Well Doc, recently, Eklund speculated that Paul Kariya might return to the Ducks to finish his career. I know it's Eklund, so I shouldn't worry, but I have mixed feelings about this possible reunion, and I need to get it off my chest.
Paul Kariya was the first hockey player I ever wanted to meet. He was my first NHL crush. There was something about him I just loved. It could have been his ridiculous speed, his unbelievable hand-eye coordination, the greatest show on earth he put on with Teemu Selanne, or the fact that we were the same height.
It was March 1997. I was 15 years old, two months shy of my "Sweet 16". While other girls were asking for cars, I was asking for tickets to Mighty Ducks Casino Night, to meet my favorite team. Also, my 15 year-old brain had the idea in mind that I could possibly be meeting my future husband, who was 23 at the time, at the event, and I HAD to go. Realizing this, my parents granted me my birthday wish and purchased two tickets – one for me and one for my dad. Like Pops was really going to let his 15 year-old (only) daughter go with one of her girlfriends to an event with professional athletes, even if I was jailbait.
We arrived at The Pond. The event was held up on the 300 level. First stop was the Stanley Cup, which was on display for the night. Dad took a picture of me with The Cup. I followed tradition and didn’t touch The Cup, seeing as my Mighty Ducks hadn’t won it . . . yet.
After leaving Lord Stanley, I saw him. Unlike current Casino Nights, there were around 100 fans max at the event, making it easy to interact with the players. I walked up to him, and in my squeakiest voice, choked out, "Hi Paul. You’re my favorite player. Can I take a picture?" His response, "Ok." Right after my dad snapped the shot, he was gone. I didn’t have a free second to ask him for an autograph or chat about the season. Other players were laughing and talking with fans, but he was disinterested and wanted to get out -- I was crushed.
My dad and I wandered around until we saw Teemu Selanne. He was commanding the largest group of fans as he was dealing blackjack. I was the youngest fan at the event, and Teemu saw me in the crowd. He called me over to take a couple pictures and hang around while he dealt.
After chilling with Teemu, my dad and I ended up at a table with then GM Pierre Gauthier. I told him that one day, I was going to take his job. That amused him, and he started talking to me about the season: what moves I’d make, how the team could be better, etc. He was impressed with my knowledge of the team and the league. It was a thrilling moment that made me want to be in the NHL front office one day.
While we talked, he asked me who my favorite player was. Crestfallen, I replied, "Paul Kariya." My dad, quick to react, said, "We met him, but she didn’t get a chance to talk to him. He ran off." Gauthier, noticing my disappointment, briefly excused himself and when he returned. Kariya was in tow. Kariya was slightly more talkative with me and signed an autograph. It wasn’t difficult to deduce that Kariya was only doing this because the boss told him to. He sat in on a couple hands of blackjack, not talking much when I tried to engage him. Feeling the awkwardness of the moment, I excused myself to find other players and leave. Still crushed.
That experience would sum up Kariya’s relationship with the fans during his entire tenure with Anaheim. He never did pregame or intermission interviews. It was extremely rare to get a post-game quote out of him. It wasn’t until Scotty was given the "C" that I realized what a crappy captain Kariya was, at least in regards to the fans. Could it be that he was young? Sure, but Getzy handles the fans better than Kariya ever did. For a guy that was tapped by the NHL to promote the "Coolest Game on Earth" campaign, he didn’t help the cause with his one-on-one skills.
PK left the organization on not so good terms. As a fan, it broke my heart even more. I will admit, I have gone to almost every Avalanche/Predators/Blues game just to boo Kariya. My inner 15 year-old is still mad.
Selanne and Kariya, in their prime, were unstoppable. What Ducks fan wouldn’t drool at the possibility that they might be reunited as grumpy (Paul only) old men? But I just don’t see it happening. Withdrawn personality aside, I can’t imagine PK being OK with not being the #1 star of the organization he put on the map. This team is now the Getzlaf, Perry and (cross your fingers) Ryan, team. I’m grateful for Kariya’s contributions to Anaheim, but his time here has come and gone. Even if he took a serious pay cut, I’m not sure I’d want to take him back.