Puck Daddy Summer Series: Weird Anaheim Ducks

[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]

By Jen Neale, Editor at Puck Daddy

#1) Iceman – the mascot who lasted 2 periods.

Unless you’ve become a hockey fan in the last 10 minutes, you already know the Anaheim Ducks were once the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and owned by the Walt Disney Corporation. Everything surrounding the team reeked of the wholesome family environment Disney wanted to create in a sport that’s not built for it.

Just take a look at the Disney on Ice extravaganza for the Opening Night of the 1993 inaugural season. Watch it all. I promise you, you will not be disappointed; that is, if you like watching train wrecks as the happen.

Fun, right? How could we, as a fanbase, not be mocked incessantly after that? But I digress.

At about the 5:10 mark of the video the PA announcer states, “The mighty Iceman cometh.” Emerging from what looks like spare parts from the Star Tours ride at Disneyland is a silvery albino man with guitar.

The Iceman is was the first of two mascots Disney unveiled that night; Wild Wing being the other, more on him later. He was like the Guy Fieri of the late 80s-early 90s with all the trends of the period plastered on to one human being.

He had one job – hype up the crowd.

From an October 13, 1993 article in the Los Angeles Times:

You might say the latest character to join the Disney cast, the Iceman, is in a bit of hot water.

Known the world over for creating characters that people love to hug, the folks that brought us Mickey, Donald and Goofy finally may have come up with a character people love to hate.

Unveiled Friday night at the Anaheim Arena during the inaugural game of Disney’s Mighty Ducks hockey team, the Iceman’s wild-eyed, in-your-face shtick met with a chorus of boos and hisses the likes of which no Disney character has heard.

And when the Ducks played their home sequel on Sunday, the Iceman was not to be seen.

For his part, the Iceman said he thinks his icy reception was a raw deal.

“The team was down 5 to 1 and the crowd turned on me,” the 32-year-old musician said this week after being told by Disney officials to keep a low profile.

The Iceman hasn’t stepped foot on the Pond’s ice since the end of the second period intermission Friday when Mike Davis, Disney’s director of entertainment, walked up to him and told him to call it a night.

[…]

“The Iceman’s a little battered and bruised,” Davis concedes. “We’re not sure we’re going to bring him back.”

Davis called Friday night’s reception a new experience for a Disney show.

Said Tony Tavares, president of the Mighty Ducks, “We’ve . . . got to put some distance between that bad performance and the crowd. At this point, it wouldn’t matter if he was Neil Diamond up there, he’d still get booed.”

Ironically, Disney officials conceived the Iceman’s bizarre, silver-faced, frazzle-haired looks and rock-till-you-drop demeanor because they were dealing with that peculiar breed of sports fan–the professional hockey fan. For the uninitiated, the average hockey match has more brawls than a Clint Eastwood Western.

Disney officials already had a mascot, the Mighty Duck, and a dance group, the Decoys, but they thought they needed something more, something tailor-made for hockey fans.

“Not that more is better,” Davis said. “But being Disney, we need to do it different.”

On paper, the Iceman was supposed to pop up in different parts of the arena, rant, rave, belt out a few tunes and generally whip the crowd into a frenzy.

On Friday, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy all right, but it wasn’t quite the frenzy Disney had in mind.

OUCH. Have to hand it to Disney. At least they realized they underestimated hockey fans. Sadly though, this would be the last time they’d ever acknowledge such a mistake.

Writing this piece got me thinking. Whatever happened to Iceman? Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register caught up with him in January 2014:

For before the Ducks lifted Lord Stanley’s hardware, they buried Walt Disney’s nightmare.

“Not all Disney ideas are big hits,” Matt MacKelvie says today. “It was so cool at first. But then it was bad, real bad.”

He lasted only one game, The Iceman did, but rarely is the Ducks’ inaugural contest in 1993 remembered without mention of the character MacKelvie was hired to play.

The character who was supposed to be visually stunning but instead promptly disappeared.

The character who was supposed to be the team’s talking mascot – compared to the ever-silent Wild Wing – but instead had his microphone quickly unplugged.

The character who was supposed to have risen from the depths of Anaheim Arena but now rests somewhere well below Honda Center.

[…]

“It was lame,” MacKelvie says. “It was really lame.”

As the Ducks sputtered on the ice, MacKelvie was experiencing his own difficulties, technical difficulties. Because of issues with the sound system, he struggled trying to sing, talk and play his guitar.

[…]

By the time the game was over, so was The Iceman’s career.

