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Stanley Cup champs open season coping with distractions, tough schedule

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Randy Carlyle has warned his players. After you win a Stanley Cup, 29 other teams want to take you down. There will be no easy nights for the Anaheim Ducks this season.

"We're not going to sneak into any building," said the head coach.

No team has repeated as Cup champions since the 1997 and '98 Detroit Red Wings and while the Ducks have the core that can deliver another championship, they've got all the excuses in the world to fail:

-Star defenceman Scott Niedermayer, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, is home contemplating retirement, as is 48-goal man Teemu Selanne.

-Every Cup champion battles the effects of a short summer but it was even worse for the Ducks, who had to report to camp early because of a trip to London to start the season.

-Some people around the league believe the trip overseas will knock the stuffing out of the Ducks early on as they recover from the long trip, which includes having to play home openers in Columbus, Detroit and Pittsburgh after coming home from England.

-Goalie J.S. Giguere, key checking forward Samuel Pahlsson and defenceman Mathieu Schneider will miss the beginning of the season with injuries.

-They have a Stanley Cup threat in the San Jose Sharks in their own division.

All this has some pundits predicting the Ducks won't be able to pull it off again.

"That's their opinion," winger Ryan Getzlaf told The Canadian Press. "We're a confident group. I'm pretty confident with the guys coming back as well as the acquisitions we've made. We lost a couple of big players but also gained with Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider. It's going to be a fun year and a good test for our group."

Star defenceman Chris Pronger scoffed at the nay-sayers.

"No matter what is written about us or what is said about us in on TV or whatnot, at the end of the day, it's got to be everybody in that room believing that we can win much like that was the edict last year. No matter what was going on last year, even when we went into those slides, there was always that belief no matter what the score was, that we could play well and win hockey games," said Pronger.

"And I don't think this year is any different. We're a little bit behind the 8-ball with some injuries. We are missing Scotty and Teemu, and that's obviously one of the reasons why people might be looking at us as not having a chance to repeat or whatever the case may be.

"We've still got a heck of a lot of talent."

The sky is the limit for young guns Getzlaf and Corey Perry, born six days apart 22 years ago. The linemates got their feet wet last season while winning a Cup.

"The bar's been raised," said Carlyle. "The level of their play last year was one where they became everyday NHL players. Now we're going to see how good they can be in all of the situations. Both are offensive players and we'd like to see them grow in that role."

With Selanne gone, Getzlaf in particular will be asked to carry more of an offensive load. Some scouts around the league believe he's only scratched the surface of his potential after putting up 25 goals and 33 assists in 82 regular-season games last year.

"This year is going to be a fun year for this group," said Getzlaf. "For myself, it's a year where a little more is on my plate. I need to step up a play throughout the whole season now. I think last year we kind of got eased into it and didn't play so many minutes until after Christmas. I think this year we have to be ready to play those big minutes and play that big role right off the bat."

Ducks GM Brian Burke says Getzlaf can be as good as he wants to be.

"Usually, when someone says that, it's a slap at the kid," said Burke. "It's basically, hey, if this guy decides to be a good player, he's going to be a good player. He's already a good player. He led our team in scoring in the playoffs. Ryan has a chance to be a dominating, physical, hard-nosed, scoring player in our league, and I think he's going to get there."

Should Selanne and Niedermayer decide to return later this season, it would be a bonus that for an already stocked team. Either way, perhaps the Ducks will make lemonade of the lemons they've been handed early this season. With all the curveballs thrown their way, maybe they won't fall into the trappings of some Cup champions, who get a little overconfident after a short summer full of celebration.

"Randy (Carlyle) knows and is going to be pushing us like he did last year, if not harder," said Pronger. "We have to make sure we're answering the bell and showing the pride and that determination that we had last year.

"I think the only approach that might be different is that we've got to push ourselves even harder, just simply because of the fact that we are defending Stanley Cup champions," added Pronger. "We are going to have an even bigger target on our backs. The way that we play, teams are obviously going to be gunning for us."

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