't forgotten how it felt. "Everybody wants to make up for last year," he said. "You can tell guys are excited to come here. Guys are having fun at practice. It's a very good atmosphere. We have a good group of guys. I'm definitely excited for the season to start."

Del Zotto adds, "Things were definitely dull last year in the five or six weeks I was there. You almost dreaded coming to the rink every day. It wasn't exciting. It wasn't fun. There wasn't a sense of urgency, passion or enjoyment. But this is a new year, and hopefully we can get off to a good start and continue it throughout the year. Lots of excitement. If you look at our team, there was a lot of change. If you look at how we played in the preseason, there are a lot of things to be excited about."

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As the captain, Ryan Getzlaf knows the pulse of his team. The 34-year-old center says this was one of the most exciting training camps he's ever been a part of, due in large part to the changes that were made in the offseason.

Where does he notice a change in the vibe? "Everywhere," he said. "Everywhere our vibe has been different, positive and exciting. That's what happens when you get a coaching change, when you go through an organizational change. We're excited right now. Every year is different. Every year we go in with the same goal. There's nothing about this year that's going to change for us from a mindset's standpoint. We're going into this year expecting to compete. We're looking forward to getting going tomorrow night."

Even NHL players admit they feel like kids at Christmastime when Opening Night approaches. "It's always special because you start playing for something," said Holzer. "Exhibition can be grinding at times. Once the first game comes around, it's always exciting. Everybody is excited to start the season. Everybody has high expectations for themselves. It's always a good time of the year."

Ducks left wing Nick Ritchie believes in this team. Like his teammates, Ritchie says there's a great attitude inside the room leading up to the season opener. "We're playing fast," he said. "We're going to be on the puck. We're aggressive. We're going to hold onto the puck and we're going to score goals. This is a good team here. We might not get the credit we deserve, so we're going to have to show other teams and people around the league we're a good team. We're going to be hard working and catch a lot of teams off guard."

For tomorrow's Opening Night experience, the Ducks are urging fans to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m., as in addition to player introductions, the club has added a custom laser light show, elevating this season's Opening Night celebration. This year's 21st Duck, Lera Doederlein, who embodies characteristics such as great perseverance, character, courage and inspiration will also be walking the orange carpet with the team on her way in to making her debut on the roster for opening night. [Her story can be read here.]

"It's going to be great," Getzlaf said, on opening the season at Honda Center. "Our organization takes a lot of pride in putting on a good show. We're very excited to walk the orange carpet tomorrow and see our fans welcome us back for another season."

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