To me, it's ironic that Jaromir Jagr would seemingly declare his intentions to return to the game on the day that Paul Kariya would announce his retirement. My very first Mighty Ducks game was versus the Penguins in 1996. Aside from the atmosphere that night, the two biggest things that made an impact on me were Jagr's mullet and Paul Kariya.
For a group of hockey fans that are claimed to be apathetic about their team, you'll never find one issue that riles up the emotions of Ducks' fans more than the legacy of Paul Kariya in Anaheim. If you've read what I've written before, it's no secret that I've been angry for years. I remember picking up The Orange County Register the day Teemu and Paul signed with the Avalanche. It was like seeing your ex-boyfriend with his new girlfriend - and they were engaged. (Brings back the nausea just thinking about it.) For Christmas that year, my parents bought me tickets to Mighty Ducks vs. Avs, just so I could "boo". I proceeded to go to every single game that brought PK back to Anaheim and "boo". It was my therapy.
The day he left Anaheim, I was upset, angry, and confused. Why would our captain - the face of our franchise - leave? As the years went by, I slowly started to accept that it was much more than Paul Kariya's desire to win a championship with his best buddy, but a royal screw up by management and the owners. I can only imagine how the Ducks would have looked if the Samueli's bought the team earlier and Brian Burke was the General Manager.
I found out about Paul Kariya's announcement while I was at lunch. For the most part, I could see this coming, but I still found myself numb while reading through The Globe & Mail article. I knew that I'd have to write about it, but I didn't know where to start. As I scrolled through the numerous tweets coming through reflecting on Kariya's career, one struck me as perfect. Our very own Battle of California Ducks' blogger, Earl Sleek tweeted:
"If it weren't for Paul Kariya, I wouldn't be a Ducks fan today -- maybe not even a hockey fan..."
As much as I was personally hurt by Paul Kariya leaving Anaheim, I failed to realize how much he really impacted my life. Paul Kariya made me fall in love with hockey. I guarantee you that I would not be writing for this blog today, had it not been for Paul Kariya captivating my interest in that very first game.
When he and Teemu Selanne were manning the best Power Play in the league, you didn't just expect them to score, you knew - without a single doubt - they were going to. Some of the goals they scored together left you doing this, "Go! Teemu to Paul! Wait! What?!? He scored?? It was so fast! I didn't see it!" While Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan have size and some speed, they are nothing compared to Paul and Teemu in their prime. Those two were absolutely lights out.
Unlike Teemu, Paul was aloof. He never did pre-game or in between period interviews. He was hard to get autographs from or engage in conversation. I'll never forget reading that his father died of a sudden heart attack during the season. Instead of going home to attend the funeral, Kariya wanted to stay with the team and focus on the game at hand. If it was my dad, I would barely be able to function, let alone play a hockey game. Yet, this is just who Paul Kariya was. Some (including myself) perceived his behavior as arrogance. It wasn't until after he was gone that I finally realized this was Kariya's way of dealing with the spotlight he was thrust into.
Paul Kariya's was the very first hockey jersey I ever received. I watched Mighty Ducks 3 over and over because he was in it. He beat out some rookie named Derek Jeter for my very first sports star crush. (The stories I have from when I was a pre-teen/teenager and my love for Paul Kariya would probably scare you.) While he hasn't been on my team for years, I still feel a bit of sadness that his career ended the way it did. I was beginning to warm up to the idea of him in a new Ducks' sweater and seeing what he could still do with Teemu.
It's hard to think of a closing when your reason for doing what you love decides to bow out. So, I'll make it short. Thanks, Paul Kariya. Without you, I wouldn't be me.