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It’s Been Some Kind of Week for the Dallas Stars

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Let’s empty the ol’ brain on everything that’s transpired over the past seven days

NHL: JAN 01 Winter Classic - Predators at Stars Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Little league in ‘93 taught me how to take defeat

Good thing there’s no mercy rule in love ‘cause I would long be beat

***

The Stars have a well-deserved break until Wednesday, and hey, it’s kind of nice to go into a few days off with the team playing all right, eh? After the pre-Christmas struggles, the Stars are well and truly back on the beam.

At least, sort of. True, the Stars are tied with the Avs in points, with 52. But the Avalanche have a game in hand, and they also have a goal differential of +29 to the Stars’ +11. Yes, the points are what matter, but if you had to bet on one of these teams to pull away from the other in the back half of the season, it’s hard not to say the Avs would be the better bet.

In any case, the Stars have set themselves up well for the final three months of the season after riding a couple of struggle buses around town in 2019. They’re on a four-game winning streak, and they’re about to get a good, long rest before a California road trip against a few teams that are having troubles of their own. Things, in other words, are good.

Still, a lot has happened over the last week that I haven’t had the chance to write about. So let’s go back through the last seven days and try to metabolize everything that happened in the last week for the Dallas Stars.

***

Saturday, December 28th: 3-2 Shootout Win vs. Colorado Avalanche

After entering the break with just one regulation win in their last six games, the Stars forged an unlikely comeback against the Avalanche behind goals from Tyler Seguin (his fifth in five games) and Denis Gurianov (who could well approach 20 goals this year). Getting contributions from both ends of the forwards corps (at least in terms of ice time) set up Ben Bishop to stand strong in the shootout, blanking Colorado as Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov sealed a second point. It was a good response to the Stars’ latest skid, and it’s easy to call it a turning point now after three more wins have been stacked on top of it. But this was the toughest opponent the Stars faced in their last four games, and they found a way to win. And yet, this probably wasn’t even in the top half of most emotional wins over the last week.

Sunday, December 29th: 4-2 Win vs. Arizona Coyotes

The Stars looked like a tired team to start this one as the Coyotes racked up shot after shot (you perhaps heard of a certain 22-5 advantage at one point). But Jamie Benn led the Stars in their best impression of a Phoenix, rising from the ashes of a rough 40 minutes and 2-0 deficit to thoroughly thump the ‘Yotes behind Benn’s vengeance upon Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and the Stars left Glendale feeling good.

This game was more memorable, for me, for its taking place during the DBD meetup in Fair Park that same night. There’s just something cool about meeting people you know (and yet don’t know) while also getting to watch the Stars be a bit hapless, only to eventually roar back in a decisive. Really, it was a pretty spot-on preview of the Winter Classic game, only we didn’t know it yet. Anyway, aside from all the wonderful people I got to meet—and buy a Jelly Strong shirt! They are soft and great and all the money goes to the family—it was just a perfect game all around. We got to suffer together before rejoicing, and that’s pretty much life, right?

Monday, December 30th: The Athletic Meetup

Obviously I write for SB Nation, so it’s my duty to tell you that the Athletic is a paywall site that basically just wants your money and doesn’t care about the virtues of a free, unimpeded reader experience, where all the articles continued below video advertisement

Er, sorry. Right, like I was saying, it was cool to meet other Stars fans at this event in Deep Ellum, especially one where I didn’t have to be there in any semi-official capacity. This week had four straight days of events that would have been thrilling by themselves, and getting to listen to Sean and Adam and Bob talk about hockey with a bunch of folks kept that momentum going, for sure. I know a lot of people don’t love meeting strangers, going to things like this alone, etc. etc. etc. But I will say that I have rarely regretted taking the risk of putting myself out there when it comes to things like this. (I will say, however, that I am beginning to resent tall people. Like, come on, Zach. My neck was getting sore after 20 minutes of talking about Alex Goligoski.)

Tuesday, December 31st: Practice at the Cotton Bowl

The Stars finally took the ice that had been destroyed over the weekend, and their families got to join them. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment when I first saw the full view of the sheet with the empty seats surrounding it. There was this moment of, “Wow, this is actually going to happen.” Pretty cool.