“You know hockey fans,” says MacKelvie, a lifelong musician who lives in Thousand Oaks. “They can be brutal. We’re losing the first game and I’m running around trying to be this silly character. They were on me pretty good.”

Afterward, MacKelvie sat in his car and cried, something he says he hadn’t done since seeing the movie “E.T.” He was, to be sure, The Crushed Iceman.

Someone from the Ducks called the next day, thanked MacKelvie for giving it his best and told him to turn in his sequined skates and half-finger gloves.

For the next several years, every time MacKelvie drove past the Ducks home, he found himself flipping off the building.

“In the bottom of my heart, it wasn’t like I ever hated the team,” he says now, laughing. “It was just kind of a fun thing to do.”

Flipping the bird at Honda Center? Probably something he and Bruce Boudreau can relate to.

UPDATE: s/t Spike Coffman for finding the the final appearance of Iceman on the broadcast.

#2) Bobby Ryan scores with Mikko Koivu’s stick

Bobby Ryan scored many goals while in Anaheim. One of his most memorable came at the expense of Mikko Koivu.

Koivu loses his stick while playing Corey Perry for the puck. As Ryan comes in to handle the puck, Koivu deftly snatches Bobby’s stick out of his hands. The Duck throws his arms up in protest, but he will have the last laugh.

As the play develops, Ryan picks up Koivu’s stick laying on the ice and continues to float around the net. The shot from the defense rebounds perfectly to Ryan who one-times it home.

The best part – Koivu is a left-handed shot. Ryan is a right-handed shot. Now if he didn’t have a wide open net to shoot at, maybe it’s a different story, but still, it was a weird goal.

My dad and I were in the arena watching for the goal. I didn’t believe him when he told me what happened. Somehow I missed it. I blame beer.

#3) Mumps and Vertigo

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Seriously, who gets the mumps?! Only one of the NHL’s weirdest teams does of course.

Back in 2014, the Ducks went through a spell where they lost a series of players to a case of the mumps – a disease that most of us in the United States are vaccinated against in early childhood and give a booster later on.

Mumps began to spread around the NHL after the Ducks announced Corey Perry had the virus. Corey Perry is a lot of things – many I cannot list in a public forum – but Patient Zero he was not. Check out ESPN’s timeline of the mumps breakout across the NHL.

While I wouldn’t put it past Corey Perry to spread an infectious disease to gain competitive advantage, the mumps were not his doing. He was a victim of the Blues and Wild. Period. (And I will continue to claim that while he is on my favorite team.)

As far as weird injuries go, Jonas Hiller was struck down with a case of vertigo. Something Arrested Development fans might be familiar with after learning about Lucille Austero’s case of ‘chronic vertigo.’

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At the 2011 All-Star Game, Kris Letang takes a hard shot that Hiller fields off his mask. Letang later apologized but it wasn’t enough to save poor Jonas.

Hiller said he didn’t feel the effects of the strike until days later, citing travel and fatigue. It later showed to be something much worse.

From The Canadian Press:

Nobody can explain why Hiller’s incredible reflexes and puck vision suddenly were enveloped by a fog of dizziness and fatigue in early February. Nobody is sure why Hiller feels perfectly normal away from the rink, and nobody can tell him when—or whether—it will go away.

[…]

“It feels like I’m always falling behind the play,” said Hiller, 26-16-3 with five shutouts this season. “It’s like I can’t keep up with the puck any more. I might be physically there, but I always feel like my head’s not there yet. I almost feel like I’m running behind the whole play for half a second or something. I’m always trying to catch up, which throws me off even more.”

The goaltender played in only three games following the all-star break.

#4) Misadventures of Wild Wing

One of the few things that survived the Disney ownership era was the mascot, Wild Wing.

I’ll admit, I am weird in the fact I talk to him as if he is a real person and not a human in a furry costume. But then again, so is Barry Melrose who sat down to ‘interview’ Wild Wing and Kings mascot Bailey.

Things haven’t always been easy for the Ducks mascot.

We’ll start with a favorite of Kings and Sharks fans everywhere. In 1995, Wild Wing attempts to make a death defying leap over a bank of fire.

Yes, he caught on fire and was eventually extinguished. Really, though, with that kind of slow skate up, is anyone surprised he landed in the fire? Makes you wonder if they practiced it beforehand.

In a 1995 article from the LA Times, some other pre-cell phone camera events took place on – and over – the ice:

Before another, he tried the wall of fire trick again, went barreling up the ramp and successfully broke on through to the other side–except there was no wall of fire, because the flame jets had not been fueled with enough propane. In a striking metaphor for what was happening to the hockey team at that point of the season, the Ducks ran out of gas.

