He lives in a room down the hall from Gary and Teri Frederick in their house in Orange, Calif. Their son used to live there, grew up in that room, but now the son is gone, graduated from San Diego State University, and now there is this other kid in the room. This millionaire kid. This millionaire boarder.
"He goes to bed at 9:30, maybe 10 o'clock," Teri says in a can-you-believe-it voice. "The rest of us are still sitting up, watching television....
"He didn't even want his own telephone," she continues. "I suggested it, thought he'd want to make some calls, but he said he didn't need a telephone. He thought it would be a bother....
"He's just the cutest thing," Teri finishes. "The other night, he was in this mad scramble with my daughter for the television clicker. They were running around, looking everywhere. The winner would be in control, you know? The one who found the clicker. It was just great."
February 13, 1995
The year is 1995, and this is not supposed to happen. The headlines say it is not supposed to happen. MEATHEAD NO. 1 DRAFT CHOICE WRECKS CAR IN 3 A.M. CRASH! MEATHEAD DEMANDS TO BE TRADED! MEATHEAD'S GIRLFRIEND TRIES TO BURN DOWN MEATHEAD'S MANSION! Then, again, headlines are different here. This is Disney country. The teacups swirl in the 40-year-old amusement park down the street, and the prince always finds Snow White, and Mickey and Minnie are a movie couple for the ages, and Paul Kariya lives with a family.
This No. 1-pick rookie left wing of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, with a $6.5 million contract for the next three hockey years, has landed in the home of a pediatrician and his wife and their kids instead of in the nearest Lamborghini showroom. Stop the tabloid presses. Disney has found its G-rated man.
"I've never cooked," Kariya says with unarguable logic in the Duck locker room at the Arrowhead Pond, the 17,174-seat Disney hockey palace. "I don't own any furniture. It's my first year in the National Hockey League, and there are going to be things I have to learn every night. I just decided I didn't have time to go looking for a condominium or a house, to go through all that and then have to learn all of those other things on the ice. Living with a family seemed to be the right thing for me."
He is only 20 years old and looks younger, slender at 175 pounds, smallish at 5'11". But he has arrived on the local hockey scene with all the publicity of, oh, a skating version of The Lion King. The comments about him always contain the phrase "plays like Gretzky." There are immediate disclaimers that include his size and age and the fact that "no one actually could be Wayne Gretzky," but the comparisons always are made.
Kariya is stylish and clever, looking to make the pass first, take the shot second. He sometimes swirls in circles to shake free from opponents. He makes short little passes off the boards to himself to avert body checks. He takes the puck behind the opposition net and waits, as if he is counting the paying customers, waits and waits until he finds someone open. He—does all this sound familiar?—has that sense that he knows where the game is going before everyone else does. He sees what nobody else seems to notice.
"You look at him, and, O.K., he has great wheels and good hands, but those aren't his best assets," Duck general manager Jack Ferreira says. "He has that sixth sense of knowing where everybody is, that great anticipation. There might be some things he'll do that you don't want him to do, but you have to let him go. You never want to control his creativeness."
"It doesn't take a trained eye to pick out Paul Kariya on the ice," Duck coach Ron Wilson says. "He's very serious about what he docs. He's always thinking. I took him with me last week to watch one of my daughters play freshman basketball, and within 10 minutes he had the whole game figured out. He's saying, 'Why don't they force that girl left? Don't they see she can't dribble with her left hand?' "
Selected in 1993 with the expansion Ducks' first entry-draft pick—fourth pick overall that year—he is the foundation of what they hope their hockey team will become. Their inaugural season a year ago brought a surprising 33 wins, but those were grim, defensive-minded wins. The idea was to stop the other team first, stop and stop and stop, then hope for the other team to make a mistake and open a scoring opportunity. The action around the on-ramps to the five nearby freeways after games was more exciting most nights than the action on the Pond during the games.
Kariya could change all that. Or at least start to. In his one full season at the University of Maine, in '92-93, he led the Black Bears to the national championship and was the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as top college hockey player in the U.S. In the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer he was the heart of the Canadian team that won the silver medal, missing the gold when he failed to score in a shoot-out in the finals against Sweden. In the world championships two months later he was the youngest player on a gold-medal-winning Canadian team loaded with NHL veterans, and he was the team's leading scorer.
