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 . . .")
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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.
Goalie Jonas Hiller echoed the sentiment: "It's depressing; it makes you feel sad."
More than a few teams have been known to have a hard time recovering from such a blow. Getzlaf wouldn't allow it, saying, "You can learn a lot from losing big games." Getzlaf promptly got in a fight in the season opener against Colorado, setting a tone that would propel the Ducks to win 15 of their next 18 games.
"[Detroit] was a big building block for us," Getzlaf says. "We had a lot of guys who hadn't been in that situation that learned a lot. The guys did a great job of getting back to where we want to be."
As of this writing, the Ducks are third in the Western Conference, which means when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week, they would play the conference's No. 6 team. Currently, that team is the Los Angeles Kings.
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3. HE COULD WIN THE HART TROPHY
The Hart is given to the NHL's MVP, and Getzlaf has been in the running almost from the start of the season. He is having, arguably, the greatest all-around season in team history. He is second in the league in points, sixth in assists and 11th in goals. He not only produces during games, but he also does something precious few can do: control games.
"I definitely think he belongs in the hunt [for the Hart]," says former Ducks GM Brian Burke, now with the Calgary Flames. "This is a dominating player. He has a bad temper, a high skill level and a big body. That's a good combination for a hockey player."
For such a big man—he's 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds—he is remarkably smooth on the ice and often seems to glide. He plays center, hockey's version of a point guard. Like great players in all sports, he seems to see everything, to move deliberately while all around him rush about. The puck not only seems to find him but tends to stay on his stick that extra moment, allowing him to make not only the proper play, but also rarely the costly mistake, especially in the Ducks' half of the ice.
"He never seems to rush with the puck. He has the patience to make a play," Hiller says. "His skill set is amazing; if he has the puck, something good is going to happen. He's just so big, so skilled. I know guys from other teams, and they always complain 'Man, I hate going against Getzlaf.' That's probably the best compliment you can give a player."
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4. HE WON'T WIN THE HART TROPHY
Getzlaf wouldn't be the Ducks' first Hart winner. Perry won the award for the 2010-11 season, during which he scored 50 goals. But he had a significant advantage over Getzlaf. Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player in the world, who has held the title for some time, missed half of that season with concussions.
Even then, Perry won a close vote over Daniel Sedin. It was a surprise to many when Perry's name was announced at the NHL Awards; one of those most surprised was Perry himself, who said, "It surprised me."
Getzlaf is having his best year, but Crosby is having another one of his, leading the league in points by double digits over the second-place Getzlaf.
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5. DUDE IS GOLDEN
As a member of Team Canada, he has won two Olympic gold medals. The first came in 2010 and as a result of the epic final game against the U.S., won in overtime by Canada, 3-2. Playing for the Americans that day was Getzlaf's then-Ducks teammate, Bobby Ryan, and that connection inspired one of the best sports-related skits ever.
At the 2010 NHL Awards show, fans were treated to Getzlaf torturing Ryan by calling him only by his new nickname, "Silver." Getzlaf, you see, had gone quite gold crazy and was now a raging asshole. The most inspired moment in all of this was when Ryan entered the players' lounge to find Getzlaf sitting, enjoying a beverage. Hilarity ensued. . . .
Ryan: Dude, are you using my medal as a coaster?
Getzlaf: Oh, this is your medal? Sorry, I didn't recognize it. It wasn't gold.
The skit was such a hit that a second one appeared at the following year's awards show, featuring Getzlaf even fuller of himself, toting a teacup Pomeranian and waited on by a personal assistant who signed autographs for him. Ryan has since been traded away, but after Canada's gold-medal performance this year, could there be a third skit on the horizon featuring Getzlaf and Ducks teammate/Team USA player Cam Fowler?
"Oh, I think that ship has sailed."
Come back, Asshole Getzlaf. Come back!
