Friday, January 9, 2015


Ken Hitchcock

C-Mike Modano, Guy Carbonneau, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tony Hrkac, Brian Skrudland, Derek Plante. LW- Benoit Hogue, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Botterill, Dave Reid, Brent Severyn, Jere Lehtinen. RW- Blake Sloan, Brett Hull, Mike Keane, Grant Marshall, Pat Verbeek. D-Derian Hatcher, Craig Ludwig, Darryl Sydor, Shawn Chambers, Richard Matvichuk, Sergei Zubov, Doug Lidster, Brad Lukowich. G-Ed Belfour, Roman Turek.

Injuries: Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. (Sorry about that, a little personal exorcism there now that it's safe)

Traded Roman Turek, g, to St. Louis for a third-round draft pick.

First Round vs Edmonton: Stars wins 4-0  
4/21 Edmonton     W 2-1
4/23 Edmonton     W 3-2 
4/25 at Edmonton  W 3-2 
4/27 at Edmonton  W 3-2 3 OT

Second Round vs St. Louis: Stars win 4-2
5/07 St. Louis     W 3-0
5/09 St. Louis     W 5-4 OT
5/11 at St. Louis  L 3-2 OT
5/13 at St. Louis  L 3-2 OT
5/15 St. Louis     W 3-1
5/17 at St. Louis  W 4-3 OT

Third Round vs Colorado: Series tied 3-3
5/22 Colorado     L 2-1
5/24 Colorado     W 4-2
5/26 at Colorado  W 3-0
5/28 at Colorado  L 3-2 OT
5/30 Colorado     L 7-5
6/01 at Colorado  W 4-1
6/04 Colorado     W 4-1

Stanley Cup Finals vs Buffalo: Stars won series 4-2
6/08  Buffalo    L 3-2 OT
6/10  Buffalo    W 4-2
6/12  at Buffalo W 2-1
6/15  at Buffalo L 2-1
6/17  Buffalo    W 2-0
6/19  at Buffalo W 2-1 3OT    

Pacific Division    GP   W   L   T   PTS   GF   GA   
  p-Dallas          82  51  19  12   114  236  168 
  x-Phoenix         82  39  31  12    90  205  197  
  x-Anaheim         82  35  34  13    83  215  206  
  x-San Jose        82  31  33  18    80  196  191  
  Los Angeles       82  32  45   5    69  189  222 


