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ANAHEIM, California (Reuters) - The Anaheim Ducks needed just 14 years to win their first Stanley Cup but are going to need more time to win over fans.
The Ducks became the first California-based team, ahead of the longer established Los Angeles Kings and San Jose to sip from the Stanley Cup after their 6-2 Game Five victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.
It also marks the third straight time the Cup will find a home in the southern United States following victories by the Carolina Hurricanes (2006) and Tampa Bay Lightning (2004), bringing credibility to ice hockey's non-traditional markets.
But what their success has failed to attract is the motherlode of new fans to a game which remains very much a niche sport below the Canadian border.
Inside the Honda Center on Wednesday the atmosphere and celebrations were as electric as those found at any NHL arena but beyond the parking lots there was little interest and few signs that the NHL's showcase event was being played in Southern California.
"Canada loves their hockey but from what I heard out there tonight, we have quite a few fans who love their hockey too," said Scott Niedermayer, the Ducks captain and Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP. "They're going to have fun with this. The fans are big part of it."
In 1988, Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings planting the seed for the NHL's great expansion dreams.
Nearly two decades later those dreams seem no closer to reality as the NHL struggles to take root in the southern U.S.
The first two games of the best-of-seven series available on the NHL's U.S. cable partner Versus, averaged only 500,000 viewers.
When the series switched to NBC the ratings were equally gloomy, Game Four pulling in just over one million viewers matching the network's lowest ever rated prime-time broadcast.
For the Ducks, however, the only numbers that matter is their 4-1 series which in the end will add up to more fans.
"Obviously, the hockey has gained huge support in this area and I believe this (the Stanley Cup) gave a big boost for hockey in California," Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne told reporters. "I think this can really boost hockey here even more, and in the future.
"I think we've done a very important job."