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Home Opener Takes on Added Meaning for Bieksa

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

By Adam Brady
AnaheimDucks.com

It’s the home opener at Honda Center, an evening that will entail the requisite pomp and circumstance of this highly anticipated evening. But it’s a game that will take on some added meaning for at least one Duck.

Kevin Bieksa likely searched for this game on the schedule as soon as he was traded by the Canucks to the Ducks for a 2016 second round draft pick last June 30. It was not just because it was his first regular season opportunity to play in front of his new home fans, but because it marks his first game against the team he played with for the last 10 seasons.

And in case he had forgotten, Bieksa was met by a gathering of a couple dozen reporters in the Ducks locker room after today’s morning skate, many of whom were familiar faces from Vancouver. He was asked to once again reflect back on the trade that sent him to Anaheim after more than a dozen years in the Canucks organization.

“It’s a place I put my heart and soul into for 12, 13 years," says Bieksa, shown here battling with Kesler last season. "My kids were born there, so obviously there are a lot of great friendships, a lot of great memories there. So that’s tough, but that’s the way the game goes. I’m thankful to be here though right now."

“Initially [it was] really tough, for sure,” said the 34-year-old Bieksa, who was drafted by Vancouver in 2001. “It’s a place I put my heart and soul into for 12, 13 years. My kids were born there, so obviously there are a lot of great friendships, a lot of great memories there. So that’s tough, but that’s the way the game goes. I’m thankful to be here though right now.

"I was fortunate to be in a situation where I could choose where I moved on to. At the end of the day, I’m here, where I want to be, and I’m happy.”

Bieksa was able to lean on an old friend and longtime teammate during the trade process, as Ducks center Ryan Kesler has been through a similar experience the year prior. Kesler was traded by Vancouver to Anaheim during the summer of 2014, enjoyed a strong first season with the Ducks and was named an alternate captain for this campaign.

“I talked to him throughout the course of last season, just keeping in touch,” Bieksa said. “Every time I spoke to him, he told me how much he likes it down here and how good it was for him and his family. That made my decision a little easier.”

Kesler knows full well how tough it will be for Bieksa to face his former mates for the first time. “Obviously, I can’t speak for him, but I know it was tough [for me],” says Kesler, whose first game against the Canucks came in November last season. “I think it’s easier here than going to Rogers [Arena in Vancouver]. There are a lot of emotions, stuff you don’t deal with on a day-to-day basis. We both were in the same spot for a long time. He has to get the first shift under his belt, and then it will be just like any game.”

Bieksa said while he touched base with a number of Canucks leading up to this game, “When you get on the ice, it’s different. I think seeing some of the guys before, and saying hellos and everything, that’s good and everything. But once you get on the ice, it’s all business.”

“We’re looking for a win, second game of the season, home opener,” Bieksa said. “There are so many different things going on right now, and we’re trying to find our game. It will be all business on the ice, and we’ll talk after, depending on how it goes.”

After Anaheim fell 2-0 to the Sharks in the team’s first game two nights ago in San Jose, Bieksa and his Ducks teammates have more important concerns right now than reunions. “We’re looking for a win, second game of the season, home opener,” he said. “There are so many different things going on right now, and we’re trying to find our game. It will be all business on the ice, and we’ll talk after, depending on how it goes.”

Bieksa has been a major part of a lengthy history of Ducks-Canucks battles at Honda Center, including a memorable Western Conference Semifinal series in 2007 that the Ducks captured on their way to the Stanley Cup.

Bieksa this morning mentioned a couple other memorable bouts, including the 13-round shootout the Ducks on Halloween night in 2008 as well as the 9-1 Ducks victory in 2014 in which he broke his foot on a “knuckleball” shot from Sami Vatanen. “I’ve reminded him about that a couple times,” Bieksa laughed.

“There were a lot of good games, and they were always intense,” he said. “I’m glad to be on his side now because I know it’s a hard building to come into.”

GLAD TO BE BACK
Unlike the start of last season, when the Ducks opened with a four-game road trip and didn’t play their home opener October 17, the team has the luxury of beginning a lengthy homestand this year right off the bat. Following tonight’s game, the Ducks will host Arizona on Wednesday, Colorado on Friday and Minnesota on Sunday.

Ducks left wing Patrick Maroon says he and his teammates are excited to play in front of the Honda Center faithful tonight. “We’re excited to get back in our own barn and play in front of our fans again,” Maroon said. “Everyone is ready. It’s only the second game of the year, so guys are trying to get back into that competitive edge. With training camp done and the second game on the board, guys are trying to get back to the way they’re capable of playing.”

“They’ve been great for us,” Kesler added. “They were great for us in the playoffs. It’s a great atmosphere and a great building. I expect no different tonight.”

- Kyle Shohara

HOME OPENER 411
Orange Carpet Player Arrival festivities beginning at 3:30 p.m. on the south side of Honda Center, giving fans the chance to interact with players as they walk the carpet. Fans will also have the chance to win autographed items from Wild Wing and the Power Players.

Fans are encouraged to be part of the Home Opener celebration by using the hashtags #DucksHomeOpener and #NHLDucks on social media platforms.

All fans in attendance are encouraged to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. for the opening sequence and player introductions.

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