A Night Fit For a Star
On Saturday night the Dallas Stars rolled out the victory green carpet as they welcomed back old friends and fans to honor the brightest Star of all, Mike Modano. In a pre-game ceremony in which Modano’s number 9 was hoisted to its permanent spot among the rafters of the American Airlines Center, a packed house of 19,109 (a home attendance record for the Dallas Stars) was able to both reminiscence about past greatness and also take a glimpse into the increasingly brighter looking future of the current version of the Stars, as they mounted a thrilling 4-3 comeback win over the Minnesota Wild in the game that followed.
The evening of festivities began with members of the 1999 Stanley Cup winning team walking the carpet into the AAC while thousands of fans cheered their heroes and collected autographs while braving the chilly conditions. The ceremony inside began with a white circular curtain being raised to show Modano’s former Cup teammates on stage all wearing the old “star” version of jerseys they captured the Cup in. Local sports icons Roger Staubach, Rolando Blackman, Troy Aikman, Michael Young and Dirk Nowtizki were on the ice as well to pay tribute to Modano.
It was a night for emotions for fans and athletes alike, and for many like myself who spent years in the Stars front office a chance to see old friends from both the hockey side and business side of things. For many of the former players it was the first time they’d seen each other in years, and the memories were easily brought to the fore-front as old stories were remembered until early into Sunday morning at the post party at the Dallas Omni.
After the ceremony was completed there was still a game to be played and an important one at that. With Minnesota sitting in the 7th playoff position in the Western Conference and the Stars hanging onto the 8th and final spot (trailing the Wild by 5 points), focus had to be quickly redirected by the Stars players who were on the bench for the pre-game ceremony, and they certainly seemed to do so as the Stars scored just 31 seconds into the game to the delight of the still buzzing crowd. The Stars trailed 3-2 in the third period when Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen was run by fellow Fin Erik Haula, who was assessed a 5 minute major and a game misconduct. Lehtonen had to leave the game after losing his mask in the collision and having his head hit the cross bar, and was replaced by new acquisition Tim Thomas, who entered the game to a rousing applause by the 19,000 plus. The Stars scored with time running out on the penalty to tie the score, and Erik Cole broke the tie with just under 5 minutes left in the game on a breakaway. Thomas turned away all 6 shots he faced as the Stars hung on to a 4-3 victory and closed the gap on the Wild to 3 points.
It was a night that felt like old times for Stars fans as they were able to celebrate past greatness and witness future potential. For many I would guess it was the first time back at AAC in years, and hopefully the emotion and excitement of Saturday night will inspire them to jump back on a bandwagon many leaped off years ago. The way this current team is playing they certainly deserve it.