Afterwords: Inexcusable

And I'm not talking about the score.

Afterwords: Inexcusable
Credit: Tim Heitman / Dallas Stars

Last night, for the first time in my life, I was embarrassed to be a Dallas Stars fan.

I'm not talking about the score, in which Dallas lost 4-0 to the Vegas Golden Knights to go down 3-0 in the series. I'm not even talking about the performance on the ice, such as Jake Oettinger getting pulled just 7:10 into the game. God, what I would give to spend this piece talking about Jake Oettinger.

But I can't, or rather I won't. Because the (main) subject for today's Afterwords was decided for me, by Jamie Benn, just 1:53 into the game.

I focused exclusively on the Matt Dumba hit from Game 1 on the playoffs in that Afterwords. I spoke about how it was a dangerous play, one that should have no place in hockey, and one that should have, in my opinion, been suspended.

This one was worse. Far worse.

Sitting up in the 300s on the other side of the ice, I didn't see the point of contact. But I already knew it was an awful, awful penalty by Benn. Not because it's a penalty and would put Dallas down, but because that is just something that you. Cannot. Do. There is no world in which you, as a player, looming over another player who is down on the ice, should deliver a cross-check.

That the hit was delivered to the head/neck makes it worse, obviously. And I'm not sure Benn intended to target the head/neck specifically. But intent doesn't matter here. That cross-check is hot garbage, one that 100% deserved the 5-minute major, the game misconduct, and which should result in a suspension when his hearing concludes later today.

There is no defense for that play, and if you're trying to offer one, I don't want to here it. I'm not trying to repeat myself, but I just want to stress it again: it doesn't matter who the offender is, who the victim is, what the score is, what kind of game it is, what has happened up to that point, none of that. All hockey fans, players, media, coaches, management, owners, whoever should be disgusted by that play.

And now we can get to the context of the play, which just rubbed salt in the wound. Because this wasn't just any game. This was Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, with Dallas down 2-0 in the series and already down 1-0 early in the game. That penalty put Vegas on a five minute power play, and lost Dallas one of their top players this season for the duration of the game. That is a terrible position for any player to put his team in.

But Benn is not just "any player." He is the captain. And not just any captain, but one that is beloved by his teammates. Both current and former Stars love to gush about Benn's leadership. They would follow him to hell and back, and then back to hell again. He is willing to get into the thick of things, and never asks his teammates to do what he wouldn't be willing to do himself.

He sets the tone for how the Stars play. The team goes wherever Benn takes them. And, as Sean Shapiro so eloquently wrote last night, "they followed him straight into the ditch."

Sure, Dallas started the penalty kill strong. They even almost scored shorthanded. But then Vegas scored number two. And when Oettinger let in number three and got pulled, everything fell apart at the seams. I'm not sure if Jamie Benn was in the locker room during the first intermission, but even if he was, he wasn't in a position to try and "rally the troops" for the second. To try and save a 3-0 game from putting them down 3-0 in the series.

Instead, the Stars committed a total of five minor penalties and one 10-minute misconduct in the second period. Perhaps they were trying to emulate what Benn does when the going gets tough, to try and show some bite and physicality and get the team's blood pumping. If they were, it backfired spectacularly. And their captain wasn't there to right the ship.

And then, when you thought it couldn't get any worse, he wasn't there after the game either. Video of Benn walking past reporters and leaving immediately after the game made the rounds on Twitter. Dallas confirmed to the media that he had declined to speak with them. Alternates Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski had to answer for his actions. Much like the game itself, they were abandoned by their captain, left to defend themselves.

Now granted, we don't know what led up to that. For all we know, Seguin and Pavelski already spoke with Benn. Maybe they told him they'd have his back and speak on his behalf, or at the least supported his decision. Whether or not that would be a good thing when it comes to locker room culture is up to discretion, but we don't have that sort of insight, and we probably never will.

