In Anaheim, Ducks versus Oilers not the only game in town

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In Anaheim, Ducks versus Oilers not the only game in town

You can't blame folks in southern California who aren't passionate about hockey.

There's the weather, for starters.

In a place where the daytime high reached 28 C on Wednesday and palm trees and blue skies are the norm, most people can be expected to give the cold shoulder to a sport that involves ice, and skates, and a frozen rubber puck.

Case in point, a couple of teens hanging around outside the Honda Center in Anaheim, one on a BMX bike, the other busting skateboard tricks.

"The main sport here is, like, baseball, because of the Angels stadium," Jordan Hill said as he tooled around on his board in the sunshine. "In my neighbourhood, me and my brothers are baseball players."

His friend, Victor Bustos, agreed. Asked who he thought would win the second-round playoff series between the hometown Ducks and the Edmonton Oilers, the 13-year-old seemed pretty sure.

"The Ducks are going to win," he said.

Asked to name some Ducks players, he responded: "It's hard."

Granted, Jordan and Victor may not be typical Ducks fans, but the guys wearing Anaheim jerseys admit that playing in California is not like playing in a hockey-mad Canadian city.

The Ducks do have a loyal fan base; it's just much smaller, and perhaps quieter, than the one in Edmonton, where winter seems to last all spring and it seems the playoffs are all anyone can talk about.

Plus, there's lots of other stuff to do in Duck-ville.  

One player who can sum up the differences between the two markets is former Oiler and current Duck forward Andrew Cogliano 

"I can't even imagine what it's like in Edmonton now, in terms of playoffs," said Cogliano, who has played in Anaheim since 2011. "You miss that feeling, because the importance of hockey there is just so much."

"Also it's fun here to be able to live in a place like California and leave the rink and head down to the beach. It's not a bad thing."

As for those passionate Oilers fans, a good number of them have made their way to Anaheim to watch their favourite team tonight.

A rally is being organized in the parking lot outside the arena, set to begin two hours before game time Wednesday evening. 

Sherwood Park's Alan Gosse and his eight-year-old son, Zac, will be there. They flew in from Edmonton on Tuesday night. Gosse's job allows him to travel extensively throughout the year, so he purchased hotel and airline tickets on points.

His tickets for Game 1 worked out to about $300 Cdn.

All in all, he said, it seemed cheaper to fly down and stay for a couple of nights than to buy tickets to a game at Rogers Place.

"I don't get to go to too many games during the year, so we figured we'd make a special trip out of this," Gosse said outside the Honda Center.

'We're standing behind a palm tree, and I'm in shorts'

"The flight, I got it on points. With the fees and stuff it was under 300 bucks. It would cost this much to go to a game in Edmonton. And we're standing behind a palm tree, and I'm in shorts."

Zac said he was excited to finally get the chance to see his favourite player, Connor McDavid, perform in the playoffs.

"He skates really fast, he handles the puck very good," said the young fan. "He can pass the best defenders in the NHL, and seeing him in the playoffs is pretty cool."

The Ducks know what Connor and company are capable of. But these two teams seem about as even as they come.

The Ducks swept the Calgary Flames in the first round and have been waiting a full week for the second round to start. It's expected to be a fast-paced, physical series.

"We had that break during the season this year, where we were able to get away, turn your brain off," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

"This is a little bit different. We didn't take five days off, we took two days off where we got away from the rink and didn't think about hockey, and then got back to work. So we had three days of prep here and now we're ready to play."

Game 1 is Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at the Honda Center.

The temperature outside the arena is expected to dip to 23 C by game time.

Sweater, anyone?