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Getzlaf balancing fame, celebrity

by Eric Stephens /

There are challenges that Ryan Getzlaf has faced in his first three NHL seasons, and then there's accomplishing the near impossible.

* Becoming a first-line center and the Anaheim Ducks' leading scorer? Check.

* Winning the Stanley Cup? Mission accomplished.

* Making the All-Star team? All done before the age of 23.
How about fitting his 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame into the back of a diminutive sport utility vehicle? Getzlaf somehow managed that.

"It was not easy to get into," he said with a laugh. "But I did it."

The spot was part of a national commercial Getzlaf filmed that's an example of his ascension from a talented rookie to one of the NHL's brightest young stars.

A large part of the League's marketing strategy following the lockout has been to focus on its 20-something stars. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the NHL's most valuable player in 2006-07, has been the central part of that campaign since he was drafted with the first pick three years ago.

Others, like reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes young star Eric Staal have also been featured in the League's commercials. Now Getzlaf has begun to capitalize on the push to illuminate the next generation. He was one of several players featured in the League's "The Cup Changes Everything" spot that ran on its national broadcasts in advance of last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

San Jose Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick, who was one of the League's most marketable players early in his career, said Getzlaf has attributes that can make him an effective pitchman for the sport.

"He's a good-looking guy with a great sense of humor," Roenick said. "You talk to him and he always seems to have a smile on his face. He has the ability to be a spokesman."

The Ducks have made it clear that they'd like Getzlaf to take the reins from Teemu Selanne as the next face of the franchise. The club has tried to toe the line between promoting their center and limiting the potential distractions.

"The burden that comes with stardom is the demands on your time," Anaheim General Manager Brian Burke said. "You've got to want that load. Some guys don't. He's embraced that."

Getzlaf isn't about to shy away from the limelight.

"Sometimes it's not easy to spend an hour after practice to do a commercial or whatever," Getzlaf said. "But it's all fun. We're going to be in this game for a long time and if you can mold the players when they're young, we can use that stuff for a long time.

"I plan on being in this league for a while. The more I promote the game now, the better opportunities for me and everyone else."

Confidence has never been an issue. Growing up in an athletic family in the Saskatchewan capital city of Regina, Getzlaf began to show signs of leadership at an early age.

"I think he's always had a kind of maturity level more than a lot of other kids that were his own age," said his father, Steve. "Maybe that comes from leaving home (to play junior hockey) when he was 16. I'm not sure.

"I remember talking to his agent (Gerry Johannson). He said the thing about Ryan is you always know when he's around. He has that certain aura about him or whatever you want to call it. People know that he's there."

Burke calls him the "big dog" and expects him to one day succeed Chris Pronger as captain. Many players have taken to calling Getzlaf, "The Franchise."

There are those who believe that Getzlaf, with his size and vast array of skills, can join Crosby and Ovechkin in the ranks of superstardom. Both Burke and coach Randy Carlyle have said that Getzlaf "can be as good as he wants to be."

"In the NHL, the challenge is to be able to play to that level day in and day out," Carlyle said. "To practice to that high level day in and day out.

"He's done everything we've asked. We've had very, very few valleys with Ryan Getzlaf. We've had some peaks and maybe he's taken a step back every once in a while. All in all, you've got to be very satisfied and very happy with his progress."

Getzlaf admits that the oft-repeated phrase "as good as he wants to be" can wear thin at times. Those words are serving as motivation.

"Ever since I came here, I've wanted to be an impact player and a player to be looked to down the road. I've had an opportunity to learn from some guys on how to do that stuff. I think that's all part of it." -- Ryan Getzlaf

really take it not so much as a compliment but as a challenge," he said. "This is an organization that wants to push you as far as you can go and get the most out of a player."

To the hockey world, Getzlaf's coming-of-age moment came in the 2007 playoffs when he led the champion Ducks in scoring and opened eyes with his sublime talent.            

But the process of becoming a featured player in the organization started well before he entered the spotlight of the postseason.

Months before their Cup run, the Ducks held a state of the franchise discussion with hundreds of season-ticket holders and faithful fans. The speakers that night were Burke, Carlyle and defenseman Scott Niedermayer, then the team's captain.

Sitting alongside some of the most important people in the franchise was Getzlaf, at the time just 21 and in the middle of his second NHL season. And his appearance was by design.

"He has leadership skills and I wanted to put him in a public role to get him comfortable with that," Burke said. "And it was a statement to him of what we thought of him as a player. And I did think he got some confidence from that."

Getzlaf recalled that evening when he acted as a de facto team spokesman. Niedermayer, who's always been a quiet sort, happily let the youngster have the stage.

"I enjoy talking and stuff," Getzlaf said. "It was definitely fun for me. I like to hear from fans and find out what their feedback is. And it was cool to kind of see something like that happen. You don't have that everywhere.

"Every since I came here, I've wanted to be an impact player and a player to be looked to down the road. I've had an opportunity to learn from some guys on how to do that stuff. I think that's all part of it."

Embracing that role also means putting on a brave face in the worst of times. Niedermayer said the willingness to be the "face" carries with it a lot of responsibility.

"It's a tough position," he said. "It's probably a job a lot of people would love to have. But at the same time, it's not the easiest position to be in. The expectations continue to go up and when they do, there's really no turning back. When you take a step backwards, the questions start coming and there's definitely a lot of responsibility that goes with that.

"It isn't always easy. Especially when things aren't going well."

The Ducks tied their future to their next star by signing him to a five-year contract worth nearly $27 million. Now it's on Getzlaf.

"I think he wants to be the guy," Ducks goalie Jean-Sebsatien Giguere said. "He wants to be the franchise. I think he has the talent and the confidence to do that.

"That comes with pressure too but I think he welcomes that. He welcomes that kind of challenge."

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