So instead, we can only judge on the decision itself. And the fact of the matter is, when Benn needed to hold himself accountable, he ran. He knew he'd have to face the music eventually, but instead of owning up right then and there, he punted to another day. Right now, as I'm writing this, in fact.

(As a quick aside, Benn said in his interview that he "would have liked to not fall on him and use [his] stick as a landing point." He's getting ripped for it on Twitter, but I'm not sure what people expect from a guy who's pending a suspension hearing and doesn't want to give DPoS more ammo. It's a carefully crafted non-answer.)

Some people were already calling for the 'C' before last night's game ended. Those cries only grew louder after Benn refused to hold himself accountable in the (immediate) aftermath of the game. Personally, I think Shapiro (again) put things best, this time on his post-game podcast. To sum things up:

This was the comeback year from Benn. This could have been the postseason where Benn ensured his number in the Stars' rafters with a Stanley Cup win. This one stupid, god awful penalty doesn't takeaway from his performance this season, nor the Stars' deep postseason run.

But man does it put a big, ugly stain on it all.

That was supposed to be the end of the piece. I was already writing in my head from the stands during the first and second periods. Obviously, I couldn't foresee the whole "lack of a post-game interview" portion, but it was meant to be a piece just about Jamie Benn and his dangerous, reckless hit.

But remember what I said to start things off – for the first time in my life, I was ashamed to be a Stars fan last night. And that has absolutely nothing to do with the Benn hit.

Because at the end of the day, that was a singular action of a single player on my favorite team. The captain and heartbeat of the team, sure. But still a single player. One whose behavior and actions I could criticize, as I just did, and feel good about myself, as both a fan and a writer.

But while that was the worst part of last nights' game, it wasn't the only black spot. That came at the end of the second period.

I'll admit it – when I saw the referee raise his arm, I leapt to my feet in frustration. I was on the complete opposite side of the rink, so I didn't see what exactly Max Domi did, but it felt like I had reached a boiling point. The Stars had been penalized all period long, and there were probably a few calls the other way that didn't get whistled.

Fans were upset, and chants of "Domi! Domi!" rang out as the crowd supported their player, right or wrong.

And then the referee announced the penalties. The pair of minors, as well as the 10-minute misconduct.

Boos rained down. And so did the trash.

That is why this Afterwords is titled "Inexcusable." Because that behavior from those Stars fans was the same as what they threw on the ice: garbage. The fact that the NHL had to step in and start the second intermission before the period even ended was outright embarrassing. And then, a fan did it again when Vegas returned to the ice, throwing popcorn at Adin Hill.

Brad Alberts, the Stars' President and CEO, had to release a PR statement apologizing to Vegas and the NHL for those fans' behaviors. That tweet is now pinned on the team's profile, instead of the the announcement that Jim Nill is a GM of the Year finalist.

That is just downright depressing.

No, I wasn't one of those fans – my "boiling point" as I put it never got close to that. And yes, those fans are, ultimately, a minority, and do not represent the Stars' fanbase as a whole, whether it be the rest of the crowd or the countless watching at home.

But that's not how outsiders will view it. They'll look at the fans as a singular, collective entity, one that that, when push came to shove, followed the example set by their captain and resorted to "bush league" antics. Good luck to those of you who will be braving hockey Twitter or social media for the long foreseeable future, because jokes about the Stars being a literal garbage team/franchise, Stars/southern fans being classless, etc. are here to stay.

Am I being overdramatic? Maybe. As my former colleague Robert Tiffin tweeted, Edmonton did the same thing just a month ago. They're not the first team to do this, and they won't be the last. By no means does that justify it, but perhaps this all blows over. Dallas is a low-profile market, after all, and the Benn hit and ensuing drama overshadows all other narratives or takeaways from the game. Perhaps the only people who will be making those jokes are the ones that already dislike the Stars to begin with.

But that's just coping on my part. Trying to find a silver lining, if any, from a game that was, by far, the worst and most embarrassing hockey game I have ever watched.