It was like something out of a movie. Four skaters in full hockey gear donning iconic green Mighty Ducks jerseys with the names Averman, Carp, Moreau and Wu stitched on the backs of them. They weren't imposters. They were the real deal.
Shortly after the NHL's Ducks ended practice on Tuesday afternoon at THE RINKS - Anaheim ICE, four cast members from the Mighty Ducks movie series suited up and jumped on the ice like they did over 25 years ago. Matt Doherty, who starred as glasses-clad Lester Averman in all three Mighty Ducks movies, wasted no time getting back into form. Aaron Schwartz, who these days looks far different than he did back then when he played the lovable Dave Karp in the first movie, joined Doherty, Marguerite Moreau (Connie Moreau) and Justin Wong (Kenny Wu of D2: The Mighty Ducks) on the ice. Their chemistry was undeniable.
The foursome is in town to celebrate the Ducks' Silver Celebration Week in honor of the franchise's 25th anniversary. Last night, they joined fellow cast members from the movie series at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana for a special screening of the movie that started it all. Tonight, they'll be attending Mighty Ducks Movie Tribute Night at Honda Center as the Ducks take on the Vancouver Canucks.
The bond they formed so many years ago remains just as strong today. Doherty (now 40 years old) called the original cast a family, but was also quick to point out how much time has passed since then. (He needed a few minutes to catch his breath before he continued.) "Man, I'm old," he said, as he (fittingly) sat in the penalty box for the interview. "Ducks fly together, right? It's odd. It's like a time machine. Anyone who's engaged in any sport, those are friendships that, if you're lucky, you have for life. They mean something. It just so happens we played for a team that was in movies. We're just like family. It's like no time passes."
Talk to Doherty for a few minutes and you realize he's not far off from the character he portrayed in the movies - a lighthearted jokester who always had people laughing. When asked if he's kept in touch with Schwartz, Moreau and Wong, Doherty couldn't help but call out Schwartz as he gave his answer. "I saw Aaron, who just fell," [Doherty points to Schwartz on the ice]. "It's nice to make visual cues. He just fell at center ice, and it makes me look good. It's actually great. I see him a couple times a year. I saw Marguerite the other day. We live in the same neighborhood in Sherman Oaks. Steven [Brill], I see once in a while. He wrote the movie. I saw Justin the last time he visited from Canada. He plays 'Wu, Wu, Wu, Kenny Wu!' There's going to be a bunch more of our quackers coming [for the movie and the Ducks game] from the East Coast." Still feeling the effects from a brisk lap prior to the interview, Doherty let out a sigh of relief. "I feel better. It would've been really bad if I passed out during this interview."
It didn't take long for a gathering of curious onlookers to line the glass. Ducks players Devin Shore, Derek Grant, Andy Welinski and Adam Cracknell couldn't contain themselves. They immediately pulled out their phones and began taking photos before meeting the actors on the ice. Like so many others, the Mighty Ducks movie series was a big part of their childhood.
"That was a really cool moment for me," said 24-year-old Shore, on meeting the cast. "I'm kind of still new here [in Anaheim]. The novelty of playing for the Ducks, and knowing the history of how the franchise started through the movies. I was a fan of all three of them growing up, and it was right around my childhood. It was right up my alley. That was a really cool moment for me. We spend a lot of time, obviously, with [other NHL players] around the league. Even other athletes, you run into them. I would say, in general, as athletes we don't have a ton of interaction with people who do TV and movies. For me, that was my first time. That was pretty cool."
There is a hometown connection with Welinski (a Duluth, Minnesota native) and the movie series, which took place in the Twin Cities area. "I remember as a kid, you're out there imitating some of the stuff," he said. "The knuckle puck, all that stuff they do in the movies, you're doing it as a kid. They were playing the game, and a lot of the stuff we learned was imitating them out on the ice. It's cool to see them. It's a little bit down the road from when the movies came out, but they're good people and they obviously did a lot for a lot of young kids who play hockey."
When asked what it meant to see the excitement on the players' faces, Moreau beamed with pride. "I'm really honored to be a part of something that not only was a special movie, but spawned an entire hockey club." She was also quick to point out the impact the movie series had on girls getting into the sport. "Seeing and hearing from so many girls that started to play. I think it's wonderful."
Just because these Ducks grew up watching the movies doesn't mean they stopped. "I was actually talking with them, saying I watched them not too long ago," Grant said with a laugh. "They're great movies for us, and I'm sure for a lot of the guys in the room, they're movies that inspired us when we were young. It's cool to get to meet the people behind it."
Grant knows he's the envy of many. "I think some of my friends are even jealous because they're big fans of the movie. For us, as players, it's a pretty neat experience. We're pretty fortunate to be a part of that."
Doherty was taken aback when he heard of the impact he and his fellow cast members had on the players. "That means our movie made a significant impact on them pursuing their dreams," he said. "Anybody who's ever had to do anything like that, how hard it must be to play at the highest level. That makes me feel good. Maybe I contributed a small part in these world-class athletes pursuing this sport. We make fun of ourselves. It's great. To me, that lasts longer than anything else because it means you made an impact on people's lives.
"This movie is part of what made me who I am," Doherty adds. "It never ceases to surprise me. The guys on the actual Ducks team came up to us like we were celebrities. Everybody grew up with this movie, and now their kids are watching these movies. It's kind of a weird phenomenon. I get it because there aren't a lot of movies that are made like that. It feels great. I love hockey. I love playing hockey and everything about it. I love being a Duck. I always will. No matter what I accomplish in my life, this is a pretty stellar thing."
These were the original Mighty Ducks. Always have been, and always will be.
"It's a real special thing to have relationships like that in your life because it makes you appreciate the wonderful things that happened to you," said Moreau. "Once a Duck, always a Duck."