Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the first game of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and their insane entrance into the NHL.
This season the Anaheim Ducks are celebrating their 25th anniversary, with their home opener on Monday night (a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings — the team they played in their first game) coming exactly 25 years to the day of their debut.
And what a trip that first ever game was.
Over at the Athletic this week (subscription required) Lisa Dillman, Eric Stephens and Joshua Cooper compiled an oral history on the birth of the Ducks franchise.
Among all of the stories was a video of that first game and the on-ice ceremony that preceded it.
We need to talk about this ceremony a little more because even the Vegas Golden Knights, present day champions of the over-the-top pre-game show, would have looked at this and said “hey folks … let’s tone this down a few notches.”
The Ducks’ entrance to the NHL was part of the NHL’s expansion boom in the early 1990s that saw the league go from 21 teams to 26 between 1991 and 1994, with San Jose, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Florida, and Anaheim itself all entering the league. This era set the stage for yet another expansion surge a decade later when Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, and Minnesota all entered the league.
The Ducks and Panthers were the two teams that entered the league for the start of the 1993-94 season.
What made the Ducks such a unique story is that they were basically a massive hollywood creation masquerading as a hockey team. At least at first. They were originally owned by the Walt Disney Corporation, were set to play their games in the shadows of Disneyland, and were named (originally called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) after the hit 1992 Disney movie, The Mighty Ducks.
When all of those storylines met for the team’s first game, things got weird. Really weird.
First, the video. It is 14 minutes long and while I would highly recommend watching every second of it, do not worry if you are short on time at the moment because we are going to analyze the key moments for you.
0:15 -1:30: The whole thing begins with Lumière, the anthropomorphic talking candlestick from Beauty and the Beast, welcoming hockey fans to the Pond for “a new era of sports entertainment.”
He was not kidding, man.
From there, a Disney on Ice show breaks out with a cover version of the song “Be Our Guest” that includes the lyrics:
“Be our guest, be our guest, yes Ducks season has come (inaudible), tie a bird call ’round your neck my friends and we’ll provide the rest.”
And then later…
“Make it loud, stomp your feet, Mighty Ducks we can’t be beat.
Catch the spirit it’s outrageous tell a friend that it’s contagious.
We can skate, we can score, you keep coming back for more cuz the hockey here is never second best.”
1:24-4:09: From there, “The Decoys” get introduced to a more rock version of “Be Our Guest.” And what were The Decoys? They appear to be the introduction to the regrettable and exploitive “ice girls” era in the NHL.
They perform an elaborate choreographed ice for nearly three full minutes before the real star of the show arrives.
4:10-6:54: The arena goes dark.
Some sort of futuristic zamboni-type machine makes its way on the ice. Eerie, ominous music begins to be pumped in. The narrator speaks: “From the depths of the pond … the mighty ice man cometh.”
A silver-painted, guitar-wielding, vocal-chord shredding maniac climbs to the top of the car and attempts to hype up the crowd while Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll Part 2 blasts throughout the arena.
(As a quick aside: After seeing this I am now one million percent convinced that the IceMan was the inspiration for Charlie Kelly’s “Nightman Cometh” in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Tell me I’m wrong.)
The IceMan, for what it worth, was a spectacular failure and did not even make it through the first game, as delightfully noted by The Detroit Free Press:
There is not, at least based on my searches of the Internet, any video or audio of his rendition of Twist and Shout.
The OC Register profiled the man behind The IceMan back in 2014 when the team celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Anyway, back to this high-priced production…
6:55-9:04: After two minutes of this, it is time to meet the Mighty Ducks’ mascot (no, the IceMan was not the mascot).
It is then that Wild Wing descends from the rafters.
Upon reaching the ice, Wild Wing goes into a two minute ice-dance to the tune of some Ducks themed arena rock song while the scoreboard implores fans to “Rock the Pond.”
Meanwhile, the IceMan makes his return to attempt to hype up the crowd one more time in advance of the formal introductions of the roster, led by goalies Ron Tugnutt and Guy Hebert.
9:04-11:40: The rest of the roster is introduced.
11:41-12:40: There are approximately 240 people skating around the ice, while Wild Wing takes his position on top of a podium at center and plays air guitar with a goalie stick that suddenly begins shooting flames into the air.
(This would be Wild Wing’s most successful attempt to play with fire, having later in his existence tripped and fell into a ring of fire while attempting to jump through it).
The Ducks went on to lose that season opening game to the Detroit Red Wings by a 7-2 margin, but were we are 25 years later and the team (now just known as the Anaheim Ducks — the whole Mighty Ducks of Anaheim thing was scrapped following the 2005-06 season) is still going strong.
They were reasonably successful in year one (by expansion team standards), winning 33 games and then making the playoffs for the first time in their fourth year of existence. In the two decades since they have been a consistent playoff team, played in two Stanley Cup Finals, and won the whole thing during the 2006-07 season.
Previous PHT Time Machines:
• Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft
• Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
• The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
• The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen