Thursday, May 29, 2003

Cincinnati helped pave Anaheim's road
to NHL finals

Giguere leads crew who played here

By Jason Reed
Special to the Enquirer

The battle for the Stanley Cup is a study in contrasts. It's sunny Anaheim vs. sardonic New Jersey. Disney vs. The Sopranos. The happiest place on earth taking on "you talkin' to me?"

But there's a third city playing an invisible part in the battle, which the Devils lead 1-0. Eleven players on the Ducks playoff roster have spent time in Cincinnati, playing a total of 487 games. Coach Mike Babcock also spent time in Cincinnati.

Current Anaheim Mighty Ducks who spent time in Cincinnati:
Marc Chouinard: 179 games between 1997 and 2001
Jean-Sebastien Giguere: 23 games in 2000
Jason Krog: 9 games in 2002
Mike Leclerc: 113 games between 1997 and 1999
Andy McDonald: 67 games between 2000 and 2002
Samuel Pahlsson: 13 games in 2002
Ruslan Salei: 6 games in 1997
Kevin Sawyer: 41 games in 2001
Alexei Smirnov: 19 games in 2002
Vitaly Vishnevski: 35 games in 2000
Coach Mike Babcock: 167 games in 2000-01 and 2001-02
"The Cincinnati relationship has been indispensable to us," said Chuck Fletcher, the Mighty Ducks director of hockey operations. "They has given many of our younger prospects the opportunity to mature as players and get ready for this (the NHL) level."

It's appropriate that Anaheim has its own Cinderella story: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, known around Southern California as Jiggy.

After obtaining Giguere from the Calgary Flames, Anaheim sent him to Ohio to play 23 games before bringing him out West. The goalie has been in a zone, posting a 1.22 goals-against average through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Put that alongside his .960 save percentage and his four shutouts, and you see why Anaheim is where they are.

It looks like it's working. Giguere answers every question and never loses his composure.

Mike Leclerc is the Duck with the second-longest tenure in Cincinnati. His 113 games are eclipsed only by the 179 games Marc Chouinard played here. Leclerc has also had a strong postseason, with two playoff goals - both game-winners.

With an additional eight assists, Leclerc and Adam Oates are tied for the Anaheim postseason scoring lead. His plus-8 is second only to Sandis Ozolinsh's plus-10.

"I can't say enough about Mike," said Babcock. "He has been such a solid player for us and has been valuable to us not just in the playoffs, but in the regular season too."

While not all players with the Cincinnati connection have contributed on the scoreboard, all have made an impact with their hitting and defense. Chouinard and Jason Krog have both played well and have limited their opponents' scoring chances. Samuel Pahlsson has played with 19-year NHL veteran Steve Thomas and 20-year-old Stanislov Chistov to form a line that has been nothing but a thorn in the side of their opponents. Alexei Smirnov has been in and out of the lineup during the playoffs, but when Babcock has called his name, he has answered with strong play.

Ruslan Salei and Vitaly Vishnevski have played the blue line well and have helped to keep the high-powered offenses of the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars off the scoreboard.

"The bar has been raised here in Anaheim," said Fletcher before the series. "Not many spots will likely be available here (in Anaheim) next year, and that will mean more opportunities for players to develop in Cincinnati.

"That is good for us and that is also good for them."

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