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21st Duck has experience she'll never forget

Double-amputee Doederlein gets thrill from joining Anaheim players on ice before opener

by Dan Arritt / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

21st Duck Lera Doederlein

21st Duck Lera Doederlein Introduced On Ice

21st Duck Lera Doederlein is introduced to the sellout crowd and joins the Ducks on the ice during Opening Night at Honda Center

  • 01:04 •

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A short ride in a black Lamborghini with the captain of the Anaheim Ducks might have seemed difficult to top, but the evening was just getting started for Lera Doederlein.

A few hours later, she was skimming across the ice in front of a sold-out crowd at Honda Center, the final introduction before the Ducks hosted the Arizona Coyotes in the season opener for both teams on Thursday. 

Doederlein pulled her hockey sled to an abrupt stop, joining the 20 Anaheim players already ringing the center face-off circle. 

As the announcer told Doederlein's story to the crowd, nearly every fan joined in a standing ovation for the 16-year-old double amputee.

"I felt in the moment," she said during the first intermission. "Like heavenly."

Her arrival at center ice was the pinnacle of Doederlein's experience as the team's 21st Duck, a designation annually awarded to an individual who embodies perseverance, character, courage and inspiration.

Doederlein was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, a condition that caused her knee joints to become permanently bent, leaving her severely bowlegged.

Braces were attached to her legs and she used crutches to remain mobile, but as she reached her teenage years, doctors informed Doederlein she would soon be wheelchair bound.

At the age of 14, she made the difficult decision to have both legs amputated above the knee.

The surgery was successful, allowing Doederlein to try new activities, including sled hockey, hand cycling and swimming.

She initially participated with the Arizona Coyotes sled hockey program before moving to San Diego in 2018 and joining the San Diego Ducks.

Her natural skill quickly became evident and soon she was competing with adults, eventually earning a spot last summer on the U.S. Women's Development Sled Hockey Team.

"I've only been playing for 2 1/2 years, but I don't plan on stopping anytime soon," Doederlein said. "I hope that, even just this, will help bring more awareness to the sport, so we can bring women's sled hockey to the Paralympics someday."   

Doederlein became a fan of the Ducks after arriving in San Diego, and particularly goalie John Gibson, who actively supports the sled hockey community.

Gibson smiled when Doederlein glided onto the ice and joined the circle of players. He then went out and made 32 saves in a 2-1 win against the Coyotes.  

"It was awesome," Gibson said. "We were able to share the past week with her, have some fun and have her be an inspiration to us."  

Doederlein learned late last month that she'd be the 21st Duck. 

Anaheim defenseman Josh Manson came on the ice at the end of her sled practice and presented Doederlein with an Anaheim jersey emblazoned with No. 21.

She was invited to a practice at Honda Center, where she spoke to the players and coaches about her life and then joined them for portions of practice.

During a chat with Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, he asked about her favorite automobile. Doederlein told him it was a Lamborghini. 

Each year, the Ducks have an Academy Awards-like Orange Carpet player arrival for their home opener, and Getzlaf promised to pick up Doederlein in a Lamborghini, drive her to the Orange Carpet and escort her into the building.

During their short ride together, they excitedly talked about the upcoming game. When their car pulled up to the entry and she saw all the cameras, Doederlein felt a lump in her throat.

"It was a little nerve-wracking and overwhelming, but Getzlaf took me under his arm and just walked me through it," she said.

The fun had just begun.

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