And before Friday afternoon’s matinee against Chicago, in an apparent homage to the post-Thankgiving Day hangover, Wild Wing’s regular entrance-via-cable-wire was interrupted about 50 feet short of completion, leaving the mascot to hang over the ice helplessly until arena technicians could reel him in like an oversized, slightly overwrought flounder.

This time, it was a malfunctioning cable, caused, according to a Duck spokesman, by Wild Wing’s “overly animated” behavior.

Occasionally he comes down from the ceiling, but not too often. (True story: heard insurance premiums were really high.)

Wild Wing like to taunt visiting fans in the oddest way possible. Lots of silent pointing and dance moves only seen in da club.

#5) BARN FIGHT!

By far, the strangest story in the history of the Anaheim Ducks happened back in 2008, but we didn’t find out about it until 2011.

A little history first.

After the Ducks won their Stanley Cup in 2007, Kevin Lowe, GM of the Edmonton Oilers, at the time gave Dustin Penner a five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet that the Ducks did not match. (Yes, we all know how that worked out.)

To say that then-Anaheim GM Brian Burke was upset is an understatement. He called the move ‘gutless’ because he found out through Penner’s agent and not a phone call from Lowe. Burke added, “Edmonton has offered a mostly inflated salary for a player, and I think it’s an act of desperation for a general manager who is fighting to keep his job.”

It took a year for Lowe to unleash his true feelings about Burke.

From LA Times article in July 2008:

Lowe shot back, calling Burke a “moron” following comments made by the Anaheim GM to The Times earlier this week.

In an interview with an Edmonton radio station late Friday, Lowe sharply responded to Burke’s assertion that the offer sheets the Oilers gave to Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner last summer have driven up the salary structure for young restricted free agents.

[…]

“I mean, if he wants to debate what our offer sheet did to them or to the salaries, any time,” Lowe said in the interview with Edmonton sports station Team 1260. “I’m sick and tired of it. I know everybody is. I know our peers are like, ‘Well, that’s Burkie.’

“The guy is an absolute media junkie and I guess he’s achieving what he wants because he gets his name in the headlines. But the reality is, I hate the fact that my name is linked to this.

“He won a Stanley Cup? Great. I’ve won six Stanley Cups, you want to count rings? Who cares? It’s just a little pathetic that he carries on.”

[…]

Lowe also sharply criticized the Southern California market, saying that Burke’s statements are largely designed to drum up local interest in the NHL.

“He’s a moron, first of all,” Lowe said. “Secondly, he really believes that any news for the NHL is good news. Thirdly, he loves the limelight and I don’t think anyone in hockey will dispute that.

“Lastly, he’s in a pathetic hockey market where they can’t get on any page of the newspaper let alone the front page of the sports, so any of this stuff carries on.”

(Yeah, Lowe probably wants to re-think that whole pathetic hockey market of Southern California thing…)

Burkie and Lowe were the Taylor Swift and Kimye of 2007-08.

In 2011, Burke had since moved on from Anaheim to helm the Toronto Maple Leafs. He gave a very Brian Burke interview with The Score’s Sophia Jurksztowicz where we learned many, many things.

The most important of which being about a FIGHT IN A BARN THAT NEVER CAME TO BE.

From the transcript of the interview:

Burke: [The feud] got to the point where Kevin challenged me to a fight on a radio interview. So I’m like, that’s not really how you challenge a guy to a fight. If you wanna challenge a guy to a fight, you pick a place and a time and you show up.

So I called Glen Sather and I say look, this guy went on the radio and challenged me to a fight. I’m gonna be at Lake Placid at the U.S. Junior camp. I gave him three dates. I told him I’d rent a barn. I picked the address and the time and I’d fight Kevin Lowe.

Q. And you’re serious?

Burke: Dead serious. It got to the point where Gary Bettman called me and said ‘I heard you guys were thinkin’ about having a fight. If you do, I’m going to suspend you both indefinitely.’ That’s how crazy it got between me and Kevin. He’s as stubborn as I am. There’s no doubt in my mind that if we bumped into each other right around then, we would’ve fought. No question. He’s not afraid of me. We would’ve fought, for sure.

Anyway, my wife overhears this. I think I’m in privacy in a backyard in California and my wife said, ‘You idiot. You’re going to fight this guy? You’re a general manager.’ So it never came to that.”

BAHHHHH. If Gary Bettman really cared about the NHL, he would have let Lowe and Burke fight AND charged money for the video.