by Jim Panenka, Dallas Correspondent

This last and final edition of News from the Stars is now on tap. Hope you enjoy it with a frosty mug. I know I certainly did.
Stars Win Stanley Cup!
In case you've been holed up in your Y2K survival bunker and have missed all the excitement of the last 3-4 days, the Dallas Stars eliminated the Buffalo Sabres from contention and won the Stanley Cup in what turned out to be the second-longest finals game in history.
The game went to triple overtime. Brett Hull scored the Cup-winner with less than 10 minutes left in the third OT. It was a fitting end to a season so spectacular that it defies description.
Both teams absolutely left whatever they had in them on the ice that night. Buffalo played well enough to have won the series, there's no question about that. In fact, for the first two periods of regulation, and the first overtime period, Buffalo played stronger than Dallas.
The difference was a goaltender named Ed Belfour. The Eagle played what amounted to a flawless series. He seemed to actually get calmer as the playoffs went on.
Dominik Hasek had really made only one major mistake the entire game, and that was to leave a very small opening between his right arm and the right goalpost when he was hugging that side of the net, slightly off- balance.
It was the fact that he was a little off-balance that probably caused Hasek to leave that hole open. The gap was only there for about four seconds. But, that is all the time that Jere Lehtinen needed to somehow take possession of the puck and deftly deposit it into that narrow gap as easily as you might deposit a quarter into a coke machine.
And there it was. The only goal Dallas would score until some 4-5 hours later. The Sabres scored also, so the teams played four periods knotted up at one apiece.
The game was quite possibly some of the best hockey that's ever been played. That's no exaggeration. For these people to play so long at such a high intensity level, and to actually improve the level of play as the game went on, is just unimaginable.
The entire series was a treat, for that matter. It was hard to imagine the finals being any better than the series against the Colorado Avalanche, but somehow it was. It was more of a defensive series, and wasn't quite as exciting as the run and gun battle with the Avs. But to watch both teams play so tightly with nearly no mistakes being made was something spectacular.
Dallas lost game 4 to two major defensive mistakes. The D-men made up for it by blocking nearly every shot in game 5 before it got to Belfour. Lets just say the defensemen were also very careful when making passes, being doubly sure that there was a Dallas recipient waiting, and in a clear lane, rather than a random chop towards the boards as sometimes happens in a rush. And when a shot did make it through, Belfour was there to make the stop. Quietly. Calmly.
So thorough was the Stars' dominance in this game that Buffalo only got a handful of shots, and none of those were a threat. In fact, the Stars shut out Buffalo and won the game 2-0.
The Sabres acted as if they expected Dallas to make the same type of mistakes as before. Instead, the Stars actually got better and played tighter, if that was even possible to begin with!
So both teams carried a heavy bag full of resolve into game 6. Buffalo blew most of their load early, but Ed Belfour hung in there and kept Dallas in the hunt, as his team got stronger late.
And as will be documented well in this issue, and ad nauseum in all the other trade rags, game six was something special. To see Brett Hull hobbling around in front of Hasek and furiously swatting at that puck before it went in was amazing in itself, considering Hull was in pretty sorry shape because of injury.
You could sense the pressure to put the game away by somebody- ANYBODY - was building with each successive faceoff. These guys were playing for over five hours, and something had to give. Even the referees had that "geez- lets get this crap over with, already!" look in their eyes.
But then history was made. Hull pushed the puck past Hasek, who most certainly could not believe his eyes. Hull nearly fell as he raised his arms to celebrate, and then he and Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen found a corner to get together in a huddle, arms around each other, celebrating the fact that their impossible dream had just come true. Dallas fulfilled its destiny by becoming the world champs. Finally.
Later, when the team skated the Cup, you could tell everyone was very happy - but at the same time nearly delirious from fatigue. This moment really drove home the concept of just how hard it is to earn a chance to sip some bubbly from the oldest and most revered prize in all of sports. And it was good.
Season Review
The Stars list of accomplishments were long this year:
114 points for the season, 15 straight wins, no more than three consecutive losses, a win/loss record of something like twenty or more games over .500, a second-consecutive President's Trophy, a Jennings Trophy, the Pacific Division championship, the western conference championship, the Stanley Cup. And individually, a Selke award from the previous year along with this year's Conn Smythe.
How did it all start?
Dallas started this season with the weight of the world's expectations on them. The team began training camp in Vail with a quiet resolve. From the very beginning it was clear that the Stars meant business this year.
But, the big story- and what could be considered the final key piece missing to the Stars' puzzle- was when owner Tom Hicks gave management the green light to go pursue free agent Brett Hull with some big bucks.
