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Ducks hit the ice at new 02 Arena, do some sightseeing with Stanley Cup @NHLdotcom

LONDON, England - A group of Ducks and a shiny trophy turned heads near Tower Bridge on Wednesday.

The puck is about to drop in England. But not everyone knew exactly what was going on.

So one confused local approached Anaheim Ducks forward Todd Marchant and asked: "What are you fellows doing?"

"We're in town to the play the Los Angeles Kings this weekend," replied Marchant.

"And who might 'we' be?," said the still puzzled man.

They would be the Ducks, the Stanley Cup champions trying to take London by storm this week. They hit the ice at the new 02 Arena on Wednesday in preparation for the NHL's regular-season curtain raiser Saturday and Sunday. The Kings don't arrive from Austria until Thursday night.

An 18-hour trek from Southern California to London on Tuesday was a little hard to take - even by charter - but the Ducks were in great spirits as they hit a few tourist spots on a privately rented double-decker bus and later took in an English Premier League soccer game.

"I think originally not too many guys were excited about coming," said star defenceman Chris Pronger. "It's a long way to go for a couple of games. But as we got to training camp and we got close to the actual date, I think the guys that were initially skeptical are excited now.

"We've never been here before, most of us. We want to make the best of it."

Goalie J.S. Giguere went one step further.

"It's not every day that you get to come and play in London and represent the NHL," said Giguere. "I think it's an honour to be able to do that."

The players also got a thrill before boarding the bus - the Stanley Cup was awaiting them with their freshly inscribed names on it. It was done earlier this week in Montreal before hopping a plane for London. One by one the players filtered around the Cup, making sure their name wasn't forgotten. It was like children trying to spot gifts with their names on it under the Christmas tree.

But not all the Ducks hovered around the Cup. The newcomers to the team this year kept a safe distance. Hockey superstition No. 1 - don't touch the Cup until you've won it.

"That's not for me," said newly acquired winger Todd Bertuzzi. "That's for these guys, they're the ones who went to war for it and rightfully deserve it. It's their moment with it.

"They can enjoy their time with it. I'll just wait until it's mine."

The two games this weekend are soldout at the 20,000-seat venue, which opened in June and hosted several Prince concerts as well as an Ultimate Fighting Championship card.

"It's a beautiful facility, brand new," said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle.

The ice was seeing its first-ever action during practice, having been put in earlier this week. The boards were put in only Tuesday. The NHL didn't take any chances, flying in legendary Edmonton ice guru Dan Craig.

Craig, whose official title with the NHL is facility operations manager, nervously looked on during practice.

"It's taken us three days to put it in. It's a new building, a new installation," he said.

"Today it's running pretty good for a first skate," he added. "The next couple of days it'll get better. I've never worked with this kind of system. I have to work out how the building reacts. It'll take a few days to work it out."

On the ice, the Ducks got good news when Giguere took a few shots before practice started. He's been recovering from a sports hernia surgery performed in early August.

"I don't know if I'll be ready to play this weekend but things are coming along pretty well," said Giguere. "I feel like I'm getting my strength back."

The Ducks would be crazy to rush him back so Ilya Bryzgalov would likely start Saturday. Same goes for key checking winger Samuel Pahlsson, also recovering from a sports hernia surgery. He skated in the first part of practice Wednesday but likely won't play this weekend.

"I think it's a little premature for both those players to be expected," said Carlyle. "I think that they're going to need probably two weeks maybe three weeks of practice time. You've got to remember they haven't had training camp."

Carlyle isn't satisfied right now. The regular season beckons and the Cup champs aren't right.

"We don't think we've played to the level that we're capable of in pre-season and we have a challenge on our hands to get our level to where it's needed to be," said Carlyle.

Whether the locals leave the 02 Arena as converted hockey fans remains to be seen. The NFL's regular-season game between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants here later in October has generated more buzz.

"Hockey is a great game and when people come see it played live, most people get hooked right away," Giguere told reporters. "There's everything you want to see in sport - speed, skill, tough play, fights. I believe it's the best sport in the world and hopefully those coming this weekend will feel the same way."

While the tickets for this weekend have sold well, there weren't many local media types on hand at practice Wednesday. One British journalist who did make it peppered Pronger with questions, like 'Who is the David Beckham of your team?' Pronger played along, cracking up his curious inquisitor, especially when asked if he had any specific plans to visit London.

"I was thinking about hooking up with the Queen later," Pronger said.

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