We kick off our countdown of the Top 20 players in Dallas Stars history with a look at one of the most popular players this team has known, Craig Ludwig.
When you think of what made the defense of the Dallas Stars teams of the late 1990's so great players like Derian Hatcher, Daryl Sydor and Richard Matvichuk inevitably come to mind. Yet perhaps no single player embodied Dallas Stars hockey more than Craig Ludwig, the grizzled veteran who said little yet led by example night after night by sacrificing his body for the good of the team.
Ludwig, born in Rhinelander, WI, made his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens in 1983 before being traded to the New York Islanders in 1991. Ludwig would win the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986 and was part of the system that Bob Gainey would work so hard to emulate while building the Stars a decade later. After a year on Long Island, Ludwig signed as a free agent with the Minnesota North Stars and then moved with the team to Dallas in 1993.
Ludwig would instantly become a cult hero in Dallas, famous for his ever-widening shin pads that had survived since his days of playing hockey at the University of North Dakota -- at least according to legend. Ludwig's hard-nosed and no-nonsense style of play was a call back to the days of hockey's past and an example for those that might not have had the best all-around skill yet still needed to find a way to make an impact at the NHL level.
Ludwig was never an offensive dynamo yet he was effective in nearly every other aspect of the game, none moreso than on the penalty kill. Ludwig was a master of the shot block, aided by his goalie-esque shin pads, and helped lead one of the stingiest penalty kills in the NHL in the late 1990s. His willingness to get into shooting lanes and be effective in that role earned him status as a fan favorite in Dallas and helped the Dallas Stars find their way to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999.
Unfortunately, Ludwig is perhaps best known for his role in the infamous brawl between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Stars on March 13, 1998. Ludwig, feeling that targeting a "key player" was necessary, sent a flying elbow into the ear of Teemu Selanne and set off a brawl that would nearly grind the game to a halt late in the third period. Ludwig has said the hit wasn't as bad as it seemed at the time, yet it has become part of his enduring legacy.
Ludwig played 433 games for the Stars from 1993 to 1999, retiring after winning the Stanley Cup with the Stars that final year. He would stay in Dallas, his sons growing up to be successful hockey players and products of the hockey system in DFW (Tyler and Trevor both play for the Allen Americans), and now has a popular role on the Stars pre- and post-game shows on FSSW.
There are some, including me, that hope that one day Ludwig finds his way behind the bench for the Stars -- a no-nonsense assistant coach that preaches the importance of defense and sacrifice. For now, Ludwig remains as a shining example of what Dallas Stars hockey has always stood for and what those great teams of the 1990s were truly made of.