By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
1. WHO IS RYAN GETZLAF?
Over the past couple of years, he has been one of the two or three best players in the NHL. Big, strong, skilled and smart, he has the kind of all-around game that draws comparisons with Gordie Howe and Mark Messier. And he plays for your Anaheim Ducks. Of course, if you don't consider them your Ducks, if you're not a hardcore hockey fan—is there any other kind?—you likely didn't know that about Getzlaf, just as you likely assumed Howe and Messier were original cast members of Kids In the Hall.
But Getzlaf, 28, is very much Orange County's. Not only does he play in Anaheim, but he lives in Tustin Ranch; is married to a young woman from Coto de Caza; has struggled in the past to find a balance between fatherhood and his high-paying, high-pressure job; and he owns a Sea-Doo.
In fact, the county now lays claim to two of professional sports' greatest players—Mike Trout of the Angels being the other, of course. But there's a difference. While Trout and Getzlaf would be mobbed around the immediate exterior of their respective home arenas/ballparks, Trout would continue to draw a crowd if he were to jog across Katella Avenue to that little Starbucks across from Anaheim Stadium. But if Getzlaf were to traverse Katella to the JT Schmid's across from Honda Center, there is every possibility that no one would pay him any attention, the presumption being that he was just another tall, in-shape, prematurely balding fellow with access to personal watercraft.
I set about to prove that point recently, my plan being to ask fans at Honda Center what they thought of Getzlaf, then, after listening to their frothy responses of how his talent and leadership make the Ducks a true contender for this season's Stanley Cup, I would walk over to Schmid's, pose the same question and receive a blank stare.
Here's how that went:
Me, to fan in line for tickets at Honda Center: So, how about Getzlaf?
Fan: [blank stare] . . .
Fan: What is that? What's a Getzlaf?
So, you can see that Getzlaf's fame sometimes does not even extend beyond the environs of the Honda Center. (If you're wondering, the fan, Terry Stokes of Orange, was a sports fan, said he had at one time been employed by the Los Angeles Kings, but he was there to buy tickets for an upcoming LA KISS indoor football game so he could watch his nephew and KISS lineman, Colin Baxter.) This has been a fact of life for Ducks players in the team's 20 years of existence. Teemu Selanne, who can't go out in public in his homeland of Finland, spoke years ago of the joys of anonymity in Orange County.
"We have passionate fans; it makes it special to come to the rink every night. But as soon as you leave the rink, you sort of blend in," says Scott Niedermayer, a teammate of Getzlaf's on the Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup championship team (one of four Cups for Niedermayer) who is now an assistant coach with the team. "If Getz were playing in Canada or Philadelphia or Detroit, it would be different, might be hard for him to go anywhere without being recognized."
Maybe even mobbed? I mean, who doesn't like a nice mobbing every now and again?
"Oh, man, there is none of me that would like to get mobbed when I go outside," Getzlaf says. "I couldn't ask for anything more than what I have here. Full house to play in front of, and then to be pretty much anonymous when I leave the place—you couldn't ask for anything more."
(I, on the other hand, would like to ask the fine people at Wikipedia that they reconsider the first line of their bio entry on Mike Trout, in which they claim he is referred to as "The Millville Meteor." He is not referred to as the Millville Meteor, and I cannot imagine any circumstances not involving time travel in which anyone would call Trout the Millville Meteor since the Millville Meteor is one of those nicknames you can only imagine coming out of the mouth of Old Timey Radio Guy: "And remember, fans, Wednesday is Ladies' Day, courtesy of Derkins Polio Talc. You gals will be allowed to stand in the far, darkened reaches of the park provided you keep your adorable little yaps shut. Now, coming to bat, the Millville Meteor, Mike . . .")
* * *
2. HE IS HAUNTED BY THE PAST
It has been about 11 months since the Ducks, a favorite to hoist the Cup, lost their first-round playoff series to the Detroit Red Wings in gut-wrenching style. Anaheim had been heavy favorites to take the series, most experts had picked them to win it in five or six games, and they had taken a 2-1 lead in the series. But they would lose three of the next four games, including a game seven loss at home that included Detroit scoring a short-handed goal.
It was disappointing, crushing on many levels, including that it robbed local fans of the opportunity to see the Ducks and Los Angeles Kings face each other in a playoff series. Afterward, stunned Ducks winger Corey Perry said, "It's not something you think is going to happen," sounding every bit like someone who'd just been through a catastrophic accident.