Why I Owe My Life* to The Mighty Ducks [of Anaheim]

*Where “life” is understood to mean ‘my love and appreciation for the great sport of hockey’ (of course).

Since I’m thankful to the Mighty Ducks for my love of hockey, and it is that time of year (So I missed Thanksgiving by a bit with this one, but better late than never, right?), I thought I’d share how I owe so much to a team I don’t even like. It has nothing to do with Disney’s The Mighty Ducks, and everything to do with growing up in DFW in the 1990s.

the-mighty-ducks
Coach Gordon Bombay and his district 2 Ducks


Okay, so maybe it has a little bit to do with Disney’s The Mighty Ducks, too.

It’s the fall of 1992; I don’t exist yet, except as a bump that my family – and sometimes perfect strangers – talk to in that babies-and-puppies voice that all of humanity seems to share. The (tragically mismanaged) Minnesota North Stars are planning their relocation, eyes on a new arena under construction outside of Los Angeles. And, in September, the Walt Disney Company releases The Mighty Ducks, about a peewee hockey team from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Here’s how it goes: in September, The Mighty Ducks makes $50.7 million at the box office. In November, the Walt Disney Company is awarded an NHL franchise, entry fee: $50 million. 

Michael Eisner, Disney chairman and CEO says of the decision to enter the professional sports industry: “We made a movie… it made $50 million box office. That was our market research.”

The best part? There’s already an arena under construction, and right in Disney’s backyard. Thanks to Google Maps, I now know that the arena (known today as the Honda Center) is less than 5 miles from Disney Land Drive in Anaheim, California, and only 40 miles (64 km) from Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

“We made a movie… that was our market research.”

But it’s no secret Norm Green had called ‘dibs’ on that arena (in reality, negotiations are not going well – but no one would ever hear him say that). So a deal is struck: Bettman & the league give Green carte blanche to relocate his franchise wherever the hell he wants, if he’ll just give up any claims he might (or, as it happens, might not) have on Anaheim. He gives way, and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are born.

Winter 1993 Disney News Magazine cover

Meanwhile, according to USA Hockey records, there are only 868 players registered in the state of Texas (population, 17.8 million). The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex – with a population of 3.8 million – can’t have more than 200. Maybe enough for 10 teams of all ages. And, by my best estimate, there were probably no more than 4 ice rinks in the entire 3,800 square miles.

Thankfully, that’s all about to change. 

Fans say goodbye to the North Stars at the last home game in April of 1993. 

The Minnesota North Stars announce their move to Dallas in March of 1993, when I am just a few months old. It’s an event that should have had absolutely no effect on my life; after all, we certainly weren’t a hockey family.

We were a “team sports are an essential part of childhood” kind of family. A “team sports keep you active and engaged, help you make friends, teach you how to deal with frenemies, and how to be fearless,” kind of family.

We were a soccer kind of family – a pair of cleats and shin guards and you’re good to go. 

We were not a football kind of family.  With genetics that lean towards tall and skinny (sadly I missed the mark on the former), we weren’t a “buy a bunch of expensive equipment and padding,” and “sign your son up to get hit” kind of family.

As it turns out, all it took to change that was a clerical error.

The Year of the Hot Potato (as I like to call it), I am around 4. My parents wait too long to sign my brother up for soccer, and just manage to get him on a wait-list. Soon, the local sports association is calling – they have spot for him on the hockey team we requested! When my mom tells the story of ‘how we ended up a hockey family’, she reenacts the way my brother imitated toast leaping from a toaster – she jumps up and down, going ‘I wanna play hockey! I wanna play hockey!’

As it turns out, he’s pretty good at this sport, too. He already knows how to skate – it’s the 90’s, everyone in that family had at least one pair of rollerblades – and in Texas back then, ‘hockey’ still means ‘roller hockey’. But he’s good, and he falls in love with the sport. In fact, the whole family is getting behind this whole ‘hockey’ thing.

Suddenly, dad’s climbing up to the antenna on the roof to clean up the signal, not just for Cowboys games, but for Stars games, too. Suddenly, The Mighty Ducks (and D2: The Mighty Ducks) are the most-watched VHS tapes on the shelf, the edges of their plastic cases cracking and fraying.

I’m all of 5 when I start (attempting) to watch NHL games with my brother and father, if only to be included. At some point I haul the giant, hard-copy family dictionary to the living room; one of the commentators keeps using words I don’t know, so I ask my father how to spell ‘lar-sony’ and flip to the ‘L’s.

I’m 6 when we win the cup. I dance around the living room, only half understanding what we’re celebrating but happy to join in the fun. (I’m undoubtedly high on being allowed to stay up past my bed time).

1999 Stanley Cup winning Dallas Stars, on the ice after game 6 against the Buffalo Sabres.

At some point, I begin to hate beinng dragged along for the ride.

I’m spending evenings, mornings, at his games and practices. Somewhere along the way, he switched from roller hockey to ice hockey, then made his way steadily back through alphabet to AA.  I’m spending half my time at the growing pool of metroplex ice rinks, surrounded by that distinct ‘rink’ smell as I read to pass the time. (The one part I don’t hate, not ever, is going to Stars games. Maybe once a year – as a reward, or a birthday or holiday present to my brother – we get tickets to go to a game. This part will never get old, I think.)

And then, the year before I enter high school, my brother leaves for college. Suddenly, there is no – absolutely none, zip, zero – hockey in my life. No NHL to watch with the lockout, no matter how dad might tweak the antenna. It’s a huge shock to my system, the loss, like going through withdrawals.

Because, as it turns out:

fucking love hockey. 

So I just want to give a big thank you, a shout out, to Disney and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, as well as whichever little bird spent the 90’s whispering crazy ideas in their ear. Can you just image how that conversation went? I tried:

Disney CFO: You know what makes money, Bob? Sports. Why haven’t we gotten into that yet?

Somebody named Bob: What, you want to bet on sports?

CFO: No, Bob. I don’t want to bet on sports. I think we should own them – what do you say?

Bob: You want to own a football team?

CFO: Hmmm… you’re right, Bob, football’s much too violent. This is a family company, after all.

Bob: So what, a… tennis? Team? Do they even have those?

CFO: No Bob, I don’t give a fig about tennis.

A Little Bird: How about a hockey team?

CFO: A hockey team! Now there’s an idea! 

Bob: Actually, sir-

Little Bird: You could even name it after the movie, you know, that one Steve just made?

CFO: That’s right, Stevie’s making us millions! What was it called again? The – something – Hawks?

Little Bird: Actually, sir, it’s the Mighty Ducks.

CFO: …

CFO: Why the hell would he name it that?

Little Bird: It made sense, in the movie, sir.

CFO: Oh, well, if it made sense in the movie…

And, of course, poor Bob never does get the chance to correct his boss about the whole ‘violence’ situation.

Calley M

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