NHL players in southern California can disappear when they leave the rink

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The 29-year-old centre from Strathroy, Ont., gets paid more than US$3 million a year as an NHL star with the Anaheim Ducks and sellout crowds that pack the Honda Center cheer his every move. He also can drive home to his wife, Gina, and melt into his community without being hassled because hockey trails baseball and other pro sports in popularity here.

"In a lot of ways, we have the best of both worlds here in California," says McDonald. "We can play in the NHL but we can kind of disappear when we leave the rink."

Francois Beauchemin is as committed as the rest of his teammates when on the job, and he's as thankful as is McDonald that life away from the rink with wife, Marie Claude, offers relative anonymity in his community. The 26-year-old defenceman certainly wouldn't have that if he was still with the Montreal Canadiens playing near his home town of Sorel, Que. California is right up his alley.

"The big difference is that when you leave the rink you have a life outside," he said. "You don't get bothered at the grocery store or when you're out for a walk.

"That's really important, to have that personal life at home."

He has it in this city just outside Los Angeles.

That doesn't mean the Ducks haven't appreciated prime-time exposure they've got in the east during their playoff run.

Hockey fans three or more time zones away usually get to see the Ducks on TV during the regular season only after 10 p.m. ET when they are part of the second half of a Hockey Night In Canada doubleheader. Special digital TV channels can also be ordered but, overall, West Coast players are seen in the east less often than most other teams in the league.

"We know what it's like, that we're not in a major market here on the West Coast," said McDonald. "A lot of the guys have accepted that.

"It's nice to be recognized at the end for the type of year we've had, but it's not that big a deal to us."

For 25-year-old forward Travis Moen of the Saskatchewan farming community of Stewart Valley, there's too much traffic on the roads, but he likes not having to wear a heavy coat all winter.

"The weather is great all the time," said Moen. "You can't beat it."

The team's outstanding season has resulted in sellouts of the last 34 home games.

"Our fans have been great," said Moen. "You couldn't ask for better fans.

"It's one of the greatest places to play, I think."

But wouldn't he rather be wearing an Original Six sweater and playing in a hockey hotbed?

Not really. He did that in Chicago, and the Blackhawks are a non-playoff team. He'd much rather be in Anaheim.

Brian Burke, the Ducks' American GM, and Bob Murray, his aide who was born in Kingston, Ont., run the front office show and head coach Randy Carlyle, who is from Sudbury, Ont., controls things on the ice. They make sure a country club atmosphere won't take root under the palms.

"If you talk to any of those guys they don't let you get away with a whole lot so it's pretty easy to stay focused when those guys are in charge," said defenceman Sean O'Donnell.

The only detrimental aspect of playing in the NHL in southern California is the distances that must be travelled, said O'Donnell.

"Playing down here, there's more travel than East Coast teams have so it does wear you down come playoff time," said the 34-year-old blue-liner.

That aside, he wouldn't want to be anywhere else now.

"I haven't found it difficult to focus on hockey down here at all," he said. "There are a lot more things going on here, a lot more things pulling peoples' interests in different directions than there are in Edmonton or Ottawa or Pittsburgh or Boston or some of those places but there is a pretty good hockey market here.

"We get good crowds and we get pretty good coverage in the (newspaper) sports sections. So it's very easy along with your teammates to stay focused."

After the playoffs, it will be time to relax.

O'Donnell, who is from the Ottawa region, and Cranbrook, B.C.-raised Ducks winger Rob Niedermayer are recreational surfers.

"The one thing about the surfing is that it's just the summertime," says O'Donnell. "I don't do it during the season so I am able to separate that."

Moen tried it but didn't stick with it.

"I don't have the balance for it," he said. "I'm not a good surfer."



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