The Best of the Rest: Anaheim Ducks – Paul Kariya

Welcome to LWOS’ Summer Hockey Series, Best of the Rest.  Plenty of sites do a version of a 30 greats in 30 days series, but this year we are doing something a little bit different.  We want to look at the best player from each team who is not in the Hockey Hall Of Fame.  In order to do this there are some rules.  First the player must have been a significant part of this franchise (franchises include their time in a previous city… see Winnipeg/Atlanta) and must be retired for at least 3 years, making them Hall of Fame eligible.  To see all the articles in the series, check out the homepage here.

Summer of HockeyIn the relatively short history of the Anaheim Ducks (or, if you prefer, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), many great players have graced the Duck Pond, even if just for a short time. Some, like Scott Niedermayer, are already immortalized in the annals of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Others, like Chris Pronger or Teemu Selanne (arguably the greatest Duck ever), aren’t eligible yet (of course, Pronger is still on long-term injured reserve – not technically retired – and Selanne retired just this year). However, one former Duck has been neglected by the Hall of Fame voters for a couple years now.

Anaheim Ducks – Paul Kariya

No player did as much for hockey in Anaheim as Paul Kariya. Over nine seasons with the Mighty Ducks, beginning in his 1994-95 rookie season, Kariya amassed 669 points and 300 goals – good for second all-time on the Ducks’ franchise leaderboard, behind the aforementioned Selanne. He captained the team to their first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2003, where they lost a close-fought series in seven games to the New Jersey Devils.

Karyia’s best season was his sophomore campaign in 1995-96, where he scored a scintillating  50 goals and 58 assists for 108 points. It would be Kariya’s only 50-goal season (though he would hit 40 two more times), and his first of only two 100 point seasons (the second 101 point campaign in 1998-99). As far as individual accolades go, Kariya was a first-team all star three times, and won the Lady Byng trophy twice.

After leaving Anaheim, Kariya would go on to play for Colorado, Nashville and St. Louis before eventually retiring after the 2009-10 season. He would amass 989 points (including 402 goals) in 989 career regular season games, but it was with the Ducks where Kariya would reach the apex of his career.

Of course, Kariya’s career greatness extended to international hockey as well. As a member of Team Canada, he won an Olympic silver medal at the 1994 Lillehammer games, and played on the first line of the 2002 team that won gold in Salt Lake City, beside Mario Lemieux. In 1993, Kariya was the youngest player ever to play for Canada in the IIHF World Championships (at the time), where he scored nine points in eight games. He followed up that performance with 12 points in 8 games at the IIHF World Championships in 1994, a tournament in which Canada would win gold. Collectively, Kariya posted 39 points in 38 senior-level international matches.

Kariya was famous for his exciting, skilled play. He was an unbelievably quick skater, with elite puck-handling and passing talents. He was always an offensive threat, and was able to read plays amazingly. Even though he was always seen as more of a playmaker, Kariya was forced to adjust a little when he joined the Ducks, who lacked a true goal scorer. He improved his shot, demonstrating his lightning-fast release. As a captain, Kariya was often the hardest-working player on the team, always trying to get better.

Of course, some hockey fans who aren’t familiar with Kariya as a Ducks legend, might still recognize him from one infamous moment. Midway through the second period of game six of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final series in which the Ducks trailed 3-2, Devils captain Scott Stevens elbowed Kariya hard in the head, long after he’d passed the puck away. He was knocked out cold, and lay immobile on the ice for several seconds, before waking up suddenly. He was taken to the dressing room, and then proceeded to shock the world by returning to the Ducks’ bench, before the end of the second period. It was assumed that he’d be out at least for the rest of the game, if not the series. In fact, medical staff were prepared to take him to hospital, until Kariya himself insisted he wanted to play.

That led to a fascinating display of heroics. Kariya, after coming back into the game, and being unconscious on the ground just a few minutes before, carried the puck up ice into the Devils’ zone, and roofed it behind Martin Brodeur. The moment produced one of the most famous play-by-play calls of all time, with the shocked Gary Thorne’s “Paul Kariya! Off the floor, on the board!”.

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Will Paul Kariya ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame? Who knows. He only recently became eligible, so he has many more years of voting to come. The only sure thing is that he will forever be remembered as, truly, the Ducks first superstar.

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