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Ducks Make Splash at Olympics for Team USA

(Team USA’s Troy Terry, who is a prospect of the Anaheim Ducks, scored that goal during shootouts against Team Russia in the 2017 World Junior Championship semi-finals. Photo courtesy of the NHL.)

The USA men’s hockey team hopes to capture its first Olympics gold medal since 1980, when it competes in the 2018 Games in South Korea. Team USA will play its opening game on Wed., Feb. 14.

Without having to face perennial arch-rival Team Canada’s NHL superstars this time, the US theoretically has its best chance at winning a gold in decades. I say that because look at how the tournaments ended for Team USA in 2002 and in 2010, as in both Olympics, the US took home a silver after losing to Canada in the gold medal games.

This year, Canada will not have its superstar Sidney Crosby to beat the US in overtime, nor Paul Kariya or Jarome Iginla in their prime to run up the score. Instead, Canada will rely on former Anaheim Ducks rejects Rene Bourque, Maxim Lapierre, and Mason Raymond.

Those three journeymen forwards played a total among them of only 55 games for the Ducks, and combined for an abysmally low two goals and only 11 points. In other words, they made brief appearances, stunk up Honda Center, and hit the road. I cannot believe that Team Canada stooped so low as to grab that trio for its starting Olympics roster. Wow, how the mighty have fallen. Those three former Ducks are so beneath Team Canada. Think about this: those nobodies are apparently good enough for Canada, but not good enough for the Ducks. When was the last time such a statement were ever true about anyone?

As for Team USA, before we introduce ourselves to its 2018 Olympics roster, I wish to issue a confession. I am a bigger fan of Team USA than I am of the NHL. I shall explain why.

My first exposure to watching hockey on television came during the 1968 Winter Olympics, and I was immediately hooked. At that time, I had never heard of the NHL, as it had only started on the West Coast a few months earlier, and I had not yet seen the Los Angeles Kings play on TV. So, I became a fan of Team USA, and of international competition.

It is not that surprising that the greatest thrill I have ever enjoyed as a hockey fan was not when my Southern California NHL teams won Stanley Cups, but rather, when USA beat Canada in the finals of the 1996 World Cup. That was the most intense and exciting series I have ever watched, and played at such a high level of talent. It was by far better than any of the NHL’s playoffs. The only series that I have ever watched that lights a candle to that World Cup was the 1972 Summit Series, which was also amazing.

Okay, with that unnecessary preface behind us, let us discuss Team USA’s roster in regards to former and future Ducks, and its connections to Orange County, starting with Anaheim’s 20-year-old prospect Troy Terry.

Terry is the shootout artist that won Team USA its gold medal in the World Junior Championship last year. First, in the semi-finals game against Team Russia, Terry scored on each of his three shots during shootouts, the third of which sealed the victory for USA. Then, in the gold medal game against Canada, Terry was the only player for either team to score in shootouts, giving USA the victory. Here is a replay of all four of Terry’s shootout attempts, all of which found the back of the nets:

I am very much looking forward to when Terry participates in shootouts for the Ducks. But, that day must wait, because Terry currently plays for the University of Denver. And guess what? As a sophomore, Terry led Denver’s Pioneers to win the 2017 NCAA national championship. Yep, Terry won a WJC gold and an NCAA title in the same year. How about that?

During that collegiate championship season, Terry racked up an impressive 22 goals and 23 assists in his 35 games. This season, in his junior year of college, at press time, Terry was in the top 20 in the nation in scoring with 32 points in 28 games, and his Pioneers were ranked no. 2 in the country, behind only Notre Dame.

Denver has become a top-tier collegiate hockey program that boasts a robust list of current and former NHL players, including St. Louis Blues’ star Paul Stastny, former Edmonton Oilers’ two-time 50-goal scorer Glenn Anderson, and the entire seemingly 4 million Shore brothers circulating between the NHL, minors, and junior leagues, including: Drew, Nick, Quintin, Baker, Leopold, Elvis, Potsdam, Michelangelo, Spartacus, and Abernathy.

Next, let us meet twice-former Anaheim defenseman James Wisniewski.

(Former Anaheim Ducks’ defenseman James Wisniewski punches the Chicago Blackhawks’ Nick Boynton during the 2009-10 season. Photo courtesy of Victor Decolongon/Getty Images North America.)

