Paul Kariya returns to Ducks for playoff celebration (Video)

Anaheim Ducks fans have waited for this moment for over a decade. No, not finally winning in Game 7.

It was the return of Paul Kariya.

Sixteen numbers line pillars at the top of Honda Center signifying the sixteen wins it takes to win a Stanley Cup. Each time the Ducks get a win, a notable former (Mighty) Duck paints an ‘X’ through the number.

The artists thus far:

#16 – Wild Wing (mascot)
#15 – Guy Hebert
#14 – Kent Huskins
#13 – Jason Marshall
#12 – Bryan Allen
#11 – The family of Ruslan Salei (must watch)
#10 – Jeff Friesen

Ask any Ducks fan who they’d thought would paint the ‘X’ through the No. 9 and no one would say Paul Kariya.

After being the face of the franchise, Kariya and the Mighty Ducks parted ways. (It’s a long, long story.)

He and Teemu Selanne reunited for a not-so-great year with the Colorado Avalanche, and there were a lot of hard feelings in Anaheim. Kariya was frequently ‘boo’ed’ heartily when he’d return to Honda Center as a member of the Avs, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues.

Yet, time heals old wounds (in sports). Kariya was the reason many fans in Anaheim fell in love with the team in the first place.

Ducks fans collectively freaked out – in a good way – when Kariya was shown at Teemu Selanne’s final regular season game. At Selanne’s jersey retirement, Kariya opted not to attend and his absence was felt.

There have been stories throughout the years of the now Samueli-owned Ducks attempting to extend the olive branch to the former superstar, both while he was still playing and now that his career is over.

The scars for Kariya went far beyond the Ducks. His love of the game had faded and his anger towards the NHL for it’s lack of protection of players against concussions is great.

Kariya sustained multiple concussions that cost him chunks of playing time throughout his career. The forward never returned to play after receiving an elbow to the head from Patrick Kaleta. He sat out an entire season, but ultimately he listened to his doctor who told him the risk for long-term health was too great if he returned to play. He retired with some harsh words for the NHL.

Given today’s climate surrounding concussions and headshots in the NHL, Kariya should be involved and helping players (ahem, Mr. Crosby) understand the risks they take. It’s likely Kariya’s input into headshots and player safety isn’t welcomed because he wants 10-20 game suspensions for players and fines for owners and coaches. That’s way more punishment than the NHL and NHLPA are willing to deal out.

Regardless of Kariya’s feelings towards the NHL as a whole, hopefully this small moment with Kai Quinonez (who first skated with the Ducks as a part Make-A-Wish in 2015) is the beginning of a new relationship between the team and the player who helped put them on the map.

Seeing him in the orange third jersey with the Mighty Ducks logo on it is a great start. (Dude hasn’t aged a day.)

So, should the Ducks get a win versus Nashville, who might paint over No. 8? That’s easy.

It’s Sandis Ozolinsh.