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2011-12 Dallas Stars Season: Erin's Year In Review

When you return to the place that traded you away for Janne Niinimaa and own your former team, you can make this expression too.
When you return to the place that traded you away for Janne Niinimaa and own your former team, you can make this expression too.

We're wrapping up our 2011-2012 Dallas Stars season analysis this month here at Defending Big D. As part of our wrap-up, we're trying something a little unique and different to end the season. Over the next week or two, each of the DBD staff members will be writing a personal perspective on the season that was. It's going to be cathartic, sometimes witty, sometimes funny, and hopefully won't include anymore almost-arrests like Taylor had this season.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this, but the experience of a season is entirely different as a blogger.

Because when I look back on the 2011-12 Dallas Stars season, much of it is colored by my first year being LinksGirl for the site. The interaction I had with the other bloggers and our readers, the constant quest for finding the story or trend within the game and having to take a couple steps back from the raw emotion of any one individual win or loss all made this a very different season than any I’ve experienced since I started following the team as a homesick Dallas native living in Boston in 1998.

Ever since I discovered sports, they’ve always been an extreme emotional outlet for me. They’re a place where you, at least through the vehicle of your emotional attachment to a team, can feel the highest highs and lowest lows along with a whole set of other people along for the ride. They’re the appropriate place to express a competitive side most of us try to keep hidden, or at least reined in, in our working and family lives.

That’s what the Stars have been for me, which has made the last four seasons such kicks in the gut, as I’m sure they’ve been for most of you. But because of my new role on the site, this was the first year I really forced myself to step back and be a little more analytical and a little less emotional about being a fan.

And you know what? I think I actually enjoyed this year much more because of it. It’s obviously not an approach for every fan, but when I look back at the season now, I’m much more apt to remember the high points - Mike Ribeiro and his freaking wizardry with the puck, Jamie Benn winning against the entire Columbus Blue Jackets lineup, Kari Lehtonen stretching beyond every anatomy textbook’s recommended limits. I think taking half-a-step back made me realize how much fun a full season of hockey is regardless of the results.

Even so, what stands out the most now are those times when it was impossible to hold back the emotion.

I joined the DBD team right at the start of training camp, my first post being links that chronicled the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv plane crash and death of the entire team, including former Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins. From the heartbreaking story of the family he left behind to the sobering reminder of everyone’s mortality, it was a tough time for everyone who had even a passing connection with any person on that flight.

The Stars did a great job honoring Skrastins as the season went on, culminating in the late-season ceremony where they told his family of the trust fund they set up for his three daughters. The emotion in the building and throughout the fandom was palpable.

It was also tough not to feel a little defensive and insulted when the Stars struggled mightily with their attendance at the beginning of the season. While the reasons were varied and valid, including a distinct lack of a marketing budget and a corporate ticket base that had been scared off by years of mediocrity and bank ownership, it was still very hard to watch and even harder to hear about from essentially every corner of the traditional market hockey media.

On a happier note, it was impossible to hold back some glee when the Stars finally, finally got sold to Tom Gaglardi. The process of getting the team out of the Tom Hicks-induced bankruptcy and into the hands of someone willing to pay more than a limited internal salary cap. The changes on the business side were immediate – Jim Lites was one of the first back in the fold, and a variety of new ticket initiatives brought bigger crowds. And there was a definite air of optimism around the resources the team now has to put into the near future and beyond.

And of course, there was also the sorrow and depression as the Stars faded late in the season. We’ve rehashed all the reasons six ways to Sunday at this point, but the more I thought about it, the more I’ve come to believe that "pesky" is the perfect word for this year’s team. Pesky is your annoying preteen little brother who is just good enough and quick enough to hang with you in basketball, steal a few points, elbow you in the ribs and in general make you want to murder him because he just won’t go away. But he is still your little brother, and he just doesn’t have the physical skills to pull all the way through for the victory. He’s still waiting for that day when he hits his growth spurt, puts on eight inches and 60 pounds and owns you for the rest of eternity. Hopefully for the Stars, that growth spurt comes soon.

But like I said above, it’s the individual moments of brilliance and effort and sometimes humor that stand out for me now. I watch hockey, and really all sports, to see people push the boundaries of physical performance, and we were treated to plenty of that this year, whether it was flashy or done In such a ho-hum manner that you had to ask yourself "Did that just happen?" when Benn or Ribeiro or Lehtonen did something impossible. And I watch for the unintentional comedy, such as poor Stephane Robidas and his bad batch of sticks and the self-preservation instincts of those between a Sheldon Souray shot and the glass behind the net. Nothing can make you gasp in amazement or laugh until your sides hurt quite like sports. It’s why we keep coming back.

It also gave me some great personal memories from around the games. I was only able to make two games in person this year, a consequence of living in the middle of nowhere Missouri, but they were both memorable. The first was the 7-1 preseason spanking of the Montreal Canadiens with a huge helping of Ribeiro, and the second was the shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings at home in January where the team showed signs of the level of play that would send them on a February tear. I got to meet Taylor and Brad in person, and Taylor and I got to get all girly for Casino Night where we witnessed unsuspecting and slightly inebriated players destroy merchandise on the silent auction tables. Good times. Plus we learned DBD is the homepage of Ralph Strangis. What could be better?

Finally, I’d like to thank the Academy for giving me this honor, or at least Brandon, Brad, other Brandon, Art and Taylor for welcoming me when I joined the DBD staff last fall and Josh, Cole and Huw for being incredibly awesome additions to our team since I joined. You guys put up with my late-night hours, my strange defensiveness about all things officiating and my nitpicking about the minutiae of the NHL Rulebook. I can’t tell you guys how proud I am to be a part of this site.

And I would like to thank you, dear readers, for not ragging me too hard when my nightly ref reports disappeared midway through the season and for engaging in wonderful, if sometimes circular, debates on the comments. You guys make this site what it is, inspire all of us every day, or in my case, obscenely late nights, and most importantly share with us a love of this incredible sport and team. Thank you.