This is a Significant Place essay that I wrote for my composition class about the American Airlines Center that came from the heart. Some of it is, uhm, "exaggerated," but I enjoyed writing it, and I just thought I'd share it. :)
In downtown Dallas, there’s a place where real magic occurs.
When you’re at the American Airlines Center, there is but one sense floating through the air- victory. The AAC carries itself with a sense of grandeur, as though it is the king of all other arenas. Winning takes place here, whether the event is hockey, basketball, or a Charlie Sheen show. The American Airlines Center does not hold the distinction of being the arena of the Dallas Stars’ championship stadium (that honor belongs to Reunion Arena, way back in 1999), but that doesn’t make it any less special. The dream that swallows the AAC every game night strives to change the number of Stanley Cup banners hanging in the rafters from just one to many more. The arena does not match the nearby Cowboys Stadium in size, and it doesn’t match Chicago’s Wrigley Field in history, but the American Airlines Center is a marvel all its own.
This arena houses my team, the Dallas Stars. In the seventeen years I’ve been a hockey fan, my loyalty to the Stars and this building has never wavered. I stand just behind the glass partition that separates the stands from the ice, waiting. This thin piece of glass stands poised and stiff, the only thing keeping eager fans from the action on the ice. It’s early in the evening, about 6:45. The players won’t come out for the pregame skate for at least ten more minutes.
The date is Friday, October 7, 2011. The first game of the season. The first time for the Stars to really prove themselves to the rest of the National Hockey League. After three straight years without a playoff run, the goal is to make it back to hockey’s promise land. It’s been three years, but it feels like a lifetime since a playoff game has taken place in Dallas. The waiting has been nearly as hard as the losing. Over those three mediocre years, it feels like we’ve done nothing but lose. Games, players, coaches, and frustrated fans are among the casualties. Waiting, it seems is not easy for everyone.
The ice shines in the bright stadium lights, as smooth as a good pickup line. I watch my fellow fans shuffle about the arena, the true fans who come early for every game like it’s their job. I scan the glass-side seats all the way up to the nosebleed section and spot familiar names: Modano, Hatcher, Zubov, and other names of the past, as well as Benn, Morrow, and Ryder, the names of the present and the future. They all wear different names on the back of their replica hockey sweaters and “sherseys,” but the name on the front matters a lot more than the one on the back.
Some of their jerseys are new, bought at the official merchandise shop just minutes ago. Others are as old as the Dallas Stars franchise itself, maybe even purchased at the inaugural game all the way back in October 1993. Then there are the few, the brave souls who wear the “Mooterus” jersey, the atrocious third jersey that has made the hockey world collectively cringe since 2003. With its grotesque colors and a logo of a bull and constellation that most unfortunately resembles female anatomy, the Mooterus jersey offers a splash of aberration in the normally toned-down stands.
I look straight up. The clock on the scoreboard reads 2:14. As it counts down, anticipation floods my body, as it surely does every other fan in the stadium. Only two more minutes until the Stars take the ice for the pre-game skate. By now, the stands have filled up like a balloon.
The coldness bites my skin, but I ignore it. The entire arena feels like this because of the low temperatures needed to keep the ice from melting. It makes no difference, though. Once the intensity arrives at the drop of the puck, the AAC will no longer be the closest thing Texas has ever had to a winter. At its most intense, the AAC rivals even the inferno of Hell, as 18,584 fans cram the venue to maximum capacity for a playoff game in the middle of May. Besides, the chill is just part of the entire hockey experience, a small sacrifice for the beauty of a live hockey game.
Glancing to my right, I can see the tunnel that leads to the home team’s locker room. Peering around a hippo of a security guard, I catch glimpses of the players lining up to go out to battle. Each is clad in a black jersey with college-style letters that spell out DALLAS on the front of the sweater. Even from far away, the players look as regal as ever. They’re regal in only the way a hockey player can be: rough around the edges, tough as a bullet, and ruggedly handsome.
As the time on the scoreboard slowly winds down to zero, I stare at the fresh slate of ice that will soon be rough like a real Texas cowboy. The lights reflect off of the perfect sheet of ice as the Stars take the ice to the tune of Jay-Z and Rihanna’s “Run This Town.” Each player shoots out of the tunnel like a bullet as he makes his entrance. I watch as a pyramid of pucks is swatted onto the ice to officially start the pregame skate. Lost in the Stars’ entrance is the opponents’ much more subdued one.
I stand just behind the partition, the chill of the arena making my breath visible in the cold air as the players take part in their warm-up skate. Peering to the left, I can see a little boy. His Mike Modano jersey is too big on him, draping over his small frame like a child playing dress-up. He doesn’t seem to care, though, because he wears that jersey with pride. You can see it reflected in his eyes and all over his face. Even after the end of the Modano era in Stars hockey, this child still clearly looks up to the man as a hero. Years after my own childhood, the song remains the same for a new generation of Stars fans. His breath fogs the glass as his wide eyes move a mile a minute, trying to see everything all at once. Clearly, his level of excitement matches mine.
“There’s Jamie Benn,” the boy’s father says from behind him, over the raging music that plays during every warm-up. “And Mike Ribeiro!”
I watch as each of my boys takes the ice. The fresh-faced rookies and the grizzled veterans differ in looks, but all share the same, far-off goal: victory. Is it the glint in their eyes? The fierce determination that decorates each of their faces? A similar look of longing radiates off of each jersey-clad body on the ice. They’re here to win; there’s no doubt about it.
For 17 minutes, the players skate around the ice. Even in simple hockey drills, the intensity is there. It’s only the first game of the season, yet it feels like an all-or-nothing game seven of the Stanley Cup final. Sweat already drips from every player’s nose as they ready themselves for battle.
On the bench, some tape their sticks in their own personal ritual. Others apply bandages to fingers and wince at tender spots, nursing some random injury they received in the preseason. It figures; of course it would be in the AAC that preseason would be treated like game season. All the sacrifice, none of the payoff.
In the corner of the ice, just to the left of the net where goalie Kari Lehtonen warms up, the captain stands with all the poise and grandeur of a king. To Brenden Morrow’s left are Stephane Robidas and Steve Ott, his fellow warriors who also happen to be his alternate captains. The three leaders stand observing their team, occasionally breaking the reverie to joke with a nervous rookie or to pat the rejuvenated back of a blue-collar veteran.
The anticipation is electricity that jolts through the air. The time for warm-ups slowly winds down from 17 minutes to just one. The players continue their routines up until the horn signals the end of the pregame skate.
The horn is a siren as it blares, signaling the end of the warm-up. The players skate off the ice to their respective benches, and the coaches quickly go over last-minute game plans. A feeling of anticipation litters the air as everyone turns to hurry back to their seats and let the game begin. Drop the puck already.