The Dallas Stars played their first NHL game in Texas on October 5, 1993 against the Detroit Red Wings. The Stars introduced Texans attending the game at Reunion Arena or watching on television, to big league hockey for the first time, and treated all of them to a 6-4 win on their opening night. I would introduce myself to the world a little over a month after that opening victory, on a night after Mike Modano scored the lone Dallas goal in a 1-1 tie against the original Winnipeg Jets.
In the years since that 1993-1994 season, we, as Stars fans, are all well aware of the franchise’s accomplishments since moving to Texas. The division championships, the conference titles, President’s Trophies, and the Stanley Cup. We all remember the overtime goals, the fights, the wins, and the losses both at Reunion Arena and now the AAC. Players like Mike Modano, Shane Churla, Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour, Sergei Zubov, Marty Turco, and Brenden Morrow - the list could go on forever honestly. Over the years, the Stars have forced their way into the Dallas sports scene, and given everyone an alternative from the Cowboys, Rangers, and Mavericks. Over the years, they have excelled at giving the faithful in Dallas and abroad a hockey history to proud of in the NHL.
However, I am thankful for something more than the on-ice product that the Dallas Stars have provided over the years. I’m thankful that the team created a new generation of hockey fans in the South. I’m talking about kids older and younger than myself that are crazed about hockey the way I have been my entire life. Texas hockey teams have been a competitive force at US national tournaments and have, on more than one occasion, defeated the best teams in the nation. High school state champions have played the champions from states like Minnesota, Michigan, and a handful of the northeastern states. Texas players are now on NCAA Division 1 rosters, and even in the NHL. The Dallas Stars have created that deep passion for hockey in in a state traditionally known for developing quarterbacks and power hitters.
The Stars have done this by helping to build rinks all around the metroplex, and growing the house hockey league to hundreds of players every season, and the high school league that sports over forty teams per year. The travel programs have regular success at AAA, AA, and A levels all across the country, and the Stars still commit to doing more for the community. The little rookies program, that introduces the youngest generation of children to the game, is free.
It is truly a tremendous effort that the Stars have undertaken. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be a hockey player. My life is better because of the time spent playing hockey. Better because, of the memories most likely shared with thousands of young hockey players in Texas. When the game and the Dallas Stars reeled me in and became my childhood obsession, it was an all-encompassing venture, and not much different from other hockey kids around North America - we just didn’t have all the outdoor ice. It was love at first skate.
I would wake up in the morning, check if the Stars had won or lost the night before, get ready for school, and then go rip some pucks into my dinky little net in my driveway until it was time to go. For eight hours I would sit in agony in my classrooms, just waiting for the final bell so I could hop on the bus and go home to pick up where I had left off that morning. At that point, it was all hockey in my driveway until the 7:30 p.m. puck drop for the night’s Stars game. I placed my net in front of the garage door, laced up my roller hockey skates, and shot pucks around trashcans that acted as a goalie. The hundreds of puck marks and dents on my parent’s garage door are the evidence that I was always trying to pick the top corners of the net.
Over time, the trashcans turned into my litter sister, who I would strap into my old hockey gear, and shoot on for hours - or until I hit her in a spot without pads and she refused to take anymore shots. She’s now a prospective Division 1 goaltender prospect in soccer, and I take a large portion of the credit. I’m pretty sure those days in my driveway’s version of American Airlines Center served her well.
Then there were the actual games and practices on the ice throughout my childhood and teenage years. Any kid who grew up playing hockey knows the litany of waking up at 5 a.m. for practices, the sacrifices of my parents to make it possible for me to play, the broken sticks, broken bones, and painful losses. There was also the wins, the friendships, and the locker room. I grew up at the rink, in a locker room, my best friends the guys I played with in house league, during travel, high school, and briefly in college. It is true what they say, that you do not remember the goals you score, the hits you make or take, or the wins and losses, you remember the friends and absolutely miss the locker room. The game is addicting and the Dallas Stars afforded me and thousands of other kids the chance to experience the greatest game in the world.
Before I end my love letter to the sport of hockey and thanks to the Stars, I’ll share one final story about how this team has captured my attention for the majority of my life, because I feel it is a story that can be told a thousand times over.
I first caught the bug like so many around this game simply by watching the sport on television. Once I fell in love with the Stars and the sport, I began watching every Stars game that I could. I vividly remember adjusting the rabbit ear antennas on my small television in my room and turning the volume down to where my parents couldn’t hear. During the 2002-2003 season, I would watch all the home games on KDFI 27, stretching my eyes and my young endurance to stay up until the final horn. The road games in California were tricky though, as I would try as hard I could to stay up until midnight, but would always fall sleep before the third period, at which point I relied on my parents to tell me the final score in the morning. As the years went on, the practice would continue, and so would sneaking off to watch the games, listen on the radio, and agonize over every shot and bounce. I was hooked.
Then came my first time seeing a Stars game in person. Granted, I have attended probably close to one hundred games since then, but the first is always the best and the most memorable. The Stars were playing the Toronto Maple Leafs on my birthday, November 8, 2002. It was Eddie Belfour’s first game back in Dallas. I can still remember walking in with my dad and seeing the ice for the first time. It was so perfect. It smelled like a real hockey rink, and the arena was bigger than anything I’d ever seen. I don’t remember the game for the most part, but I do remember the sights and the sounds. The sound of the goal horn for the two Dallas goals still rings in my ears, and the Leafs fans sitting in the nosebleeds around us being loud and enthusiastic. I remember the sheen on the ice and how big the players seemed to me. I was all in after that night, even after all the times of sneaking to watch the games on TV, because being there made it real. I’m forever thankful that I’ve been along for the ride with this team ever since.
The Stars might not be destined for postseason play this year, but they have given us something else to remember this year. A 25th anniversary celebration that allowed every Stars fan to look back on the past and link it to the present, to remember when they first fell in love with the game of hockey and the plucky Dallas team that stole all of our hearts. The Stars gave me the opportunity to play this incredible game, and for that I can always point to the franchise and say, “That’s my team, and those are my guys.” We will all go through many more seasons where the Stars do not succeed in the playoffs, but we will have been made better for going through the journey with them. One day (hopefully soon), they will reward us with another Stanley Cup, and we will reward them with another 25-plus years of loyalty and love. However, for some, this franchise has given much, much more than a championship ever could.
Thanks, Dallas Stars, for everything. And here’s to the next twenty-five years of hockey in Texas.