By Daniel Kohn
Any member of the Anaheim Ducks could've been easily forgiven if they had skipped the optional noontime practice at Anaheim ICE a couple of Saturdays ago. The team had just returned that morning, landing at John Wayne Airport at 2:15 a.m., following a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild that ended a three-game losing streak. But, in a telling metaphor for the Ducks' season, which has had them leading the Pacific Division and in the running for the Presidents' Trophy as the top team in the NHL, most of the players showed up to the ice rink for practice without complaint--with joy, even, following the big win.
The players breezed through drills, brimming with confidence. They were crisp and spry, the atmosphere loose. Jokes flowed freely on the sidelines; on the ice, an unspoken urgency led everyone along, given their next game would be against potential playoff opponent Nashville Predators.
Near the end of the practice, the team went through 3-on-3 drills using only a fraction of the ice, designed to test reflexes and gumption. After a quick back-and-forth battle between the orange/black and white sides, the darker colors lead with seconds remaining. But Long Beach native Emerson Etem changed that. With a timely shot, right winger and former first-round draft pick for the Ducks tied up the mock game by weaving past a defender and firing a quick shot past goalie John Gibson.
"Emmer!" shouted his teammates, patting the 22-year-old on his helmet as he confidently skated past the goalie. Though the dark team ultimately won the scrimmage in overtime--with intersquad bragging rights for the day--everyone was in good spirits.More »