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6. DUDE WILL PUNCH YOU IN THE BRAIN
One of the reasons the NHL Awards skit is especially funny to the knowledgeable hockey fan—is there any other kind?—is that Getzlaf is one of the least likely to get above himself. Witness the willingness and zeal he shows to mix it up in a fight to protect and defend teammates. As befitting a player of his considerable and wide-ranging skills, he has recorded two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks this season, considered one of the most manly accomplishments in a sport that raises manliness to extremely manly levels.
The Howe occurs when a player scores a goal, assists on a goal and gets in a fight. In that first game, with Colorado leading 6-0 with just a little more than a minute remaining, Getzlaf and Avalanche winger Steve Downie got into it, with Getzlaf getting several punches to the side of Downie's head, one that put him on his knees, then recovering just in time to make himself upright and allow Getzlaf to hit him once more upside the head. Then, in a move that seemed to defy the laws of motion, Getzlaf connected on an upper cut that began at his own chest, went under Downie's left elbow, travelled up and connected with the Av's winger's chin, all while Downie's left arm was firmly locked around his neck. According to hockeyfights.com—because there is something called hockeyfights.com, bless it—Getzlaf was the clear winner.
He got in a second fight in January against the Philadelphia Flyers and once again pummeled his overmatched opponent, who turned out to be the unfortunate Mr. Downie, who had earlier been traded to the Flyers for the express purpose, it seems, of getting pounded by Getzlaf. When asked why he had such animosity toward Downie—had he run over the Getzlaf dog, violated the Getzlaf Sea-Doo?—Getzlaf said that Downie had, in fact, been asking for it. Literally.
"He asked to speak to me before the game. He said he thought I jumped him in Colorado and asked me to fight again. He said I owed him."
That night, the Downie fight helped Getzlaf record his second Howe Hat Trick. When he was reminded after the game that his linemate Perry had three Howes, Getzlaf explained, "Corey? Yeah, but he gets beat up all the time. It's different."
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7. DUDE GOT PAID
Last year, the Ducks signed Getzlaf to an eight-year, $66 million contract extension.
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8. HE'S BIG IN REGINA—SANDRA SCHMIRLER BIG
The very flat plain that is Regina is known for being the capital city of Saskatchewan and for a resilience that has allowed its people to come back from the worst cyclone to ever hit a Canadian city, for being the site of some of the worst labor violence during the Great Depression and for producing some kickass curling. And the Getzlafs.
An active city that loves its sports, Getzlaf embraced the lifestyle and played just about everything, from hockey to baseball to volleyball to football. Interestingly enough, even in other sports, he tended to gravitate to positions that would allow him to dictate action—i.e., he played tailback in football and was a catcher in baseball. Some of his greatest games were played against his brother Chris, who has gone on to play slotback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, with whom he has won two championship Grey Cups. Ryan said the only thing marring hoisting the Stanley Cup the night the Ducks won it was that his brother wasn't there to share it with him. When Chris got married last year, the wedding was hosted at Ryan's home.
The brothers' success has moved locals to call them the "First Sports Family of Saskatchewan," though there doesn't appear to be any plans to name any parks after them as of yet. Apparently, you have to be a curler for that. There are numerous things in town named after curlers. Renowned for its curling prowess (yes, that's a thing), Regina has been home to some of the sport's greatest, none greater than Olympic gold medalist Sandra Schmirler—or, as she was also known, Schmirler the Curler.
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9. HE TAKES THE "C" ON HIS SWEATER VERY SERIOUSLY
Hockey's an odd thing. It is at times the most brutal sport, one in which players deal in brutal, bare-knuckle fighting that would cause scandal in any other sport, yet, as any sports writer will tell you, hockey players are the nicest, kindest athletes you'll ever deal with. It's not close—there's not even a second place (though there is a last place: Major League Baseball players, who are crotch-scratching wads).
