They're mighty different

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

"We can't rest on our laurels because we don't have any."

-- Anaheim coach Ron Wilson during the Ducks inaugural season of 1993-94.

When Ron Wilson peers out at the Anaheim Ducks tonight at the Air Canada Centre, no one could blame him if the memories come flooding back.

At lot has changed in the 15 years that have passed since Wilson, the sharp-tongued bench boss of the Leafs, was serving as the first coach in Ducks history, guiding the expansion team through its inaugural season.

Like the fact the Ducks have removed the word "Mighty" from the official team name.

Or like the fact this once sad-sack franchise won a Stanley Cup in 2007.

These modern day Ducks sport well-known hockey names like Niedermayer and Pronger, a far cry from the 93-94 edition that was led in scoring by Terry Yake and backstopped by goaltender Guy Hebert.

Niedermayer and Pronger are ticketed for future induction into the Hall of Fame.

Yake and Hebert must buy tickets for admission into the Hall of Fame.

Big difference.

Given the hockey scraps he had to work with, Wilson did an admirable job in leading the infant Ducks to 33 wins.

In the end, the off-ice issues almost proved to be more intriguing than on it.

On opening night of Oct. 8, 1993, fans inside the Arrowhead Pond were greeted by skating cheerleaders and a theme song, "Rock The Pond," which included the lyrics: "We're going to blaze a trail; Score some goals and kick some tail."

There is no truth to the rumour that Wilson would croon that tune to his Ducks before each game. It would not have helped them that first night even if he had. The Detroit Red Wings thumped the Ducks 7-2.

"The first thing we did when we got out there is make a number of little rules," Wilson recalled yesterday. "One was that we would never call ourselves an expansion team. We didn't want to use that as an excuse."

The Duck players were called many other things by opposing teams, none of them complimentary. They were widely ridiculed after the team's original owner, the Walt Disney company, saddled it with the nickname Mighty Ducks, attempting to capitalize on the popularity of its 1992 hit movie, The Mighty Ducks, starring Emilio Estevez.

"Because the concept for our team was spawned from a Disney movie, we were almost always underestimated by the opposition," Wilson said.

"We would use it as motivation. Other teams would say: 'These guys must be a joke.' Perfect. Let them feel that way.

"In fact, we had the most success in the place we were mocked the most -- Canada. We were the only team to complete a successful sweep of the west, winning in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg."

Looking back, Wilson said Disney was before its time in its assault on the fans' senses. From that hokey hockey song to lowering its mascot, Wild Wing, down from the rafters before every home game, Disney looked to grab the attention of its audience in more ways than just the on-ice product.

"Disney's idea was to provide 2 1/2 hours of entertainment through a number of different outlets," Wilson said. "I call it the 'Disneyfication' of pro sports. Now marketing is a big part of any team. Video board entertainment is prominent. And would there even be a Carlton the Bear if Wild Wing hadn't been around?"

BIGGER CONCERNS

These days the Ducks have bigger concerns than the trials and tribulations of their mascot. They have lost five of their first six games. Their big guns, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz and Teemu Selanne, continue to struggle. A loss to the lowly Leafs would be, well, the ultimate kick in the feathers.

Ron Wilson would love to see it.


Videos

Photos