When: October 14, 1995
Where: Reunion Arena
For the Dallas Stars, the 1995-1996 season was a tough one. It was a transition year for the organization, as the team moved on from the core of players that had taken the North Stars to the Cup Finals in 1991 and Bob Gainey sought to build a team around the young and upcoming players on the roster -- including Mike Modano, Grant Marshall, Derian Hatcher and a young Jere Lehtinen. The Stars had made the playoffs the year before in the lockout-shortened season, yet this transition had the Stars lacking in veteran and proven talent and it manifested itself in a woefully disappointing season.
The Stars would miss the postseason that year, winning just 26 games and finishing last in the Central Division. Bob Gainey would step down as head coach mid-season as well, turning over the reigns to Ken Hitchcock in order to fully focus on his General Manager duties. There weren't many highlights during that season and it's tough to look back on was historically the worst season in franchise history (in Dallas) and say that there was a shining moment for the Dallas Stars to be proud of.
Yet for those that were lucky enough to be at Reunion Arena on an October night in 1995, that's exactly what happened.
More after the jump (and perhaps some video)...
The Stars were trailing 5-3 to the Boston Bruins late in the third period, having been out-muscled and out-played for nearly every puck battle in the game. The Stars were still pulling in the big crowds, an excited fanbase that was still overly enthusiastic about this exciting new sport and most of the 16,064 in attendance were still present when the Stars faced the final minute of the game down by a pair of goals -- even in today's offensively friendlier game that's a deficit not normally overcome.
When we think of great comebacks and great performances, especially in hockey, it's usually the unsung heroes that spark the change in momentum. That's what happened on this night.
Richard Matvichuk, seeing the first full season of action in his career, made a leaping attempt to keep the puck in the zone as the Bruins attempted a clear in the final minute of the game. Matvichuk, who leapt higher than I've ever seen someone in hockey skates was able to get control of the puck and put a shot on net that was deflected by winger Kevin Hatcher.
Hatcher, already with a goal in the game, picked up his own rebound and stuffed it past goaltender Craig Billington. With the score now 5-4 with 48.8 seconds remaining, the crowd suddenly jumped right back into the game and got behind their team -- seizing the momentum and sensing that a comeback was more than possible. That atmosphere is what so many of us remember about Reunion, how an improbably hockey arena quickly became one of the most turbulent venues in the sport.
"In Reunion in those early years, it was very easy to get the crowd stirred up," said Andy Moog about that night 17 years ago. "When we made it 5-4, the momentum shifted so greatly right then. On the next one, the place just erupted. I don't think they ever got to their seats before the third goal. It was so loud. And this time of year, it was always so hot in there. It was energy filled, action packed, emotional ... it was certainly one of the best places to play."
That momentum was seized and taken control of by the Stars, who instantly carried the play after the ensuing puck drop and allowed Gainey to pull Moog with just under 30 seconds remaining. After a Stars defensive zone faceoff (with Moog back in net), the Stars pushed the puck back up ice and intercepted a Dave Reid pass -- Modano picked up the loose puck and swept it past Billington to tie the game with just 15.2 seconds remaining.
For many teams, such a comeback would be enough. Reunion was in a frenzy, celebrating an improbably comeback to tie the game and hopefully ensure an overtime effort from the home town team.
Wanting to get his team to overtime and not suffer a late defensive lapse, Gainey put his best defensive line on the ice for the ensuing faceoff. Guy Carbonneau, acquired mere weeks earlier when the Stars traded Paul Broten to the Blues, centered a line with Todd Harvey and Mike Kennedy; their job was was to not allow the Bruins to score and nothing more.
Of course, Harvey and Carbonneau wouldn't leave it at that. After the Stars won the draw, Harvey shot the puck into the zone as Kennedy chased it down. A blind pass to the front of the net that went off Carbonneau and in, and suddenly the Stars have completed one of the more historic comebacks in sports history. In fact, it was only the second time in NHL history that a team has trailed by two in the final minute only to win the game in overtime.
The atmosphere, the insane intensity for an October game, was indicative of what was to come with the Stars over the coming years. These past few years of struggles have been frustrating, especially seeing the arena empty at times, but when the Stars get going and the crowd gets behind them -- especially this past season -- we're reminded of just how fanatical the fans in Dallas can really get with this team.
This was a game that was won on the backs of tremendous efforts of players that have been forgotten; Kevin Hatcher, Mike Kennedy and Todd Harvey. Harvey and Hatcher would be traded for essential pieces of the Cup-winning roster but their contributions in the early years of the Stars in Dallas cannot be overlooked.
For many Stars fans, this night has faded with memory and there are many who didn't even know about this game.
Good news...you can watch the end here: