On a late October evening, Oleg Tverdovsky found himself in a familiar place. He was on the ice at Honda Center, taking part in a ceremonial faceoff honoring the club's second Jersey Tribute Night of the season. Paying homage to the franchise's 25-year history, the Ducks took warmups in the original away plum jerseys, the same one Tverdovsky wore throughout his two separate stints here.
The smooth-skating defenseman was selected by Anaheim with the second overall pick in the 1994 NHL Draft. To this day, he stills holds the distinction of being the youngest Duck to ever to appear in a game at 18 years, eight months and 13 days. He dazzled fans with his offensive flair and finished his Mighty Ducks career with 170 points (45g/125a) in 324 games. His 12-year NHL resume includes two Stanley Cup championships with the New Jersey Devils in 2003 and Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and 317 points (77g/240a) in 713 career NHL games with the Mighty Ducks, Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes, Devils, Hurricanes and LA Kings.
Though it's been nearly 16 years since he last played with the Mighty Ducks, the memories he made here will never be forgotten. "That's the team that drafted me," said Tverdovsky, now 42 years of age. "That's the organization that believed in me and brought me into the league. I had a lot of great memories. With this team, the logo and this franchise. Just grateful I was connected with the Ducks organization."
These days, Tverdovsky still calls Southern California home. He lives in Beverly Hills with his wife and three children, and coaches his sons' Jr. Ducks PeeWee and Squirt teams based out of THE RINKS - Lakewood ICE. Away from the ice, Tverdovsky works in the nursing home business and owns several medical facilities. He stays active coaching his sons' teams and knows first-hand how far the game has come in this region.
"There wasn't any youth hockey," he said, reflecting on his early days in Southern California. "Now, there are a lot of teams, a lot of kids playing hockey. Boys and girls. It's great to see hockey players drafted from California. It's very nice."
Tverdovsky has fond memories of his time as a Mighty Duck. He remembers them well. "With [the Disney connection], a lot of people saw us as cartoon heroes," he said, referencing the Mighty Ducks TV series from the mid-'90s. "That was fun. It was a hockey team in a non-typical environment in California. The NHL and the Ducks did a great job to create a fan base here and make the game - and team - popular."
He was among a group of former Mighty Ducks to take part in Paul Kariya's Jersey Retirement Ceremony on October 21. The names included guys like Guy Hebert, Scott and Rob Niedermayer, J.S. Giguere, Dave Karpa, Mike Leclerc, Keith Carney and Steve Rucchin. It was a reunion of sorts and a chance for the guys to catch up after years apart.
"That was the first time I probably saw everybody since I played here," said Tverdovsky. "Years ago. It was great to get together. Just to catch up. It was a big night for Paul. We had some fun. We had a lot of guys here I haven't seen in years. It was nice to see everybody."