The players were pretty excited, too. Even with tons of media crowding the locker room after the family skate, most players were affable, patient, and happy to talk. One or two mentioned that they were starting to get a little warm by the end of the session, but it’s safe to say that the temperature was pretty close to perfect, based on the result the next day.

On a personal note, I also got the chance to chat with Ralph Strangis (who was there to broadcast the game on the radio for NBC), whom I haven’t seen in a few years. There were almost too many cool little moments to remember surrounding the Winter Classic, but that whole thing really just felt like a gigantic party as well as a privilege for the city, the team, and for me.

The Winter Classic - New Year’s Day

I’ll just do bullet points for this day, because it was overwhelming and beautiful, and I won’t presume on your time any further than I already have.

  • We took the DART from the red line, and seeing train after train packed with Stars fans (and Predators fans) as we got closer to downtown was just the coolest sort of experience. It got slightly less cool after half an hour of waiting to transfer downtown and watching maybe five people manage to squeeze onto each green line car. This was around 10am, so we sort of expected it to be bad, but man. I was very thankful when some overflow buses finally showed up, because I’m not sure we would ever have gotten onto one of those trains as it got closer to 1pm.
  • More frustrating was trying to leave, however. Much as it would have been fun to stay after the game and enjoy the midway, we managed only one ferris wheel ride before the tightly packed crowds crushed our spirits and our ambition. We then trekked back to the Fair Park station, only to have the gates blocked by security, who were rationing people into the platform area in order to keep things under control. That’s as may be, but it was maddening to be exhausted, hoarse, and cold, only to be stuck watching trains sit at the station for five minutes before pulling out again. I suppose I have been spoiled by the mass transit in other big cities, but it seemed like DART was playing catch-up all day. However, we did finally make it through the gates (after about another 30 minutes of waiting, I think) and find a red line train that took us right back to our original stop without needing to transfer, which was nice.
  • I’m glad I got to go to a couple of meetups before gameday, because trying to say hi to anyone (sorry, Graham and Wes) was pretty much impossible at the Cotton Bowl. Erin (you all remember Erin!) kindly battled through the sea of humanity to say hi, which was great, but man, those crowds and confined spaces really did sap our energy. The one good choice we made was to enter the actual stadium around 11:30, which meant we got to see the pre-match soccer game that usually takes place out of sight in the tunnel, as well as on-ice warmups. I also discovered that the concession lines at that point weren’t bad near our section (section 7 in the lower bowl), so it was easy enough to pop out and grab some drinks and use the restroom before the real traffic jams started closer to puck drop. I didn’t even bother attempting any sort of intermission run, and it sounds like that was a good choice. 85,000 people is a large number, turns out.
  • It’s hard to remember all of the people I saw, but this was the kind of day where seeing Brenden Morrow or Aleš Hemský walk right by you seemed perfectly normal. I’m not generally the type to bother a player when they’re out and about, but it was cool to see how many Stars folks were just “around” on Wednesday. This game was a big deal, and it felt like.
  • I asked Mattias Janmark on Thursday how he dealt with getting put onto the power play after Perry’s ejection, and he pointed out that when he scored his power play tally to tie the game, the Stars actually had two defensemen on the ice, with the power play getting close to expiring. Obviously certain plays are going to be encouraged or discouraged at that stage of the advantage, so it’s no surprise he went right to the net there. And with Perry out for four more games, I suspect we’ll continue to see Janmark (who has been really good, especially lately) continue to get time on the power play.
  • Did you notice Tyler Seguin try to go between his legs from the goal line right before Radulov’s go-ahead tally on the power play? Big stage, big moves. I love it. Seguin also hit the post, so even if he didn’t find the net in the game, he was one of the Stars’ key players.
  • Corey Perry’s hit deserved five games. I felt bad for him during that interminable walk back to the locker room, but you should feel much worse for Ryan Ellis. The DoPS is wildly inconsistent with how they mete out punishments, but if you’re going to try to protect players, then you have to re-train them to avoid hits like that, no matter what.