Hull at the time was quoted as saying that the money wasn't important- that the only thing on his mind was the chance to play on a winning team. In fact, Hull turned down more money from Chicago to play for the Stars. And as that medieval warrior told Indiana Jones when he picked the Holy Grail out from a slew of counterfeits: "you have chosen...wisely."
How's that for an obscure reference! We're pulling out all the stops for the final show!
Anyway, an air of controversy immediately surrounded the team after that. Brett was not known to be very quiet or gracious in the past. In fact, this very reporter was worried that instead of being the missing link, Hull would be the disruptive force that tore the team apart.
Things were all ready in delicate balance with the rantings and ravings of Eddie Belfour taking center stage. Belfour was an enigma when he first joined the team. He was combatitive, and didn't communicate well with anyone. In fact, while he and the team were learning each other's tendencies- Belfour would send an unmistakable message to the team, if he wasn't happy with the way things were going down on the ice.
Eddie would simply play like crap. A total washout. He would barely try. In fact, the contrasts between the games where he was happy, and those where things weren't going well were totally obvious. It was really simple - either Belfour would get a shutout, or he would give up at least 3-4 goals. There just didn't seem to be much in-between. It was almost comical.
But, that quickly quieted down the previous year, and Eddie showed none of that this season.
Metaphorically speaking, Brett Hull turned out to be a big puppy dog. Who'da ever thunk it?! While there was the early controversy over a quote that Hull had said "Brett Hull can't do anything in 11 minutes" or something like that, it turned out that it was really a non-issue. Hull was quoted out of context.
And coach Hitchcock, who I'm sure had some choice words he kept to himself about the whole thing, only had the following to say in public:
"We're a family here. If we've got any laundry that needs to be aired out, it will get aired out inside this locker room and nowhere else," said Hitchcock.
And business went on as usual. Dallas opened the season with a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, if that wasn't ironic enough. And Brett Hull scored his first goal as a Star against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first week of the season. That's pretty weird, too - considering Hull may have ended up in Chicago where father Bobby was a hero.
But other than that, Dallas quickly built up a winning record and held it for pretty much the rest of the season. During the midseason break, coach Hitchcock put the players through a grueling training camp to get them into shape for the stretch, and to be physically ready to carry momentum on into the playoffs.
That must have not been a popular call in the locker room. While Modano joked that it was a payback to him from Hitchcock for scoring a hat trick a few days earlier, it eventually leaked out to the press that the players were supposedly beginning to get a little fed up with Hitch cracking the whip on them. They were winning most games with authority, after all.
A news story leaked out that possibly Hitchcock was losing the buy-in from the players that was oh-so- crucial to a successful playoff run. But, after the story was leaked, players were quoted up and down in support of Hitchcock and his system, claiming that was what brought them here.
And amazingly enough, Brett Hull was not really heard from in the papers again. He just put his head down and got busy, becoming a potent force on the already-dangerous line of Modano and Lehtinen.
A lot of the magic began flipping between Modano's line and Nieuwendyk's. If anybody was missing from the first line because of injury, then the second line would step in and provide whatever was necessary to win, and vice-versa.
In fact, that really was the unofficial theme of the whole season: do whatever it takes to win. Just keep winning.
And they did. Actually, Dallas really stole the last part of the regular season. No other team really came close to the domination the Stars would show game after game. Well, I mean domination in the context that they kept winning. Some of the wins were pretty damn ugly. And some of them were downright miracles. Just as it would seem the opponent could skate down the clock with a lead, the Stars would find somehow, some way, to roar back and steal the two points.
And really, the only ties Dallas was involved with were with teams that were on a roll and had a death grip on the game. The Stars just refused to lose, and split a point with the team rather than lose both, most often.
It didn't really matter who contributed the magic. The Dallas Stars, under the careful coaching of Hitchcock and assistants Rick Wilson and Doug Jarvis, were truly a universal team in the sense that any given combination of players could get the job done for the Stars.
Hitchcock shuffled line combinations to suit his whim of the moment. There was absolutely no continuity, except that you could count on Modano playing with Lehtinen, if both were healthy. You could also usually count on the Hatcher-Matvichuk pairing.
But even the netminders were shuffled all season long. Although, it later became clear that the more important games Belfour played, the more he was the numero uno goalie of choice. But Hitchcock refused to name a starter, claiming that either was fully capable of winning for the team. And it was true. Turek played a stellar season, posting numbers that many starting goalies were envious of. Which is pretty impressive considering he was a "rookie" backup.
