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Thirteen proves to be Pronger's lucky number

by Brian Compton

Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger went through the rigors of 13 NHL seasons before finally winning the Stanley Cup in June 2007.
Thirteen is supposed to be an unlucky number. But for Chris Pronger, it was more like a lucky charm.

For Pronger, 13 was the number of times it took before the Anaheim Ducks’ defenseman finally got to hoist the most prestigious trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup.

That’s 13 training camps. Thirteen Octobers of wondering if this was going to be the year. Thirteen trade deadlines where he paced back and forth, unaware of which of his teammates were staying or going. The soon-to-be 33-year-old admitted it took some time to come to the realization that his name would, indeed, be etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup.

“It took a while,” Pronger said. “Obviously, you’re doing the party thing and enjoying the time with the Cup. It doesn’t really set in for a while. You have your day with the Cup, and it starts kind of setting in that; ‘You know what? My name is going to on here.’

”The ramifications of winning it, and how big a deal it is, you start to kind of look at the history and all the players that are on it,” Pronger said. “It starts hitting you then that you’re in a select group of people that have had the honor of winning the Cup and having their names put on that trophy. It’s pretty special.”

These days, Pronger no longer has to wonder what it takes to win. Instead, he can speculate about what it’s going to take to do it all over again. After all, it’s been nearly a decade since an NHL has won back-to-back championships — the Detroit Red Wings last accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998.

Truth be told, this upcoming journey may prove to be even more difficult than those 12 years of elusiveness. The Ducks get to skate all year with targets on their backs. Combine that with the possible retirements of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, and you have a team facing a huge task.

“It’s going to be tough, I’m not going to lie to you,” Pronger said. “It’ll be difficult. With Scotty and Teemu possibly retiring, we’ve obviously got some holes to fill. We’ve got to make sure we get off to a good start, much like we did last year. Teams are going to be gunning for us. The target that was on our back last year is going to be even bigger.”

That’s part of what makes last season so special for Pronger. He admitted that he had doubts of ever playing in another Stanley Cup Final after falling in Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 2006.

“You never know,” said Pronger, who has 36 points in his last 35 postseason contests. “It took me 12 years to get to my first Cup final, and you lose in Game 7. It’s tough. You never know if you’re ever going to get a chance to get back. To be able to get down here in Anaheim, knowing the team that they had, and to have that belief that this team has what it takes and actually go out and win — it was a dream come true.”

But the big defenseman insists that the mindset didn’t change heading into training camp this month. Despite a shorter off-season than he’s used to, Pronger spent the summer getting into the shape required to get off to the start he and the Ducks are hoping for.

"Obviously, you’re doing the party thing and enjoying the time with the Cup. It doesn’t really set in for a while. You have your day with the Cup, and it starts kind of setting in that; 'You know what? My name is going to be on here.' "

-- Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger

“I think, if anything, you try to stay more focused and more determined with your workouts and make sure you’re prepared to start the season,” Pronger said. “Obviously, it’s a lot shorter than everybody else and you get a little banged up throughout the course of the playoffs. You want to make sure you’re getting the proper rest, but you use the off-season to train for the upcoming year, just like you would any other year.”

It’s not unusual for a team to lack some determination in a training camp that follows a championship. Pronger is both hopeful and confident that the Ducks won’t stumble out of the gate when play starts for real. They’ll open the 2007-08 season against the Los Angeles Kings in London on Sept. 29.

“I think a lot of guys figured out what a great feeling it is, and you want to feel that again,” said Pronger, who won the Norris Trophy in 2000 as a member of the St. Louis Blues. “You know what it’s going to take. It’s not going to be easy. If anything, it’s going to be a lot harder this time around, because you know what to expect and teams are going to be gunning for you. It’s tough to compare one to the other, but we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror every day and make sure that we’re coming prepared and ready to work each and every day. Come April, we’ve got to be ready to defend.”

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