  • Andrej Sekera’s been looking great lately, eh? That wonderful blind assist to Radulov in Arizona (after activating all the way down below the opposing net), the follow-up goal in this game, and then his empty-netter one-timer while shorthanded last night? It’s been cool to see a genuinely nice guy get some love lately. I think Sekera deserves, if not a lot more praise, at least a bit more rope than he’s gotten so far this year. In a sheltered role—and perhaps with a better partner—he can be a useful player on this team, in this sort of system. If his confidence stays high, I think he’ll be a key player down the stretch.
  • Jason Dickinson’s play to feed Blake Comeau for the first goal was noteworthy for two reasons: one, because Dickinson drew a delayed penalty with a great bit of skating on his nice zone entry, and two, because I’m not sure how he knew Comeau was there at all. The line was a bit mixed, with Faksa having been on PK duty and Dickinson taking his spot for that shift, but you wouldn’t know it from that play.
  • Comeau could have scored a hat trick in this game with the chances he got. And it’s funny, he almost didn’t deserve to score this one, given the shot he got off. He mentioned after the game that he was trying to elevate it, but it ended up sliding under Pekka Rinne, who had lost his stick in the scramble. Still, good for Comeau, who was in the right spot. That line has been a lot more two-way than solely checking lately, and that’s exactly what a team without top-flight scoring from any players is going to need.
  • I’m still not positive what Klingberg did during this game that has him out day-to-day, but hopefully it was just a small muscle tweak or something, and the four days off will cure what ails him. If not, well, the Stars only have six games until their mandated five-day vacation and the All-Star break, so he’ll have lots of time to get right.
  • This game was just flat fantastic. Seeing a hockey game—especially such an enjoyable one—in a college football stadium was the best sort of gratuitous. Hearing four times the normal crowd roar, feeling the wind on your face, seeing huge swaths of Nashville fans—all of whom I met were pretty kind and great, by the way—was all so much fun. TV ratings matter when it comes to convincing NBC what games to do in the future, but they don’t really bear on the success of the event in any way. The Cotton Bowl was an imperfect venue as far as crowd control, but the atmosphere was special, and worth it. Brad Alberts and his crew deserve the praise they’ve been getting for how perfect this day way.
  • Two complaints about the league, though. One other thing about NBC: I wonder if they didn’t have some influence on the intermission acts, too. Obviously Dan + Shay were not what the Stars would have picked, if they were able to choose, but when you’re talking about pulling eyeballs, you look for mass appeal, and this game was not about mass appeal at all, but specific spectacle. The pig races and trick roping were cool, and the longhorn and mutton busting were delightful. The sword-swallowing unicyclist and bowling pin jugglers were also at the event, in case you were looking for those other classically Texas institutions.
  • Additionally, it was really silly to have the NHL bring in their own gameday presentation crew for an event so obviously branded as this unique and goofy Texas thing. Jeff K was thankfully allowed (eventually) to do most of the in-game announcing, but how insipid was it to hear the most generic hockey jock jams being played at every stoppage? (With the exception of one or two songs that got the crowd really into it, like “Friends in Low Places.”) I can’t figure out the play here: the NHL wants to have an identifiably Texan (or Southern, shall we say) feel to the game, but they want to have their traveling experts control everything to ensure a consistent product. They make a big deal about booking country-ish acts for the stage, then play Three Days’ Grace and a milliard other generic pump-up songs that made it seem like any other hockey game at all other times. Honestly, I don’t care much about the intermission acts most of the time, but the NHL taking control of gameday presentation like that for the first time in Winter Classic history seems like an insipid choice, at best. But then, this is the league that still has a trapezoid behind the net because, you know, goalies busting it to try to get pucks in the corners would be boring, I guess? Who even knows, anymore.
  • Still—this was a great day, and one I’ll remember forever. I’m more selective at 33 with the events I spring for, but this was one that just felt like a “must,” when it was announced, and it surpassed all my expectations. What a day.