It all became like clockwork, for the most part. As long as you went into a game counting on the fact that the starting lines would not be consistent from game to game, and also counting on the fact that you just might see any given player playing at any given position, you could usually also count on a win from Dallas.
While it was bizarre to see defenseman Sydor moved to left wing, and Brett Hull and Jere Lehtinen playing on their off-wings, and Brett Hull being moved down to the third line for inspiration, and guys whom we'd never heard of or seen before stepping into the lineup and playing like they'd been there all their lives, it was just business as usual for Hitchcock and Dallas.
The wins just kept coming.
The composure of the team was pretty unorthodox, as mentioned above. But there is absolutely no doubt that the team really was a close family unit. There was no way that the players could be shuffled in and out, and even rotated about (hey- there's a song in there somewhere) during the same game and still keep the overall momentum in the Stars' favor. Many other teams simply would have imploded under that type of pressure. But not the Stars. They just kept winning. (sense a theme here?)
Well, as most of you already know- the team finished at the top during the regular season and went into the playoffs as the top seed. Nearly every opposing coach was quoted after having to face Dallas as saying "the work ethic of this team is incredible. They just keep rolling lines and coming after you."
That was just a very veiled way of them saying "geez, those guys play great! I wish our team could play and work like that!."
Dallas swept Edmonton (despite the triple-OT game 4 war). Guy Carbonneau and Ed Belfour helped keep Dallas in it as the Stars took St. Louis to six games and won that series. Mike Keane emerged as the hero of the moment and absolutely schooled Patrick Roy and his former Colorado teammates. It was embarrasing, the way this guy just slapped them in the face over and over.
Can you ever forget game 7 against the Avs? That had to have been a classic all-time playoff war there, buddy. The buzz around this whole series was just incredible. But as predicted, Roy and his buddies folded under the pressure. Belfour stands strong. Dallas wins in seven.
Then, there's the Buffalo series. Thank God it wasn't a sweep. As a matter of fact, it was the most competitive finals series in some 4-6 years. Dallas wins in six, barely.
Quite frankly, if the Stars had to take that last series to a game 7, there's no telling how it would have ended up. The Stars were really banged up. And exhausted.
Things were so intense that coach Hitchcock was quoted as saying that there was no clear leader in the series. Not even game-to-game. The only way things could be counted was from shift-to-shift. Yes, it was THAT close, people. That says a whole lot about Dominik Hasek and that Buffalo Sabres team. Congrats to them on a miraculous effort.
But, the important thing was that despite incredible odds- Dallas stuck to their guns and battled well enough to win no matter what it took. The Stars will spend the next few months doing unspeakable things with the Stanley Cup. And it will be well-deserved payback for a remarkable effort. Thanks, Dallas. You guys are great!
* Blake Sloan. This guy came from the Houston Aeros of the IHL and stepped right into the Stars' lineup as if he'd been with them through training camp. In fact, the rest of the core team was so stable, that Hitchcock basically tinkered and experimented all year long, looking for the right combinations of players for the right situation.
But Sloan really impressed. The guy skates very well, and plays with a lot of energy and passion. During some of those boring dog-day games, when most of the team was tired and slow, Sloan was out there jetting around and creating all kinds of havoc with his energy. He really stood out, and was quickly rewarded with a semi-permanent position.
* Roman Turek. Dallas had to trade Turek before he was exposed to the expansion draft, so they went ahead and unloaded him to St. Louis for a draft pick before he was drafted away anyway. But believe me, everyone is sorry to see this guy go. He's a big, imposing guy- but in the locker room he was a firecracker. It was said he was always capable of staying loose and cracking his team up with humor, whether it was during warm-ups, or during a 2-1 game against Detroit with the Red Wings trying to pound down the door with three minutes left.
In addition to all that, Turek played totally solid in the nets. He and Ed Belfour combined to win the Jennings. That's how well he played for the Stars.
* There were many more little stories to tell, but those will be told elsewhere this issue. The biggest surprise of all this season was that this team gelled together and rolled through any and every obstacle in its way to become the absolute undisputed best team in the league at this point in time. It's just an incredible story. As Hitchcock was quoted as saying:
"This is a magical team. While we might have more talent here someday, I don't think that I might ever be fortunate enough to coach another team like this one," said Hitchcock.
* Not getting to take part in all the celebrations. Dallas' season was so damn good that the only really disappointing thing I can mention is that the team snubbed yours truly when he groveled and begged for a chance to take part in all the Cup celebrations. Yeah, that'll REALLY suck.
