Mighty Ducks: From Hollywood to the Stanley Cup

mighty ducks
Teemu Selaane/photo by Bridget Samuels

Few teams can match the fairy-tale story of the Mighty Ducks

When it comes to ice hockey, few teams can match the fairy-tale story of the Mighty Ducks. The team went from a Disney movie to the Stanley Cup in just over a decade, ushering in a whole new era for a hockey world that had previously been focused on Canada and the northern US.

With a long tradition of winners from across the border, fans have long known how to follow hockey and how to bet on the NHL from Canada. But now, with six winners from Florida and Southern California in the last 18 years, interest in the game has been spreading rapidly south. Undoubtedly, much of this passion can be traced to what Disney had done with the Mighty Ducks.

Life Imitates Art

The 1992 movie The Mighty Ducks was nothing special in terms of Disney underdog-does-good movies. Following a familiar formula, it featured a rag-tag bunch of kids from the wrong side of town who are given a new coach that inspires them to victory against their privileged local rivals. Everyone learns a valuable lesson about life along the way, and they all live happily ever after.

The film took in a respectable $50.7 million at the box office and spawned two sequels, unimaginatively titled D2: The Mighty Ducks and D3: The Mighty Ducks. More importantly, it inspired Disney to bid for one of the new expansion franchises in the NHL, launching the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 1993-94 season.

Disappointing Start

Disney ran the team for 12 seasons from 1993 to 2005, but met with little success. Looking more like the team at the start of the movie than the winners at the end, they failed to qualify for the playoffs in seven of their first nine seasons. During this time they only posted three winning seasons—two of which were by a single game—and only twice scored more goals than they conceded. Nevertheless the Ducks were a huge hit, selling out their Arrowhead Pond home ice for the last 25 games of their first season despite their less-than-.500 record. 

The 2002-03 season did considerably better, with the Ducks making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost 3-4 to the New Jersey Devils. The team was sold soon afterward to Henry and Susan Samuel who took over in 2005, dropping the ‘Mighty’ from their name beginning with the 2006-07 season. 

The Golden Era

Things improved rapidly under the new management, with the team giving rise to such stars as Paul Kariya, Teemu Selaane, Ryan Getzlaf, and Jean-Sebastien-Giguere. The Anaheim Ducks, as they were now known, posted 12 winning seasons out of 13 between 2005-06 and 2017-18. They failed to qualify for the playoffs only once during that period, and took it all the way to the top for their new owners in only their second season in charge.

Posting the most impressive run in the franchise’s history, they made the playoffs with a 48 and 20 record, scoring 50 more goals than they conceded. They then made short work of their post-season games, beating both the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks 4-1 and the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Once again they wasted no time, sweeping aside the Ottawa Senators 4-1 to become the first California team to pick up the trophy and the first West Coast team to win since the 1925 Victoria Cougars.

Back to the Basement

In recent years the Anaheim Ducks began to look more like the rag-tag team from the movie than the dominant force they once were. They have not made the playoffs for the last three seasons, posting losing records of 35 and 37; 29 and 33; and 17 and 30, while conceding 50 more goals than they scored in two of those years. The Ducks last made the playoffs in 2018, when they lost in the First Round. They’ve been in the playoffs a total of 14 times in their 27 seasons.

Things appear to be looking brighter, however, as this season they are currently in second place in the Pacific Division. But if the Ducks fail to make significant headway, one might wonder if perhaps it’s time to bring back Emilio Estevez as Gordon Bombay to get the franchise back on its feet. If that’s the case, the Anaheim Ducks might need some Disney magic if they are going to turn things around at The Pond.

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