All spring, I’ve been telling anyone who cares (which is hardly anyone) that the Anaheim Ducks will win the Stanley Cup. It pains me to be right, since the Ducks just eliminated the Detroit Red Wings, and I’m such a huge Detroit fan I even bleed red. Here’s the irony in the Ducks’ success: the team started its life in 1993 as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a Disney-owned tie-in to the youth hockey flick. Disney was going to promote hockey as a wholesome evening out for American families: less fighting, and shootouts to break those unsatisfying ties. The second part came true, but not the first.
Two years ago Disney sold the team to Henry Samueli, an Internet tycoon. Samueli packed the lineup with goons and bruisers, including six-foot-six Chris Pronger, a nominee for this year’s Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. The Ducks are now the dirtiest team in the NHL: during the season, they led the league in fighting penalties. Head goon George Parros (pictured), a Princeton econ graduate, is a throwback to 1970s enforcers like Tiger Williams, Clark Gillies, and Dave Schultz. His drooping moustache and flowing black mullet suit that era of helmetless hockey just as well.
“They’re kind of the like the Philadelphia Flyers when they were called the Broad Street Bullies,” a Canadian friend of mine said this week. “The Flyers used to spend 15 minutes of each game playing hockey and the other 45 minutes battering their opponents. But nowadays, you can’t just punch your way to the Stanley Cup.” Sure enough, the Ducks aren’t just muscle. Beyond Pronger, their skill players include Scott Niedermayer — another Norris Trophy nominee, and a Stanley Cup winner with the New Jersey Devils — and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, one of the leading goalies of this year’s playoffs. You won’t see a lot of Parros in the finals — come playoff time, teams can’t afford five-minute fighting penalties — but you’ll see plenty of physical play from Niedermayer and Pronger, who was suspended during the Detroit series for checking Tomas Holmstrom into unconsciousness.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators are looking to win the first Stanley Cup for Canada since 1993. Something of a surprise contender — they were seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference — they have the better forward line and some decent defensemen themselves. On Monday at 8 PM, when the best-of-seven faceoff begins, may the tougher team–not the dirtier one–win.