You know, you follow the team all year during '95-'96 when they SUCKED. You go to every home game when half the arena is empty. You scream your ass off until your voice is hoarse cheering on the team when everyone else is looking at you like your a freak and asking what the hell an icing is. You evangelize for the team and for the game. You volunteer to write good things about the team. You spend hours you don't really have attending games and watching games and listening to every single damn game, just to make sure you have your facts straight when you write good things about the team. You spend thousands of dollars on game tickets. You play the game yourself to understand it better and to have more of an appreciation of just how tough it is what they do out there. You buy Stars merchandise. You throw all the good kharma you have towards them. You live, eat, breathe, and die Dallas Stars hockey. For what, I ask you - WHAT!?
All for one thing: the chance to bask in the glory of their championship. To be near the Cup. To touch it. To revere its glory. To say "woo hoo! Good job, fellers!"
And what does the team's PR department do? Leave you dangling on a rope in open air for all the buzzards to swoop in and pick at the carcass. Not so much as a return phone call! Thanks, Larry!
It's not like I'm bitter or anything, really. I just wanted them to throw me a small bone for 3-4 years of solid dedication and some major praise from your trusty old Stars correspondent.
Oh, well. That is life. Sometimes you just have to swallow hard, grit your teeth, and just keep going. It's not like I'm a Keith Olbermann or something.
Truth be known, Larry and the Stars treated me very well, but that last part, when it was most important to me, left a bitter taste. But I do thank them for the hospitality.
I am very proud of all the guys on the team. They really overcame profound challenges to win that damn cup. And they truly deserve it. In a world where corporate whores and self-minded weasels rule the day- it's nice to know that a great group of solid guys can come together under a solid, healthy family atmosphere and win everything.
And don't try that "Tom Hicks bought the Stanley Cup" drivel. Look at what happened to both Colorado and Detroit when they went out and spent megabucks for hired guns to patch together a team with little or no heart and soul. They both imploded. While Dallas may have bent, groaned, and squeaked a little- they never fell apart. Never. Great job, guys!
Soapbox Time (feel free to go to the fridge)
In fact, it's hard not to sit here and get emotional about all of this. Very emotional. It gives you a definite feeling of closure.
The Stars used to be my team. I truly feel a connection to these guys. I have talked to them, interviewed them, watched them go through pain, injury, and grief. I have seen their happy families. I have shopped with them at the same grocery store. I have cheered them when they succeed, rallied for them when they don't.
I have never before been around a group of people like this current Stars team. They are a family. And I am a small part of it, whether or not I'm the red-headed stepchild.
But, the Stars are no longer my team. The corporate whores and self-minded weasels have stepped in and taken control because the team is now a winner. Of course, this is not an indictment of the Stars organization itself, just the fact that enjoying this team during the playoffs was priced well beyond what most mere mortals could pay. And it's only going to get worse.
I do believe owner Tom Hicks should make money with this team, because his solid ownership and can-do attitude was as an important part of this team as was Gainey's expert guidance. And Hitchcock's masterful coaching.
But now it's just a business.
The team isn't that far-removed from the days before the average starting salaries were under a million dollars. And guys played for the love of the game. This team under Bob Gainey's masterful craftsmanship is a living link to the ghosts of hockey's past. Let's hope nobody ever forgets that past, when the players were humble, and were glad to be making a solid living by doing something they loved doing anyway.
But that's my opinion. I could be wrong.
Offseason Changes
Dallas will no longer have an LCS correspondent. That is the most important offseason change. (ahem)
Bob Gainey has already begun the long process of building for the day when the current team has to be dismantled due to free agency and age. He has been signing many different players to restock the bench.
People criticize the fact that this team was built for the short-haul. But they weren't paying attention. Gainey is.
Just some of the names you will probably be hearing soon: Alan Letang, Marty Turco, Jason Botteril, Steven Gainey (yes, that Gainey), Jon Sim - ah hell, I forget the rest. Just keep in mind that this team will remain on a solid foundation for years to come.
I don't really see any significant player moves in the offseason. But you never know. Carbo is going to give it a go for another year, so that should be the cement that helps hold most of the current team together.
Remembering the Stars of the Recent Past
Remember some of the names of those who helped the Stars get here, but are no longer with the team? Brent Gilchrist, Todd Harvey, Dave Gagner, Neal Broten, Shane Churla, Andy Moog. We remember, guys. We remember. Sorry not to mention more of you.
This is the End
Well, that's about all I've got to say about that. Thanks to anyone who may have read this article and derived some value or entertainment from it. Thanks to LCS for getting this rink rat on the inside. It was an experience I'll never forget.
That's the news, and I am outta here.

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