Wiz came to Anaheim from Chicago mid-season during 2008-09, and was part of that year’s subsequent playoff run in which the Ducks reached game 7 of the second round, as Wisniewski appeared in 12 of their 13 post-season games.

Wiz stuck around for one more season, but after 2009-10, he was gone. The Ducks traded him during the off-season to the New York Islanders for draft picks and a case of Michelob Light. And to think Anaheim had given up Samuel Påhlsson to Chicago in that fruitless trade to bring in Wiz. Påhlsson was one of only three guys to have played for Anaheim during both the 2003 and 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, and Sammy was instrumental during that 2007 Cup run as an outstanding shutdown defensive center. What a waste.

But wait, there is more.

The Ducks failed to learn from their mistake the first time, so they brought back Wiz in 2015 in an even worse trade. I shall explain.

During the 2014-15 season, Anaheim suffered from too many horrible blue liners including Eric Brewer, Clayton Stoner, and Cam Fowler. Yes, Fowler. He played terrible during that season. Game after game, those three killed the Ducks. I kept screaming for Anaheim to trade all three of them. As the trade deadline approached, the Ducks were forced to take action. So, on deadline day, Anaheim General Manager Bob Murray sent Brewer and fellow defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Mat Clark packing, and replaced them with three fresh bodies: Simon Després, Korbinian Holzer, and Wisniewski.

The Ducks’ hope was that Wiz, who was the senior veteran of the three new arrivals, would solve Anaheim’s blue line problems. Sadly, he did not pan out as an injury left Wisniewski available to only play in 13 games. To be honest, I do not even remember him playing in more than one of those 13. I was very surprised to discover while researching for this article that Wisniewski had played in that many. In any event, he finished those 13 with a lousy plus/minus of -3, and never saw ice time during the ensuing playoffs.

However, Després turned out to be the steal among the entire NHL on deadline day. He instantly raised the Ducks’ garbage Corsi numbers from below 50% to the top five among all NHL teams. During the subsequent playoff run that took the Ducks all the way to game 7 of the conference finals, Després was arguably Anaheim’s best defenseman. He was stellar. He single-handedly solved the blue line issues, although it certainly helped that Stoner shifted into high gear and played super physical once the post-season had started. And suddenly, Anaheim rolled three solid pairs of D men. So making those trades seemed worth it, at least for the short term.

However, to obtain Wiz, Anaheim gave up its then-rookie prospect William Karlsson. That move has already come back to bite the Ducks on their beaks, as Wild Bill has quickly become one of the premier forwards in the league. At press time, Karlsson was tied for third in the NHL in goals with 29, behind only superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Karlsson also led the entire league in plus/minus with a whopping +30. And to think that Wild Bill was snubbed from the all-star game. What a crime.

So, as for Anaheim’s trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2015, just ugh. After those 13 regular season games, Wiz never played for the Ducks again. What a waste. Karlsson should be burning up the NHL while wearing a Ducks uniform. So, in review, Wiz cost Anaheim both Påhlsson and Karlsson. Remind me again why Team USA selected Wisniewski. I am not seeing it.

Let us move on to the next player. Her name is Annie Pankowski.

(Team USA Olympic Women’s Hockey player Annie Pankowski grew up in Orange County, and is shown above playing for the Anaheim Lady Ducks which are affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks Youth Hockey Program. Photo courtesy of Anaheim Lady Ducks.)

Okay, okay, I know, I know, Pankowski never played for the Ducks, and she is not even on USA’s men’s team. However, she did play for the Anaheim Lady Ducks which are affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks Youth Hockey Program, and she plays for Team USA Olympics Women’s Hockey. So she counts.

Pankowski grew up in Laguna Hills, and now at age 22 plays for the (at press time) NCAA’s no. 1-ranked women’s hockey team, the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Before she left school to join Team USA, Pankowski was second in the nation in goals this season with 25, and sixth in points with 55. Last year, she led the Badgers to reach the 2017 NCAA women’s ice hockey championship game, where they fell to Clarkson University.

Local girl done good. The USA women’s team won its Olympics opener on Sunday, by defeating Team Finland, 3-1.

