The combination of “hockey” and “Texas” may seem counterintuitive, given the general lack of ice in the Lone Star State, but by golly, it works. While watching a bunch of guys chase after a puck doesn’t come as natural to Texas fans as football, we’ve learned to enjoy it; and over the past decade or so, hockey has started to spread all over Texas, even unto the smaller cities like Odessa and Midland (which you may recall as the President’s hometown). Notice that I said that hockey has spread, not just its popularity. Minor-league teams are popping up all over. Odessa’s is called the Jackalopes.
So what’s the dealio here? Well, I date the recent interest to Dallas’ acquisition of the Minnesota North Stars back in 1993. We hadn’t had major league hockey in Texas since the Houston Aeros back in the 1970s, and they weren’t much to write home about. That’s not to say that professional hockey was altogether absent: the Central Hockey League’s Dallas Freeze played “the most dangerous game in the world” here from 1992-1994 (I remember them vaguely), and before them, the Dallas Blackhawks (a Chicago Blackhawks farm team) played here for the CHL from 1967-1982. And let’s not forget the Dallas Texans, who tore up the ice in the Fair Park Ice Arena all through the 1940s.
So us Texans had some experience with hockey before the Stars came, but these new guys were special: they were literally major league. When billionaire Norman Green brought them to Dallas, he shucked the “North” in North Stars, and they became the Dallas Stars — which fit pretty well, given our Lone Star heritage. They started out sharing Reunion Arena with the Mavericks (our pro basketball team), and Dallas fans were soon hooked. Really hooked. I once compared hockey to professional wrestling to a Stars fan, and I thought we were going to have to appoint seconds and settle it with dueling pistols at 20 paces. People got serious about their favorites real fast.
I have to admit that the Stars are one of the few pro teams that I’ve patronized. I’ve been to maybe half a dozen games. See, I had an “in” — I used to work with the wife of their head Zamboni driver (no, really), and I could occasionally get free or cheap tickets from them. I also went a few times on my own, and I gotta tell you, it was a kick. The person who named this “the most dangerous game in the world” wasn’t kidding around. You’re as likely to see an all-out brawl at a Stars game as you are to see an actual goal. But you know what? That’s what makes it exciting. I don’t know whether they plan the fights, or not, but I do know that they often lead to bleeding, especially when someone gets whacked in the face with a stick.
Come to think of it, that right there’s probably the reason why minor league hockey teams started to appear all over Texas in the ’90s. Hell, we love seeing people get whacked in the face with sticks! If we’d known it was this much fun we probably would have dragged in a decent pro team much earlier. Football may be almost a religion here, but come on: all that padding? People hardly ever get hurt anymore. What’s the point of going to see ritualized warfare if no one gets hurt?
Things really took off after the Stars won the Stanley Cup off the Boston Sabres in 1999. The Sabres bitched about that for years, but let’s face it: the Stars were the better team. They haven’t been back to the finals since 2000, but they’ve won a lot of division championships and other awards over the years, so they’re definitely worth checking out if you’re of a mind to see some Southern hockey. Another good thing about the Stars is that it’s relatively cheap to go to a game. The prices have gone up since they moved into the American Airlines Center (gotta pay for the part our taxes didn’t, dontcha know), but you can still get a seat in the nosebleed section for $15. Of course, by the time you buy your snacks and beer and stuff, it’ll be $50, but hey, it’s pro hockey! People might bleed!
Here’s a suggestion: if you decide to go to a Stars game while you’re visiting Dallas — which you can do if you come around sometime between mid-September and early-April — make a point of sitting in the nosebleed section. You can see everything that happens without having to keep your eyes on the Jumbotron hanging above the ice. It might look a little small, but in my opinion, it’s better than trying to take in the action from ice-level. I had an opportunity to do that once, and I couldn’t see as much as I liked. It was boring, too. Not one fight the whole time, and you run the risk of getting conked on the head with a stray puck; it happens. If you do decide to go for more expensive tickets in the tonier areas of the stadium, you can spend up to $150 a seat, no problem.
No matter why you go, it’s a great opportunity to get out there and enjoy the ambiance of a huge public sporting event, and to soak up all that goes with that. The American Airlines Center is a real treat, even though they didn’t really need a new arena with the Reunion around. Oh, and if you like to celebrity watch, you just might see the occasional famous person there, too (I mean besides Mike Modano and crew). Back when they were in Reunion I once saw Gary Busey, the actor, at a game. Remember him? Played Buddy Holly way back when? Of course, he was in the Platinum section right behind the goal, as a big-time celeb should be. But I bet I had a better view up under the rafters!