This is Anaheim Calling to the Hockey World. The playoffs are done for the Ducks and there will surely be a time for mourning and finger pointing. Now is when we carry out the greatest of hockey traditions. The handshake line. By now, you are all familiar with the concept. The AC staff says good things about the Red Wings who have just vanquished our playoff hopes. This post will be different, but in the same spirit.
The NHL will realign next season, and that realignment will end a rivalry that has defined our franchise. The Ducks have reached post-season play 9 times in their short history and encountered Detroit six times in those nine playoff appearances. The Ducks' fate has been undeniably shaped by Detroit, and the loss of that playoff connection will inevitably leave a mark.
Let me start by saying two things. First, I hate the Red Wings, and not in a friendly way. I hate the Red Wings like Ann Coulter hates atheists, oil companies hate regulations, and Cartman hates Kyle. In fact, there is only one way to accurately express my hatred:
Second, I will miss them. As I said earlier, the Ducks/Wings playoff series have shaped this franchise. As someone who has followed the Ducks since their inception, I have known only one enemy: the Red Wings. The Wings who annihilated the Ducks after their first ever playoff series win in their first ever playoff appearance. They erased Paul Kariya's Game 6 heroics, and subsequent Game 7 victory. They simply overpowered the Mighty Ducks in 1999.
For a decade, the only playoff life I knew was a sad end at the hand of the Red Wings. Despite all of this. I grew up as a hockey fan in an era when Detroit could simply do no wrong. They were the model franchise and had every major media outlet singing their praises for 15 years and longer. It made me look forward to playoff meetings, a chance to show our meddle and quality. Every contest against Detroit was a barometer of hockey progress.
There was nothing I wanted more than to face the Red Wings one more time before they left, one more time before our greatest rival left forever to the Eastern Time Zone, something Commissioner Bettman promised them so long ago. I will miss the Red Wings, the way a younger brother misses an older brother who has gone away for college...forever. I will miss striving towards the goal that was Detroit, although I choose to believe that we accomplished it in our own way. It's hard to overcome 85 years of hockey history in 20, but I feel we left our mark.
The reason I say the Ducks/Wings Rivalry is one of the best is that there was more to it than the hockey, but the hockey was brilliant! The Ducks forced OT in the first two games in 1997, including a triple overtime Game 2. Red Wings mounted a third period comeback and won Game 3. Wings had to win game the series in double OT in Game 4.
Ok, 1999 wasn't great. Yet, ever since then the Ducks/Wings has been a battle that determined the Western Conference Champion, a streak Detroit hopes will continue. There were great and horrible moments. Daniel Cleary's game winner in Game 7 of 2009. Teemu Selanne's OT Winner and Scott Niedermayer's game tying goal in 2007. Jean-Sebastien Giguere's 63 saves in 2003. Still, the hockey was wonderful. I won't recount everything here, most of us lived those series and we all remember well.
Beyond the hockey was the underlying culture war. I imagine most Detroit fans didn't notice. You didn't have to. You've all been following a franchise that was founded before most, if not all, of you were ever born. I'm an L.A. kid. My grandfather is a Dodger fan, my father is a Dodger fan. My brother and I are Dodger fans. That's three generations for a team that's been in California for about 60 years.
The Ducks are a single generation team. I've been to countless Ducks games, but only two with my father. I've attended more Kings games with my brother than Ducks games. We are an L.A family, and I defected for an upstart franchise.
In Detroit, your legitimacy is never questioned. You are an Original Six franchise, and for the past 20 years, the only people saying bad things about the Red Wings have probably been bloggers like me or the occasional main stream media type who tip toes around saying something was dirty or stupid because it's the Red Wings.
Some of you might not remember the awfulness, a horrible word for a horrible time in Detroit history, that was the late 1970s and 1980s. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be a hockey fan whose love of the game was never questioned because of the team for whom he/she chose to cheer. Anaheim fans get that a lot. So do a lot of fans from non-traditional markets. We haven't had time to plant our roots as firmly. It's easier when your team is accepted as part of the hockey mainstream. When the sample size is small, it's easier to tag a team with a title, like "dirty", and have it persist no matter how long ago it stopped being true. Anaheim fans still deal with that one, too. In a way, these playoff contests were the definition of the Bettman era: the upstart Ducks versus the long established, Original Six Red Wings. The non-traditional market versus Hockeytown.
It was the battle that I sometimes feel Ducks fans cherished more than Red Wings fans. No one wants to be responsible for smacking down the upstart; they want to focus on teams they see as on their level. Still, one of my favorite games to play is to tell immigrant Red Wing fans here in California that I cheer for the Ducks and watch the look on their faces. There is always that moment when they want to tell me how much they hate the Ducks, but also don't want to legitimize the rivalry. In the end, I feel it became a great rivalry. No teams have met more since the 1997 playoffs than the Ducks and the Wings.
If the Red Wings were a hurdle the Ducks were constantly attempting to leap, perhaps the Red Wings never saw the Ducks as more than that ever elusive piece of corn in the tooth, something incredibly annoying yet necessary to deal with. Those conflicting attitudes made the hate immeasurably real. Let's be honest; we hate each other. Ducks players hate guys who wear the winged wheel and vice versa. These playoff series have had everything over the years, really great hockey, really great moments, and really beautiful hate. It's the kind of hate that makes rivalries worth having, the kind of hate that makes you offer live chickens to the hockey gods to just eliminate this one damn team.
History will say Detroit took the overall rivalry four series to two. However, I try not to count those first two victories since they came when Disney still wasn't taking hockey seriously. These last four series should be remembered for more than what they will be. Unfortunately, that's life in a small market. Instead of one of the greatest rivalries of all time, we'll get "that team that Detroit had to play a lot in the playoffs". I sincerely hope this rivalry will never fade. I've loved every minute of it, even in the regular season. Pavel Datsyuk has two career fights, both against the Ducks. That's real hate when Datsyuk starts dropping gloves.
It's been wonderful, and I'd like to sincerely thank the Detroit Red Wings and their fans for letting me hate them so passionately. I'm fairly confident that they hate the Anaheim Ducks and their fans just as much. In my mind, I wanted this to be a grander farewell, but perhaps we can all settle for an understanding. We hate each other, exactly the way the hockey gods intended. I will miss this rivalry. It's really the only one I've known as a hockey fan.
So to you Detroit, I say a series win well earned. Babcock is a brilliant coach and he flaunted it once again. To the entirety of the Ducks/Red Wings history, I bid a very fond farewell. I will miss you. I will miss what you have meant to this franchise, and I am glad that our paths crossed the way they did. We will meet once again, and we will settle this once and for all the way rivalries should be settled, for the championship.