Next, let us meet Jonathon Blum.

(The Santa Margarita Little League baseball cap and t-shirt that Rabbi Rabbs owns and wore to SMLL all-star games. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rabbs.)

Blum never played for the Ducks, not even for the Junior Ducks. But, he is on the USA men’s roster, and like Pankowski, Blum grew up in Orange County. Specifically, Rancho Santa Margarita, the same little town that sent a team last year to the Little League World Series in S. Williamsport, PA.

As David Grohl of the Foo Fighters sings, “I’ve got another confession to make,” which is that Rabbi Rabbs is an even bigger fan of Little League baseball than he is of Team USA hockey. Specifically, I root for whichever Little League all-star team represents Southern California in the Western Regional tournament, and LLWS.

Last year, before that all-star team from Rancho Santa Margarita reached the World Series, it first won the SoCal championship, and Rabbi Rabbs attended that title game held in Long Beach. I then attended three of RSM’s regional tourney games in San Bernardino where I cheered for those young SoCal representatives against teams from NorCal, Nevada, and Hawaii. As a result, I became friends with several of the Rancho Santa Margarita team’s parents and supporters including that city’s honorable mayor.

Anyway, Blum played in parts of five seasons for the Nashville Predators after the Preds drafted him in the first round in 2007. Blum currently plays in Russia in the KHL, and his teammates there include former Anaheim goalie prospect Igor Bobkov, former LA winger prospect Maxim Kitsyn, and a grandson of Team Soviet Union’s legendary net minder Vladislav Tretiak who led the CCCP during that aforementioned Summit Series that I had watched in real time.

Local boy done good.

Finally, Team USA includes four individuals that although they do not share any ties to OC, I shall give them honorable mention for their connections to SoCal:

Brian O’Neill belonged to the Kings’ organization, was a huge part of LA’s AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, winning the 2015 Calder Cup, and although he never played a single regular season game for the Kings, O’Neill has skated in several preseason games. He even scored the winning goal against the Arizona Coyotes on Sept. 22, 2015. Look it up.

Garrett Roe. Although he never played in a single game for the Kings, not even in the preseason, nor for Los Angeles’ minor league affiliates, the Kings had drafted Roe in 2008. However, after he graduated from St. Cloud State University in 2011, the young prospect signed with the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization instead. Boo! Hiss!

Former Kings’ star winger Tony Granato who played six and a half seasons in LA is the head coach of USA’s men’s team. Granato was fantastic during the 1990 playoffs in which the Kings eliminated the then-defending Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames. In game 3 of that series, with the teams tied with one win apiece, Granato scored a clutch short-handed goal in overtime to give LA a 2-1 series lead:

Granato wore no. 14 in that video. At first, I did not even recognize that as him, because to me, Tony was no. 21. Then, in the very next game, game 4 of that epic series, Granato scored a hat trick to help lead the Kings to a victory and take a 3-1 lead in the series.

(Former Los Angeles Kings forward Tony Granato stood to the right of Wayne Gretzky during that pregame ceremony that Rabbi Rabbs attended in April 1995. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Rabbs.)

Finally, one of Granato’s former teammates when he played on the Kings serves as the head coach of USA’s women’s team. How bizarre is that? Two former LA players that shared the ice together are each coaching USA’s teams. I am referring to Robb Stauber who was LA’s backup goalie for Kelly Hrudey. Stauber is probably most remembered for appearing in four post-season games during the Kings’ 1993 playoff run in which LA reached the Stanley Cup Finals for its first time ever. Stauber finished with a record that post-season of 3-1.

Stauber’s women’s team faces off against its arch-nemesis Canada on Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. PST.

As for the men’s team, USA faces its first opponent, Team Slovenia (minus its star Anže Kopitar), on Wednesday at 4:15 a.m. PST. On Thursday, the men will play against Team Slovakia.

Or is that Slovakia on Wednesday followed on Thursday by Slovenia? Slovenia Slovakia, let’s call the whole thing off.

Until then, U-S-A !! U-S-A !! U-S-A !!

Stay with us at Calisportsnews.com as we will keep you up-to-date on all things Anaheim Ducks and the rest of the LA sports teams! All Cali, All the time

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