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June 6, 2007: A Night the Barnards Will Never Forget

Ten years ago, Eric Barnard and his family were there to see the Ducks hoist California's first Cup, a welcome distraction to the struggle the family was facing

by Jenelyn Russo / Special to

Eric Barnard remembers exactly where he was and what he felt the night of June 6, 2007. Even though it was almost 10 years ago, for Barnard it was like it was yesterday.

He was inside Honda Center, up in the Terrace Level at the east end of the arena, right behind the goal.

It was the perfect spot to watch J.S. Giguere get mobbed by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and the rest of his teammates after the final horn sounded and the Ducks became the first team in California to win the Stanley Cup.

He was standing alongside his then wife, Jennifer, and his two older daughters, Breanna (age 13) and Cori (9). And as streamers and confetti fell from the rafters, Barnard couldn't help but be overcome with emotion.

"It had been a such a stressful year," Barnard says. "So much was felt that night, it's impossible to put into words."

In October of 2006, the same time that the Ducks began their historic march towards the Cup, the Barnard family received some devastating news.

The family's third daughter of four, 2-year-old Emily, had been showing signs of developmental delay that had them concerned. After several months of not meeting growth milestones, a series of tests by doctors revealed Emily had Rett syndrome.

A rare genetic neurological disorder for which there is no cure, Rett syndrome affects the development of the brain, resulting in limited use of the muscles that control the body.

"Your life totally changes when you get a diagnosis like that," Barnard says.

The impact of Rett syndrome can vary widely, but in Emily's case, the disease has been severe and debilitating. Unable to walk, talk or use her hands, Emily is wheelchair-bound, requires a feeding tube and experiences seizures on a daily basis.

Having been die hard fans since 1993, the Barnards turned to Ducks hockey as their escape in those months as they processed how their lives would change and the challenges they faced in caring for their daughter.

"Ducks hockey was a distraction for us that year," Barnard says. "Whenever the Ducks were on TV, we would watch them together. That was our escape from the everyday stress."

In January of 2007, the long-time fans received a phone call from the Ducks that provided a much-needed bright spot in the midst of an otherwise dark period.

Barnard had secured the winning bid on a Scott Niedermayer jersey through an auction, and having learned of Emily's story, the Ducks organization invited him and his family to watch the team practice, where they got to meet the captain in person and have him sign their jersey.

"It was unbelievable," Barnard recalled. "Emily's eyes were focused on the ice the entire time. She was so engaged. The whole team was awesome with the girls, especially Scotty. It meant the world to us."

While Breanna and Cori had taken a liking to the young and up-and-coming Getzlaf, Barnard was certain Emily would prefer Niedermayer. The quiet leader who used his play on the ice to do most of his talking was the perfect complement to his daughter who could not speak.

"He was such a great leader," Barnard says, "but because he was more of a silent leader, we knew he would be Emily's favorite player."

Five months later as the Ducks traveled back from Ottawa, up 3 games to 1 on the Senators in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, Barnard received another life-changing phone call from the Ducks.

Wanting them to be present for what was sure to be an historic night, the organization gave Barnard and his family four tickets to attend Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Barnard was overwhelmed.

"For the organization to remember a family who was going through a tough time that many months later was just incredible," Barnard says. "It was a dream come true to be there, especially with my girls, who had been through so much as we were caring for Emily."

As he stepped through the Honda Center doors with Jennifer, Breanna and Cori, Barnard had no doubt they would witness the Ducks raise the Cup that night.

"It was one of those rare times when you walk into something knowing the outcome," Barnard recalls. "I just knew the Ducks would win that night."

As Scott Niedermayer hoisted the most treasured trophy in all of sports over his head, Barnard felt an overwhelming rush of adrenaline, pride and happiness. And his mind was not far away from his 2-year-old daughter at home.

"I thought of Emily, and I knew she was asleep, but I couldn't wait to go home, hold her and tell her all about it," Barnard says. "Which is exactly what we did."

For a year that had brought such heartbreak, struggle and triumph, Barnard felt the Ducks journey that season mirrored his own, as he and his family stepped up to face difficulties in ways they never imagined were possible.

"Because of the journey we had gone through as a family that year, we felt we were fighting and coming together just like the team," Barnard says. "So to see the Ducks win the Cup was perfect."

Now 12 years old, Emily attends Newhart Middle School in Mission Viejo, where she receives one-on-one instruction and support. Barnard has learned how to read his daughter, interpreting her facial expressions and mannerisms, assured that there is life inside of her beyond the silence.

Even with these small victories, the challenges associated with caring for a special needs child are still at the forefront of the Barnards' lives. But having been told that she was not expected to live past the age of 10, Barnard considers each day with Emily to be a miracle.

"You never ask to be put in the special needs world, but when you are, you see what strength is," Barnard says. "You find your tools, and you learn to deal with what you've got."

Barnard still makes it to as many Ducks games as possible, attending most often with his wife, Shayne, as well as Breanna, Cori and his youngest daughter, 10-year-old Brooklyn.

As the club celebrates the 10-Year Celebration of their Stanley Cup Championship, Barnard is reminded of the lasting impact the Ducks, Niedermayer and the sport of hockey have made on his family.

"Looking back, when I see clips of that game, it takes me back to that time and that night," Barnard says. "I think of where we were as a family and how awesome it was to be a part of something so historical.

"That entire team was so special. We are forever grateful."

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