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Morning Report: Home Opener Has Ducks Players Excited, Focused

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

By Kyle Shohara

Morning Skate Photos

There was a noticeable buzz in the locker room this morning, as the Ducks will host their 2014-15 home opener tonight against the visiting Minnesota Wild. Though the action on the ice won’t start until 7 p.m., there will be plenty to do outside the arena prior to on-ice introductions and the eventual puck drop.

A sold out crowd is expected to converge upon Honda Center, and the Ducks hope to channel their fans’ energy on the ice.

“It makes such a difference,” said defenseman Ben Lovejoy. “This is such a fun sport we play. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in. We play a fast game, and it makes such a difference when we have all those Ducks fans going nuts.”

Fans are being encouraged to arrive early to the arena, particularly to take part in the Ducks Red Carpet festivities, beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Honda Center’s south side. There, players will be interacting with fans as they walk the red carpet and will be interviewed on stage by Ducks host Kent French as Wild Wing and the Power Players will be on hand to pass out Ducks gifts and special autographed items to fans.

Fans can make the Ducks home opener a truly interactive experience by using the hashtags #DucksHomeOpener and #NHLDucks on social media platforms. All fans in attendance are also encouraged to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. for the opening sequence and player introductions.

“It’ll be great,” said captain Ryan Getzlaf. “We’ve always been pretty comfortable in our building. We’re excited to play. This was a tough building to come into last year, and we have to make sure it’s the same this year.”

Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau notes that there is added pressure when playing at home, especially the first one of the season. “Everybody wants to play in front of friendly faces, but there’s an added pressure that comes with that,” Boudreau said. “What we have to do is continue to play the way that we play on the road. We need to keep it simple. It all comes down to the mentality of your game.”

When forward Chris Wagner got the call telling him that he had been recalled by the Ducks, the 23-year-old said it was “a dream come true.” And now, 48 hours later, Wagner will find himself on the ice in Anaheim’s 2014-15 home opener. Boudreau said he’s throwing Wagner right into the fire.

“He might be up here for a game or two, so let’s see what he’s got,” said Boudreau. “There is no sense sitting him out. He’s coming off AHL Player of the Week [honors], so he’s feeling pretty good about himself. He’s pretty excited about being up in the NHL for the first time. Let’s see what he can do. Ricky [Rickard Rakell] will probably get in the next game.”

Wagner dazzled in Norfolk's season opener versus Hershey this past Saturday with two shorthanded goals and the game-winner in a 5-4 victory over the Bears. His two shorthanded markers both arrived in the first period to knot the score, and he completed the hat trick with a one-timer midway through the third. Wagner recorded three shots, and each one of them found the back of the net.

It was the second hat trick of his AHL career and he followed that performance with another goal two nights later. At the time of his recall, Wagner's four goals through two games were tied for the league lead.

Last season, Wagner was the only Admiral to skate in all 76 games, tallying 14 goals and 14 assists. Wagner's time in Norfolk consists of 148 total regular-season games, 26 goals, and 53 points since the 2012-13 season.

Before donning a Ducks jersey this season, the only sweater defenseman Clayton Stoner ever wore in the NHL was emblazoned with the Minnesota Wild crest. Stoner was a third-round draft pick of the Wild back in 2004 and came up through the ranks, playing for Minnesota’s former AHL affiliate (Houston Aeros) for parts of five seasons before making his NHL debut in 2009-10.

The 29-year-old blueliner signed a four-year contract with the Ducks this past offseason after becoming an unrestricted free agent, and tonight he’ll play against the team that gave him an opportunity in the NHL.

“I was with the team for 10 years,” Stoner said. “It’s definitely a little different, but it’s good to see them. At the same time, I’ve moved on. I’m excited for my future here, and I’m excited to play them tonight. You can’t be too friendly on the ice. It’s business tonight.”

It’s been six days since the Wild last played (3-0 victory at Colorado), and they enter the game with a 2-0 record. (They also shutout the Avs 5-0 at home). With games nearly a week apart, the Wild embarked for Southern California earlier than usual to take advantage of the extended break. Two days ago, the Wild held a team bonding golf outing in Newport Beach. “We knew that we wouldn’t be able to practice hard for four days,” head coach Mike Yeo told the Wild’s official website. “The idea was that we’d take a step back [Wednesday] and let the players spend some time together and have some fun.” They got back to work yesterday at The Rinks – Anaheim ICE for an afternoon of practice.

Minnesota native Zach Parise leads the Wild with two goals, two assists and four points through two games, while minutes-eating defenseman Ryan Suter ranks second with a goal and two helpers. Parise’s plus-5 rating ranks tied for fifth in the NHL, while Suter ranks fourth among all skaters in time on ice, averaging 26:55 through two games.

Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week for the week ending October 12. Kuemper helped Minnesota become the fifth team since 1943-44 to begin a season with consecutive shutouts (a feat also accomplished the week prior by the San Jose Sharks). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 24-year-old Kuemper became the youngest goaltender in NHL history to post shutouts in each of his team's first two games of a season.

Both Getzlaf and Corey Perry are off to the best starts of their careers through four games. Getzlaf has his most assists and points (2-4=6) and currently leads the team in assists and co-leads in scoring. For Perry, this marks the first time he has recorded as many goals and points (4-2=6) in the opening four contests. Perry leads the Ducks in goals and co-leads with Getzlaf in scoring. In addition, teammate Ryan Kesler is also riding his fastest start in points (2-3=5) and has matched his best in goals (also 2008-09) and assists (also 2009-10 and 2012-13).

The Ducks and Wild open a three-game season series tonight at Honda Center. The Ducks went 2-1-0 vs. the Wild in 2013-14: 1-1-0 in Anaheim and 1-0-0 in Minnesota. All-time, the Ducks are 24-17-9 vs. the Wild, including a 15-8-2 mark at home. Anaheim has won five of the last six games dating to the start of the 2012-13 season, and is led by Getzlaf (8-23=31) and Perry (16-15=31), who both have a team-leading 31 points in 32 career games against Minnesota. The Ducks and Wild will continue the season series in Minnesota with games slated for Friday, December 5 (5 p.m. PT) and Friday, March 13 (5 p.m. PT).

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