[UPDATE] Since last night when I wrote this post I have heard from several fans who were at the game Saturday night. It was their sincere belief that the "boos" at the end of the game were being directed at some terribly questionable officiating. That being said, the point of this post still stands.
This has been a frustrating season for Dallas Stars fans.
We enjoyed a magical post-season run last year and for the first time in years the city of Dallas was buzzing about their hockey team. Never had I seen American Airlines Center so raucous, so alive and it felt so special to be a part of such a great time in the franchise's history. No one believed in this team except for the fans and the players on the ice. Night after night we saw heroic feats and incredible moments, even putting the fear into the Detroit Red Wings that a 3-0 series lead was never safe.
Believe. That was the slogan for this year. "Our team, our time". It was the perfect set up for what could be the perfect season. It was the ten-year anniversary of the Stars' one and only Stanley Cup win. The team was building off an incredible playoff run and it seemed like this team could only get stronger. Optimism had never been higher for the Stars, a team that over the past few years had thrived in the underdog role. Some questioned if perhaps this team couldn't handle the pressure of becoming the favorites.
Nobody could have predicted what the 2008-2009 season would eventually become.
If there is one thing I have always maintained in my life as a sports fan is that you must always stick behind your team no matter what, through the ups and the downs. Disagree with management all you want, worry about what moves may or may not happen and by all means give your opinion on what you think needs to be done.
Sports fans have all the right in the world to bemoan the bad times and say their piece on what they thinks needs to change; they're the ones shelling out money to go to the games, buy the merchandise and support the advertisers. There are some franchises out there that act like they couldn't give a damn about their fans, never doing what it takes to build a winning team and forever living in mediocrity.
But not the Dallas Stars.
Last night I witnessed something I never thought I would see in my lifetime as a Stars fan. In the final seconds of the game against the Panthers, a disastrous 6-3 loss, fans across the arena joined in together to collectively rain boos down upon the ice. Programs were launched, cups thrown and a feeling of outright disgust was laid out in the open for all to see.
Perhaps the booing wasn't so much intended for a Stars team that has gone 4-12-2 in its last 18 games, as much as it was directed as some very questionable officiating in the final minutes of the game. Perhaps it was just pent up frustration overwhelming the collective and not a serious stab at the players or the team. Whatever the reason, the booing and the show of a lack of class by fans got me thinking about a disturbing trend I've noticed among Stars fans in general the past several months.
Dallas Stars fans, for the most part, are spoiled. It's painfully obvious and never has it been as obvious as it is now. You have your base contingent of die-hard, never give up fans but overall this town is filled with fair-weather fans that are only interested in a team that is winning, that wins a lot and wins consistently.
I have been a fan of the Dallas Stars since 1993, the season the team arrived in Dallas. I thought it was the greatest thing ever, a big professional ice-hockey team in my town. The Metroplex immediately embraced this new attraction as well and the team instantly became a sensation. It didn't hurt that right off the bat the Stars were a contending team, sweeping a first-round series against the Blues the first year the team was in Dallas.
Can you imagine what the response to the Stars might have been if they didn't make the playoffs the first eight years they were in town?
This city and its fans caught on to Dallas because here was a team that exemplified win at all costs team mentality that sports fans adore. The strategy and approach of the team hasn't changed in 16 years; build a team around hard-working veterans, classy guys with grit and integrity. It wasn't the flashiest style of play and it wasn't the most popular, but Stars fans embraced it as something that was integral in the makeup of this team.
In 1999, with the Stars on the cusp of winning the Stanley Cup, the city of Dallas didn't have much to pin their sports hopes on. The Cowboys were horrible, the Mavericks rebuilding and the Rangers were, well they were the Rangers. This entire city rallied around the Stars, providing a driving force behind a team that most never thought they had the strength or firepower to make it to the end. It was a magical year, and I'll never forget the feeling of being at Reunion Arena, of downtown Dallas exploding in a cacophony of car horns after every win, going crazy with fellow fans at watching parties, running down the stairs in my boxers in the middle of the night going nuts when Brett Hull scored the clinching goal. It was a special time for this team and it exemplified everything about what being a fan is all about.
Fast-forward a few years and things changed. The Stars move into the state of the art American Airlines Center, a beautiful place to watch a hockey game but one that lacked the atmosphere of Reunion. The Dallas Mavericks are relevant for once and the city has moved on to gather around their first love, the Dallas Cowboys who are once again winning more than losing. The Dallas Stars were a great thing but now it's back to what has always mattered most.
Left in the wake is a Dallas Stars franchise that has been the third most successful team in the NHL over the past 15 years. Only twice since 1993 have the Stars missed the playoffs and only once has this team not finished with a winning record. This franchise has carried on the tradition of hard working, team-oriented play, never backing down from a challenge, never quitting and always playing their hardest until the very end.
This season has been no different. Never in their time in Dallas has this team faced this much adversity, this many challenges in so short of a time. Watch the games and you will see that this team is giving 100% every time they are on the ice, even though lately their best just hasn't been good enough.
It's an odd place for Stars fans to find themselves in. Here is their beloved team, floundering when the stakes are at their highest. But it's not as if this team has given up and decided to tank the rest of the season. NO! This team is giving it all they have, every moment they are on the ice and they are paying the price.
Stephane Robidas, with his team down two goals with less than a minute to play is still doing everything possible to make the play and gets injured while trying to take the shot.
Toby Petersen breaks his foot blocking a shot.
Brian Sutherby gets hurt while selling out his body to block a shot on the penalty kill. The Stars were down by two goals at the time.
Brad Richards fighting and clawing to push his rehab in order to return to the ice to help out the Stars. In his game back he breaks his other hand and is out for the season.
Steve Ott, never backing down and never giving up and always looking to give his team a boost no matter how dire the circumstances.
Countless others playing through and pain and injury because they must; there's no one else who can step in and help.
Dallas Stars fans should feel privileged and honored to be following such a great team as this. Consistently, without fail this franchise has done everything possible to maintain a winning atmosphere and to put their best team on the ice. They've never compromised their vision and when bad decisions are made they quickly correct their mistakes. Is this franchise or team perfect? Never. Yet every year 29 teams in the NHL walk away from the season trying to determine where it all went wrong and how to improve. The Stars have more often than not in the top half of teams trying to get to where that number one team ended up.
There's no doubt that this team has some tough decisions to make. Things aren't as good as just saying that all we need is our injured players to return and everything will be fine again, because we all know that isn't true.
Yet these players deserve better than to hear their fans raining a chorus of boos down upon them after a hard fought game. When you see this team give up, when you see the white flag being raised then maybe, maybe we have a right to voice our discontent so loudly and openly. But not until this team shows any form of giving up can we as a fanbase show the type of response I've seen all over the internet and newspapers.
"Get rid of Marty Turco!!"
"These players suck, we should have made a trade when we had the chance."
This team has thrived for so long based on calculated decisions and planning. Sometimes things don't work out but the Dallas Stars have always ended up on the right side more often than not.
Perhaps we should give them the chance to fix things before we give up on them again.