Hockey players are well-known to eschew sentimentality when it comes to playing the game—especially when it comes to the loss of blood and/or teeth—yet they can be absolutely mawkish about the rites and emblems of the game. Consider their schizoid regard for the Stanley Cup, a trophy all hockey players are known to view with an aura of religiosity, but which those lucky enough to hoist have been known to regularly defile, especially in its use as an eating utensil (sounds rather Roman Catholic, actually).
And then there is the captain's "C" you see on players' sweaters. It's doubtful players from any other sport respect and honor the "C" more. The hockey captain is seen as that thing players value most. Ask them if they would rather have a great player or great teammate, and they will likely always choose the latter.
"I don't know if there's a more team sport than hockey," Niedermayer says. "You really need to depend on teammates, coaches. . . . That is what a captain is expected to do; you know, get everyone in the same direction on the same page."
That's a lot to ask of anyone, especially a young player such as Getzlaf, who was still developing not just as a player but also as a person. Ducks management had identified him early on as captain material.
"In 2006, we had a state of the franchise event with fans," says longtime Ducks media-relations director Alex Gilchrist. "Our GM at the time was Brian Burke, and he picked [then-Coach] Randy Carlyle, Scott Niedermayer and Getzlaf to speak. It was telling because Getzlaf was 21 years old. They were grooming him to be the captain."
It would actually happen four years later, when Getzlaf was 25, and he promptly went out and had the worst season of his career, registering career lows in points (57) and goals (11). Coach Bruce Boudreau said later the problem was how seriously Getzlaf took his role: "Sometimes, you sit there and worry, 'I'm the captain: Should I do this or do that?' Instead of just going out there and having the situations present themselves to you. . . . Sometimes, he overthinks the role."
Hiller says, "To be the leader, you just can't one day say, 'Okay, I'm the leader.' You have to grow into it."
Getzlaf did. By the following season of 2012-13, he averaged better than a point a game and the team took off with him . . . well, until Detroit. And this season, he has firmly established himself as one of the handful of best skaters in the league, unquestioned on the ice and in the locker room.
"He was still relatively young in the scheme of things when he was named captain," Niedermayer says. "To be put in a bigger role like that obviously can mix you up pretty good. If he's out there and not playing as well as he would like personally, but then he's worried about the team not playing well, it can be a bit more to handle than you would like. He's done a good job of just kinda sticking with it and letting it all kind of figure itself out."
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10. SAME WITH THE "D"
While most people focused on Getzlaf's adjustment to being captain as the reason for his struggles a couple of seasons ago, he has maintained that being a new dad weighed on him just as heavily.
He and wife Paige had their first child, Ryder, around the time he was named captain. Like any new father, he struggled with lack of sleep and all the anxiety and questions that come with being a new parent. And then there was the anxiety that comes with being a professional athlete who plays in a sport that demands you spend huge chunks of time not only away from home, but much of that time on the road, as well. He dealt with the guilt of missing those once-in-a-lifetime milestones, including when Ryder took his first steps, which Ryan watched via his phone.
As had happened with the captain's role, it took Getzlaf a while to relax and find a happy medium. But when he did, things seemed to work themselves out.
"It's hard to describe—my wife and I had to reach an understanding, a balance," he says. "The whole thing, when I'm here [at the rink], I have to be here and able to focus on what I need to do at the rink. When I'm home, I have to focus on the family."
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11. HE AND HIS WIFE ARE A LOVELY COUPLE
Ryan and Paige make a pretty impressive couple. He's a big hockey star; she's a lovely woman. He pounds on Steve Downie; she organizes diaper donations for needy families.
Playerswives.com (because there's something called playerswives.com, bless it, too) has called her "the perfect hockey wife," noting her tendency to head to the Twitterwaves to offer support and congratulations when appropriate, as well as her tendency to be, in their words, "smoking hot."
They were introduced to each other while dining one night and have pretty much been together ever since.
"We were both living in Newport at the time," Getzlaf says. "We hung out a few times, and then that became every day."
Since they've been together, Ryan and Paige have not only done the diaper thing, but they've also raised money for autism research and have organized an annual event to fund research for the study of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Just last week, Paige and other Ducks girlfriends and wives—the Lady Ducks—put on a fashion show, raising $175,000 for Childrens' Hospital of Orange County. Eight months' pregnant, Paige walked the runway, and Ryan put his Olympic jersey on the block, where it brought in $16,000.
But you really don't care about that, do you?
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12. FINE, REVISTING THE WHOLE "SMOKING HOT" THING
It is a truism of modern life that beautiful women are very attracted to NHL players. The list is long and impressive of those who have dated and/or married players, including such notables as Carrie Underwood, Elisha Cuthbert, Erin Andrews, Michelle Beadle and, for those of you who remember analog, Kim Alexis. Also, a whole bunch of Russian models.
Why is this?
When asked about that, Getzlaf flashed the kind of smile only a man who's married to someone like his wife—rub it in, nice—can and says, "I wish I had an answer." Do you Ryan? Do you? "We fool the right people, I guess."
In studying this phenomenon further, I've talked to women who said that hockey players are 1) manly, 2) seem kind of nice and 3) Canadian. I've also talked to several men who said all those women are beards for guys who are obviously compensating.
Then there is Playboy magazine (which is apparently still a thing, bless it), which surmised, "Hockey players make incredible lovers. Their strong hip flexors and tight abdominal muscles make for a strong and flexible core to help maintain a rhythm that women enjoy."
* * *
When he was drafted by the Ducks in 2003, Getzlaf was big and strong with a thick, Ralph Macchio-like mane of brown hair. As the years have gone by, he's only gotten bigger and stronger, but the hair . . .
In the 2007 Cup year, he sported a spiky look, and the following year, it was a faux hawk. What seemed like fashion choices at the time soon became apparent were last valiant attempts to provide coverage by building up. It would take a few more years for Getzlaf to fully embrace his scalp, as he does now. Yes, he is a proud, bald man. What's more is he is a bald hockey player, which has provided him entre into the exclusive Best Bald Hockey Players of All Time list.
Now, you may laugh, you may think the list is some kind of burn on a guy, but look at the list. Not only is Getzlaf's former teammate and Cup-winning goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere on it, so are such hockey immortals as Guy Lafleur, Bobby Hull and Mark Messier. Hull and Messier are always ranked first and second, respectively. Hull may have rated higher if he had not resorted to hair transplants.
Messier, a five-time Cup winner, was, like Getzlaf, big, strong, skilled and arguably the best teammate ever. In fact, Niedermayer sees a lot of Messier in Getzlaf.
"Yeah, they're similar, and that's saying something," he says. "Big, strong guys with a lot of talent; you wouldn't be making much of a stretch to make a comparison. No shame being on that list."
Getzlaf waxes philosophic: "Well, I guess it's better than being on the list of the worst bald hockey players."
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14. ANNA KOURNIKOVA
I've been reminded that Anna Kournikova dated one hockey player and married another. So there you go.
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15. HE'S STILL YOUNG
For all he's accomplished—a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, two kids, another on the way and that huge contract extension—Getzlaf is still relatively young, and his best hockey could very well be ahead of him.
Teammate Teemu Selanne, who began his NHL career in 1992 when Ryan Getzlaf was just 7, has said that over the past couple of years, Getzlaf has "taken a huge step forward as a leader and as an athlete. He wants to do things right. Obviously won the Stanley Cup his first year. Now he wants to win one as a leader. It's been great to watch him getting better and he's turning into a man.
"No real weaknesses," Selanne continues. "I always say he can be as good as he wants to be, and now, he really wants to be the difference. . . . He's a totally different person, a total different athlete than a few years ago. I haven't seen a better player this year."
And he's just 28, which means he's probably just reaching his physical peak.
You might want to make note of that, Downie.