If someone were to approach you and ask, 'Where would I find the world's best hockey?' how would conventional wisdom influence your response? Ask most people, and Canada would be their first instinct. Some would even begin to discuss several of the East Coast and Upper Midwest states in the U.S. or even various countries within Eastern Europe. However, I believe the some of the world's best hockey is right here in beautiful Southern California, especially Orange County. That's right! The one place where you can spot movie stars, visit iconic theme parks, and relax on the beach in 80-degree temperatures year-round has become a hub for the sport over the past two and a half decades.
SoCal's hockey craze began back in 1988 when Wayne Gretzky, better known as 'The Great One,' was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. The sport's popularity began to cultivate over the next several years, eventually leading to the inception of a new franchise in 1993, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (now the Anaheim Ducks).
2013-2014 marks the 20th" season the Ducks have been in Anaheim, and what a year it has been ' full of comeback victories and franchise record-breaking performances! Over the past 20-years the team has captured three Pacific Division titles, two Western Conference Championships and one Stanley Cup (2007). Since that magical 2006-2007 season, the Ducks have been fighting to bring home Lord Stanley's cup once more.
Photo courtesy of Anaheim Ducks
On April 16" I had had the opportunity to attend Game One of the playoff series between the Ducks and Dallas Stars. When I stepped up into the press box I looked down at the crowd and saw nothing but orange. The atmosphere was electric! The sellout crowd of 17,294 was pumped up, waving fan towels erratically in the air." The experience was a real rush. Right then and there I saw the full effect the Ducks have had on the hockey movement in Southern California. Sure enough Anaheim went on to win the game 4-3.
Photo courtesy of Anaheim Ducks
A Stanley Cup victory by the Ducks in 2007 and one by the Kings in 2012 has helped put Southern California hockey on the map and has drawn attention to the area for reasons unprecedented." The increased popularity has directly resulted in the game's growth on the West Coast and has attracted a variety of young athletes who would have previously chosen to take up a different sport.
With initiatives geared toward youth hockey and fan development, the Anaheim Ducks have played a crucial part in the game's expansion here. By visiting various OC schools and organizing youth leagues at any of its seven team-owned 'Rinks' facilities, the Ducks have given the necessary tools to aspiring dreamers wishing to make it to the big show one day."
Hockey in Southern California and Orange County is flourishing. There's no question about it. Within the next few years don't be surprised if you start seeing NHL stars, like Pittsburgh's Beau Bennett or Anaheim's Emerson Etem, who grew up playing right here under the California sun. Times have changed, and so has the perception of West Coast hockey.