By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
Austin Strand admits it’s a little strange to wear the Anaheim Ducks logo.
The defenseman joined the organization this summer following a four-year stint with Los Angeles, playing for both the National Hockey League's Kings and the Ontario Reign. It’s the only professional organization he knew, joining them during the 2017-18 season.
A summer shipment of gear from Anaheim has Strand believing he’ll fit in nicely.
"I thought it looked good," he said in a recent phone interview. "The practice jerseys look crisp. Pretty clean, nothing too crazy. It’s a subtle little change that looks great, looks crisp."
The subtle changes end at the gear for the Calgary, Alberta native. Strand is now on the opposite side of a heated Southern California rivalry, one which saw both the NHL and American Hockey League clubs battle for division and conference supremacy for the last half decade. There’s no love lost – and no shortage of bad blood – when the organizations meet, whether that’s under the bright lights of the NHL stage or on the short drives between San Diego and Ontario.
"I’m really looking forward to being at home and on that side," Strand said. "It’ll be really weird to be on the other side of the rivalry, but I’m looking forward to it. I know when I’d come play there, the fans would bring a lot of intensity. I’ve probably had a couple of shouting matches with a couple of guys, so (happy) to have them in my corner instead."
The defenseman is incredibly familiar with the organization, both from an on-ice and off-ice perspective. In recent years, Anaheim added staff from their closest competitor, bringing in Jeff Solomon as Assistant General Manager and both Craig Johnson and Mike Stothers as assistant coaches. Strand spoke glowingly of Stothers, who was the head coach with Ontario before joining the Ducks.
"I think that was huge when I was choosing where I wanted to go and listening to the teams that were out there," he said. "It weighed a pretty heavy factor. Even when Stothers got signed in Anaheim, he sent me a text for my first game (NHL debut with the Kings) because he wasn’t around to see it. I texted him to congratulate him about the deal in Anaheim. It definitely had a little bit of a factor to have those guys rooting in my corner and being at ease with what their personalities are like, being comfortable with those guys."
Last season, Strand collected 3-4=7 points in 32 games with Ontario and added two assists in eight games with Los Angeles. All three of his goals were game winners, which landed him tied for sixth among AHL defensemen. In 135 career AHL games – all with Ontario - Strand has 19-26=45 points with 96 PIM.
Spending a majority of the last two seasons bouncing between the NHL and AHL, Strand drew inspiration from his time spent around the Kings.
"It’s really motivating from this past season, watching a lot of games and really getting fired up to get in those games and take advantage of those opportunities when I get them," he said. "Two years ago, I had a good little run with the Kings. I know they had some guys come back, so it took me out of the lineup. It taught me a lot about knowing what it takes, being comfortable around guys like (Anze) Kopitar and (Drew Doughty), talking to them and getting more comfortable and not being so star struck by it."
He's excited to join an up-and-coming Ducks team, one he sees brimming with young talent ready to take the next step.
"I think it’s a good opportunity to get in and play with some these young guys, like (Trevor) Zegras and (Troy) Terry," Strand said. "Get in with the Ducks side and hopefully be there for a couple of more years, get a lot of wins and hopefully have some really deep, deep playoffs as this team starts to grow and I can get in and grow with them."
His preparations for his first Ducks training camp include training sessions back home in Calgary, where he works with Crash Conditioning. At this point, Strand focuses on increasing the intensity of his lifting program while also adding in speed and explosiveness during his on-ice sessions. He’s also spent some time enjoying the offseason, visiting the local Calgary Stampede and heading to Banff to rest and recharge.
He's also getting help adjusting to the other side of the Ducks/Kings rivalry.
"My dad, when I was the Kings, had the Kings bottle opener and the Kings bean bag toss," Strand said. "He’s already ordered a new bean bag toss with a Ducks logo on it and a new bottle opener. He’s kind of helped get me used to the logo."