Plus, well, he's Disney. Total Disney. Not since Gepetto made his marionette walk and talk has the fantasy corporation drawn up a more marketable, easy-to-like subject. All he has to do now is continue scoring goals. Through Sunday he was tied for the NHL rookie scoring lead with four goals and three assists.
"You know, I played against him when he was about 15 or 16 years old," Wilson says. "I was an assistant coach in Vancouver, and I played in one of those charity games. He was on the other side, this little kid just whirling around with those 360's, just doing all this fancy stuff, going like crazy. I remember the guys in the locker room were laughing about him. We just wanted to play the game and have a few beers afterward, and here was this serious kid doing all these Gretzky moves on us."
The oldest son of Vancouver-area schoolteachers, Kariya is half Japanese but wary about being labeled anything except maybe Canadian and human. He admits he grew up with Gretzky on his mind. He watched Gretzky games and instructional tapes. He tried Gretzky moves. Wasn't Gretzky the best? Why not try to do what he did?
"I got into visualization early," Kariya says. "I think the mind is the most important part of all sports. Where I lived in Vancouver, we didn't get ice time all that much, so I'd watch tapes and think about what I was going to do. I still do that. You watch and think. You learn by osmosis."
Kariya's visualizations about sport extend into life. What did he visualize doing with his life? Just what he eventually did. He wanted to play Junior A hockey, which he did, living with a family in Penticton, B.C., finishing as the Junior A Player of the Year in 1992. He wanted to go to college in the U.S., in the East. He was accepted at Boston University, Harvard and Maine. He wanted to play in the Olympics, the world championships, the NHL. Done. He worked with a single-mindedness that many 50-year-olds still haven't found.
"A lot of it has to come from his family," Wilson says. "Jack Ferreira and I went up there to open the negotiations, to offer this kid who was 18 at the time millions of dollars. We sat down for dinner. At the end, Paul's mother, Sharon, said, 'Paul, clear the dishes,' and away he went, no harrumphs, nothing."
"We brought along all the Anaheim Ducks shirts and hats and stuff we could find," Ferreira says. "We put them on a couch. The younger kids—he has two brothers and two sisters—were looking at it all, but no one made a move. The pile just sat there until after dinner when the parents said it was all right to inspect the things we brought."
One maturity story leads into another. Kariya says that he just recently bought his first car, an Acura Integra, and that he didn't even have a driver's license until this summer. Why? His friends all drove at 16 and several were involved in accidents, so he didn't want to drive until he absolutely had to. He says he put on weight during the lockout, six pounds, because he knew he needed extra bulk to play in the NHL. That was a goal during the empty time. He also learned to juggle.
"I had a book, Lessons from the Art of Juggling," he says. "It's really about more than learning how to juggle. Juggling is a metaphor for life. I followed the lessons, though. I can do the one where you take the bite out of the apple as it comes by. If it gives you just that split second more of coordination, it's something you have."
He says he reads more now than he did in college, mostly books about philosophy, about challenging the mind. He tells tales of African tribesmen standing around a tree, holding hands, chanting for the tree to fall, and the tree falls. See what the mind can do? He also reads business books. He would like to be involved in a business when he is done with hockey.
"So much of business is like sports," he says. "Teamwork, dedication, work ethic, competitiveness. I read an article in Forbes about Isiah Thomas. His goal is to make $1 billion. How would that be? Talk about points and goals and assists. Where docs $1 billion put you in the overall standings?"
Kariya did not play last season, and his post-lockout results have been modest to good. Wilson has juggled—maybe he also read the book—his first line, looking for people to expect Kariya's unexpected passes. He had a game-winning goal in a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 27 and through Sunday had a point in five of the last seven games. The Ducks are flying in the middle of the Pacific Division pack, or flock, or whatever it is.
His teammates say he has been exactly what he was advertised to be, a franchise-type offensive threat. His coach says he will only get better as he goes around the league a few times. His family in Vancouver would like to see him play, but his father, Tetsuhiko, says their youngest child is 13, and there are car pools to be arranged. His new family says he makes his bed.
"At least it seemed to be made the few times I've looked in there," says Teri Frederick, who inherited this millionaire boarder because she and her husband are friends of Wilson and his wife, Maureen. "I put a lock on his door before he moved in, because I thought he'd want his privacy, but I don't think he even uses it. He just fits in with the rest of us."
The Disney Corporation says tickets are available. All price ranges.