Decisions and placements get tougher when it comes to the top two lines and these five guys were all amazing in their time with the Ducks.
Many these guys played together during the Ducks ‘Glory Seasons’ and the other would have been an awesome fit on any of those teams.
Yari Neitenbach – The reputation of many Colorado-born players is that they are tough as nails, go over or through opposition as opposed to around and aren’t afraid to back up their actions with gloves on the ice if needed – That is Yari Neitenbach.
In 132 regular season games with the Ducks (tied for second most), Neitenbach put up 51 goals (tied for fourth most) and 64 assists (also fourth) for 115 points (fifth).
Neitenbach is the all-time team leader in penalty minutes with 253 but most of the time he was joined in the sinbin by an opposition player as well.
The rugged winger was loved by teammates and Ducks’ fans and despised by almost everyone else in the league, including some coaches. That is what made him fit in perfectly on Coach Zaniboni’s team, which collectively had the same personality.
Ian Wood – An amazing leader and captain, Wood was the perfect addition during the summer of 2013.
The Ducks were looking to take another step after an awesome playoff run that Spring got them to within an overtime goal of the Bush Cup Championship.
Zaniboni found this tough as nails forward out of Pittsburgh who turned in two amazing seasons with amazing stats and leadership. After another overtime disappointment in 2014, it was Captain Wood hoisting the Bush Cup in 2016.
Wood’s 70 goals is the highest career total for a Ducks’ player and he added 55 assists (seventh) most for 125 points (third most). Wood collected 1.389 points per game and most of those points came from the top of the blue paint where Wood took a beating while making goaltenders’ lives miserable – just ask Matiss Kivlenieks.
After an amazing two-season run in the Dells, Wood moved on to Morrisville State College with several of his Ducks’ teammates. There he collected another 40 points and wore the ‘C’ again in both his junior and senior seasons.
Wood realized a dream when he played a season of pro hockey in Sweden last season, notching another 24 points with Lindafallets SK.
As of a few months ago, Wood announced his retirement from the competitive game and he has moved on to begin his business career in Chicago where he will no doubt terrorize the goaltenders at the recreational level.
Layne Martin – Martin is a testament of a guy doing everything he can to play the game he loves.
After a 21-game stint with the team in 2012-13 followed by a big role on the team’s amazing playoff run, Martin appeared destined to wrap up his junior career in back in Tier 2 hockey. Martin attended the Soo Eagles camp that fall and was invited to join the team. Instead, he politely thanked the coach but also let him know he intended to return to the Dells and the Ducks.
How big a decision was that? Consider this – Martin surrendered a chance to play in a league with no cost to him and instead chose to pay-to-play with the Ducks. In order to make that possible, Martin took a full time (not part time) job at a fast-food establishment in Wisconsin Dells where he became as integral and important as he was to the Ducks. The only concession granted to Martin was a pass on the mandatory gym sessions in the early a.m. To my knowledge, Martin never missed a practice or a work shift.
On the ice, Martin became the teams first and so far, only league scoring champion with a 69-point season, winning the battle to the wire over teammate Jacob Stima.
The 48 assists he picked up that season is the highest single season total ever and his 59 total assists is sixth best. He also ranks seventh in all time scoring with 92 points.
Martin went on to four more seasons at the NCAA D3 level at Morrisville State College
Bradley Hefner – ‘Little Hef’ is the Ducks ironman, his 141 games played over three seasons in a Ducks uniform is the highest career total for Ducks players.
At first glance, he might have seemed undersized for the position, but Hefner never backed down from any opponent and played a surprisingly physical game usually reserved for the bigger defenders.
Over the course of his time in the Dells, Bradley transitioned from being at his best in his own end, to being much more comfortable in the transition game and a key cog as a quarterback for the powerplay.
Hef never missed a game in his first USPHL season and was halfway through the second when a suspension kept him out of the lineup for the first time, ending a long streak of games played.
His scoring numbers – 20 goals and 64 assists are among the best for defensemen and the assist mark is fifth best all time on the team, while his 84 points in eighth. He also collected 184 minutes in penalties which ranks fifth highest ever.
Known for his colorful suits, Little Hef was a student of the game, often asked by Coach Zaniboni for his thoughts on certain players from other teams, Hefner knew pretty much everything about everyone.
Another who attended Morrisville State, Hefner played four full seasons there and, to the surprise of nobody, has returned to the school last season as the Assistant Coach of the Women’s Hockey team.
Billy Nichol– I am quite sure this will be the biggest surprise inclusion on my list. Nichol was a throwback defenseman from Illinois that added some legit grit and leadership on a team that desperately needed it.
The 2017-18 Ducks were the first ever rebuilding team in the history of the program. The team was extremely young, at least a few of the players still in high school underclassmen years.
Zander Zafiro was the team’s only returner, in goal and the team struggled early on just to get into the neutral zone.
Nichol had played for Coach Jeff Worlton in the NAHL the previous season and when things weren’t going his way in Springfield the following season, he joined his former coach in the Dells.
A physical player who played with a chip on his shoulder, Nichol was relied on heavily and helped the team as much as he could. He wore a ‘C’ on his jersey along with Stone Stelzl through the second half of the season.