June 24, 1993 was a banner day for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim franchise, which made Guy Hebert their first player in team history. Anaheim took Hebert (who was then with the St. Louis Blues) with the second pick of the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft, right after the Florida Panthers took goalie John Vanbiesbrouck with the first overall selection.
It turned out to be a good move by the Ducks, as Hebert went on to play eight seasons in Anaheim, becoming the franchise's all-time leader in pretty much every goaltending category - that is, before J.S. Giguere came along and broke Hebert's records.
Hebert made the 1997 NHL All-Star Game and represented the United States in the 1994 World Championships, 1996 World Cup (winning gold), and the 1998 Olympics. He was claimed off waivers by the Rangers in 2001, and retired later that year.
The 50-year-old Hebert is now a broadcaster for Fox Sports West, serving as one of the hosts for the Ducks pregame and postgame shows. He and his wife Sarah and daughter Madeline make their home in Newport Beach but spend summers in New York, where Hebert grew up. Hebert was back there when he reflected on that fateful day.
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What do you remember about that day?
I can hardly believe it's been [almost 25 years]. The ironic thing was, I was with the St. Louis Blues, and they were going to try and protect me from being taken by Anaheim or Florida. As it turned out, both teams were interested, so St. Louis pretty much just wished me well and told me, "You will no longer be a Blue by the end of the expansion draft." When I had talked to St. Louis prior to the draft, they didn't want to lose me, but you could only protect one goaltender and they also had Curtis Joseph. They said they wanted to keep me, so they were going to do their best to entice other teams not to take me. But they called me a few days before the draft and said that both Anaheim and Florida wanted to pick me.
So I was crashing at my parents' house in Troy, NY for the summer, and I went out and went fly fishing at a local stream by the house. I had kind of purposely left the house because I didn't want to be sitting around waiting by the phone. I remember pulling back in the driveway in my jeep, and my little brother came out and said, "Where've you been? You just got taken by the Ducks." I realized that my life and my career was taking a different path and I was headed way out west.
What was your reaction when you realized you were a Mighty Duck?
I was excited for the opportunity. I knew that no matter where I went, I'd get a chance to win a starting job. But for goaltenders, it's tough to start with an expansion team because they're often not as strong as the others in the first couple of years. That was a concern, but I also knew that Ron Wilson was going to be the coach, and I had played for Ron on some USA national teams. We had a good rapport. I knew his style, and I knew it would make for a defensive-minded team early on. I was 26 years old, I had made all-star teams in the minors, I had gotten my feet wet in St. Louis as a backup. It was like a kid getting ready to move out of the house. I was ready to be a No. 1 goalie and Anaheim was that opportunity. I could only see upside from the day I got on the plane to the time I landed in Orange County. It really was a great place to come play hockey. With the weather and the atmosphere, it was great from the moment I got there and walked into the Pond.
What was it like back in that first year?
You had the allure of Disney owning the team, and they make magic. A lot of people were interested to see how that would work with a professional sports franchise. I think Michael Eisner did the right thing by hiring the right people and handing the reins over to them. I remember vividly our first event, we were on a float going down Main Street at Disneyland. People didn't know if we were from the movie The Mighty Ducks or if we were a real team. Once we started playing, there were a lot of transplanted fans that were from the Midwest or East Coast that were big hockey fans and they had to root for the Kings, even though they were in Orange County. Now they had the opportunity to go, "Hey, we've got our own team here." I've got friends now in my life who I didn't know until I was retired and I met them on the golf course. They will say, "I used to sit in the rafters and some nights yell for you, and some nights yell at you." You had people who were interested in what was new and exciting, and then you had a core group of hockey fans who were season tickets holders that first year and are still season ticket holders today. But I probably have hundreds of stories about those first years.
What do you remember about that first game [a 7-2 loss to Detroit at home]?
I remember as I drove into the parking lot, it looked like a Saturday college football game. It was just mobbed with tailgaters, and I had never seen that in the world of hockey. I pulled up to the parking booth and tried to explain to the lady that I was actually a player and was playing in the game. It didn't work and I had to pay the eight or 10 bucks to get into the parking lot. I think we got outshot in that game pretty handily. I joke with a buddy of mine, Steve King, that he was really the first guy to score on me in Anaheim. There was a shot from the point that he tried to knock down and he ended up deflecting it over my shoulder for that first goal. I've never let him live that down.
It got better from there, but was it hard for the team to earn respect in those early days?
When you're wearing teal and eggplant with a goofy Ducks logo from the movie, it didn't look like it was going to go over very big. I remember we had guys like Todd Ewen and Stu Grimson, two of our toughest guys, lining up on a daily basis thinking, We have to make sure we're physical enough to make people understand we're not a pushover. It took awhile because you're the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim taking on teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins and those classic NHL teams, your credibility needs some work. We had to make people aware that hiding behind this Disneyesque pomp and circumstance, there are actually real hockey players, real toughness and real talent. But playing for the team when they were owned by Disney was great. Michael Eisner would come down to the locker room and talk to us, even though he was out of his element and a little shy.
What are you most proud of in your Ducks career?
I've had a lot of years to reflect on how the franchise has grown into a Stanley Cup contender and a Stanley Cup champion and how it's not a laughingstock or dead-end for older veterans. It's a franchise that players want to come and play for and have the opportunity to compete for a Cup. And I like to think that, not just myself, but a lot of early-on guys had a hand in the growth of the franchise. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that gradually moved the franchise forward to where it is today. That's a source of pride that I know I have, and I think I speak for a lot of the guys who played early on. The way the team has grown in 20 years, and knowing I was played eight years in that, there is a real sense of satisfaction.
Is there also a sense of pride in your placement among the best goalies in Ducks history?
People remember the effort you put on the ice every night, and I gave it my all every night. Some nights were better than others, but you set a bar for the next guy. I played eight years, and Jiggy came in and had a great career for the Ducks, broke a lot of my records. He's passed the baton for Jonas and he's had the helm for the last few years. I think over 20 years, the Ducks have probably had the fewest goalies of any team in the league. Over a 16-year period, two guys played like ninety-something percent of the games for the franchise. That's a pretty unique thing and I'm proud to be part of the Ducks goaltending history.