At 3-0 Colorado last night, things didn't look good for the Dallas Stars. It appeared as though the 5-0 drubbing in Denver two weeks ago was repeating itself with a sort of cruel thoroughness that would have had all but the staunchest optimists doubting this team as they head up to Canada this afternoon.
Forget the fact that the Kings, Predators, Blues, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks (and later Avs) would all earn points in the Western Conference last night. The kind of lop-sided loss that seemed unavoidable five minutes into the second period would have damaged more than just the Sunday morning standings.
Here they were with a building full of people and they (to that point) weren't giving them a reason to ever come back. It wasn't a crowd full of Avalanche fans. It wasn't even a crowd full of hockey fans, to be honest with you, and there's opportunity there.
With five minutes left in the game a nice young lady got my attention and said (seriously):
"Sir...excuse me, sir?"
"Is there overtime in hockey?"
I paused. I suppressed a smirk and went on to explain what would happen over the course of the next 25 minutes or so. She and her friends exchanged various looks of either "You were right" or "I told you so", etc, as it seemed the lot of them had no clue, and I went back to biting my fingernails and wondering how recently Peter Budaj discovered his inexplicable Jedi powers.
The comeback fell a shootout goal short, but the points streak at home stretched to six games (5-0-1) and they sent 17.5k home having seen something they might actually consider coming back for in the future...
In the second period I nearly tweeted something sarcastic and bitter like "So much for the theory that they play well in front of a full building." I would have regretted it, as they came storming back to tie the game and laid siege to the Colorado net pretty mercilessly until the final horn sounded.
They did play well in front of a full building and it's something that by their own admission they really enjoy. Talking about performing well to get people to come see you play isn't something they do, but I think everyone in that locker room understands the importance of it. It's not exactly why they play hard. They play hard for 2 points, their coaching staff, the crest on their jersey, Joe Nieuwendyk, and each other, but every good shift is an invitation to these casual fans: Come back some time, we put on a pretty good show.
Having won or gained points in all of their big games in front of their "larger" crowds (Red Wings, Penguins, Avalanche, Sharks, Sabres) the Stars are stating their case and attendance is slowly starting to creep up.
Perhaps the best sign from last night was that the building was full without the benefit of a huge visiting crowd. When the Red Wings and Penguins came the building was full of people by virtue of folks wearing enemy garb. I expected that to be the case last night but was surprised at the lack of Avs gear.
Now, how many of them paid full price for those tickets? It doesn't matter. Put butts in the seats, put a good product on the ice, and hope they'll come back. They may be waiting for the 4th quarter to start, not know if there's overtime, spend half of the second period outside smoking a cigarette or else waiting eagerly for the kiss-cam, but they're in your building. Show them a good time. Many of these uninterested types last night had put away their cell phones and were all of a sudden really "into it" by the time regulation was ending. Sooner or later the game itself reeled them in.
A shootout might be annoying to you and me but a comeback, an overtime, and a shootout are pretty good ways to pique interest in your sport. 3.2 goals per game at home doesn't hurt either.
Their next big chance is the day after Thanksgiving in front of what is usually a big, family oriented bunch. Just keep winning and the people will come back.