Thursday, January 2nd: Practice

When I asked Khudobin about his slide into the impromptu team photo after the game, he said that he had actually done the same thing the night before, after the family skate. So if you’re wondering why nobody was terrified of the goaltender’s skates flying at them, that’s why. Always trust Khudobin.

Rick Bowness mentioned after practice that he ditched his cowboy hat after about four minutes, because he doesn’t like wearing hats, pretty much ever. He’ll sport a golf visor during the summer, but that’s about it. So, you can put “doesn’t like hats” into Bowness’s HockeyDB page whenever you have a spare moment. And honestly, if I had Bowness’s hair—and I decidedly do not—I would probably do the same thing. Rock that silver salad, man.

Friday, January 3rd: Monty, Joel Kiviranta, and a 4-1 Win vs. Red Wings

Joel Kiviranta’s callup was unexpected, and his start even moreso, at least by me. I figured Dowling would get a game after sitting for a little while, but apparently Rick Bowness really cares about positional experience, and Kiviranta looked pretty all right as the game wore on. I’m not sure how much more we’ll see of him, but he’s still got plenty of time, and he’s looked good in Cedar Park, so it was cool to see him get his NHL debut in front of his parents.

Taylor Fedun also drew back in, but I’ll be watching to see if he plays any of the California games if Klingberg is healthy. He (and Justin Dowling) seems like a player the coaches really see as a 7th D (or 13th Forward) and his (their) decreasing usage reflects that. Still, it’s nice to be in the show, I suppose.

As for Jim Montgomery’s announcement, I think we can safely say this much: Whatever he did (presumably while under the influence), it was without question a fireable offense. And if being fired helped him to get to that rock-bottom point that led to him beginning inpatient treatment, then it’s something to be grateful for, in one sense. If you’ve ever known someone with alcoholism, then you know just how insidious it can be, and how difficult it can be to stay with a loved one when they relapse. Given what we know so far, I think it’s pretty understandable why Jim Nill has been a tight-lipped as he has. Some things are more important. All the best to Monty and his family as they begin the long road of recovery. I don’t think he ever comes back to the Stars (or at least not before going to another team first), but that really isn’t important right now.

Any addict has gone through the shame spiral. You aspire to be better, then you slip up, then you swear you won’t do it again, and then you do, again. That failure feels horrible, and that horrible feeling kills your sense of self-worth, and so you figure, hey, at this point, what does it even matter? And it gets worse, and worse, until something happens. Sometimes it’s a loved one giving you an ultimatum. Sometimes it’s a moment of clarity where you decide with every bit of willpower you have that something has to change. But sometimes it’s rock bottom, where you sit there, feeling as low as you’ve ever felt, and you can’t see any hope anywhere. You hate the thing you’ve become dependent on, you feel like everyone must hate you, and you despair. The feeling of hopelessness drags you down, and life begins to gray at the edges, to atrophy in even the most treasured corners of your memory.

This clip borders on being trite, but I think there’s truth in it. John Spencer was a recovering alcoholic himself, so this scene was coming from a very real place, for him.

If you’ve been there, you know. It’s not a matter of willpower when things get really bad. You feel powerless, even stupid. But the wonderful thing is, sometimes people will surprise you. Sometimes you will take a risk, even if it’s just answering a small question honestly. Or maybe you will quietly reach out to someone, and they’ll care enough to help you, somehow. Sadly, these stories don’t always end that way. Addiction and substance abuse rewire our brains, and it can take a lifetime to really build new neural pathways that can help us get back some of the power that was handed over before help was found.

And even when we do get help, recovery isn’t usually linear. That shame cycle can come back even more viciously the second time. The fall is nastier when we feel like we’ve climbed back up a good deal farther before stumbling again. But you know, most of us probably know someone on that journey. Sometimes it can be hell, having an addict close to you, and all you can do is cut them out of your life, for your good and theirs. But sometimes you can descend into hell alongside them, and sometimes you can guide them back up, reminding them of who they really are. Life is messy because people are messy. But there’s nothing more rewarding that seeing love bear fruit long after you gave up hoping that it could. Sometimes, it turns out, the process really can work.