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Remembering our friend Mike Penner and his great talent

November 29, 2009 |  5:00 pm

Right now I'm sitting in one of the Times seats in the Honda Center press box, where for so many nights I sat next to Mike Penner when he brilliantly chronicled the early, wacky days of the Disney-owned team then known as the Mighty Ducks.

After reading Ross Newhan's lovely tribute below this afternoon I sorted through a stack of sports sections filled with Mike's work on the Ducks as the Orange County columnist for The Times. Absurdity and futility were always in Mike's wheelhouse, and the early Ducks gave him plenty of both.

Here's Mike on the franchise's opening night in 1993:

"The stretch limos delivered their beautiful people, the less fortunate had their BMWs valet-parked beneath swaying palm trees and 17,174 of Orange County's most disposable incomes settled in Friday night to see just how Disney was going to do this hockey thing.

"They saw skating cheerleaders huddle around Lumiere, the singing candlestick from 'The Beauty and the Beast,' before dramatically ripping off French maid uniforms and breaking into a sequined dancing frenzy while purple spotlights panned the crowd and fireworks burst overhead."

Mike called the mascot Wild Wing, "an overgrown platypus in goalie pads" and termed a character called the Iceman "some obnoxious guy in glitter denim and lavender face paint." By the next day, the Ducks' president, Tony Tavares, had fired the character, saying 'The Iceman cometh, and the Iceman goeth.'

But Mike was substance, too. For the $450,000 spent on the extravaganza, he wrote, the Ducks could have bought a pretty fair hockey player: "Sergei Fedorov, for example. Fedorov, the Detroit center who scored the third goal of the night and 34 others last season, will make $295,000 this season. Fedorov creates fireworks when he shoots -- and doesn't require the presence of a fire marshal when he does."

"It was a flight of fantasy, which is what Disney does best," Mike wrote, and yes, it was long enough ago that a player of Fedorov's caliber made less than $300,000.

"But the reality, as of late Friday night, is that no amount of high-priced, high-tech razzle-dazzle is going to mask the fact that these Ducks are paupers in a league where the best skaters wear helmets, not sequins."

Mike also chronicled the night Wild Wing was supposed to leap through flames before the game and instead fell into them, but that's another story.

It's so hard for any of us to express our sadness about Mike's passing and the difficulties our friend endured, but the Times archives are filled with illustrations of his great talents. The column excerpted above, by the way, was on deadline -- and had to be filed by 10:30 p.m.

-- Robyn Norwood

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