The Dallas Stars begin their Stanley Cup campaign tonight at 8:30 p.m. at the American Airlines Center, where they’ll face off against the Minnesota Wild after having an incredibly successful regular season that guarantees them home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
I’ve watched nary a minute of hockey this year. I’ve also watched relatively few minutes of hockey in prior seasons. The last time I saw the majority of a game was the triple-overtime contest in 1999 when the Stars claimed their one and only championship with the famed Brett Hull “no goal.”
But I’ve been hearing exciting things about this year’s Stars team, and I’m giving serious thought to maybe, possibly watching some of the upcoming action. So I turned to Taylor Baird, managing editor of the Dallas Stars fan site Defending Big D, to get me up to speed on how I can pass myself off as a hockey fan.
What follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation, which took place via instant messages. I hope it might be of assistance to other bandwagoners like me.
Jason Heid: So how excited are you for this playoff run?
Taylor Baird: Well I got about 4 hours of sleep last night dreaming about it so…very? We knew this group had something going for it. It was a little bit surprising how good they were, though not unexpected.
Jason Heid: What were you dreaming? Jamie Benn invites you onto the ice to drink from the Cup?
Taylor Baird: Every fan of a hockey team dreams of raising the Cup. Drinking from it would be a bonus experience I never in a million years anticipate every feeling though.
Jason Heid: Guess they reserve that for, you know, the players?
Taylor Baird: Players, coaches, front office staff. Bloggers and media, not so much.
Jason Heid: You mentioned this being a bit of surprise, the way this season finished. Are the Stars ahead of schedule then?
Taylor Baird: Predicting a “schedule” in terms of development for a hockey team can be tricky. They draft guys that literally usually take years before they make an impact on the big club at the NHL level. General managers have to be looking at a five-, seven-, 10-year development plan.
But with the pieces Jim Nill has acquired since becoming the general manager, and the development and emergence of several prospects, I’d say they are more in line with their schedule.
The Central Division is the hardest in the NHL these days, and predicting a division win (much less a CONFERENCE win) isn’t something most believed would happen this season. Next year or the year after, absolutely.
Jason Heid: What were preseason expectations?
Taylor Baird: I think the expectation was the Stars would either finish 3rd in the division or as the first wild card team.
Jason Heid: Who deserves the most credit for this success? Nill? The owner, Tom Gaglardi, whom we just featured on the cover of D CEO, declaring that he “saved” the Stars?
Taylor Baird: I’d put the success split equally among 3 people: Tom Gaglardi, who did save the Dallas Stars as we know them, and his willingness to open the checkbook and write checks to acquire talent. Jim Nill, for being a complete wizard at talent evaluation and knowing when to make a bold move — and not being afraid to do it. And head coach Lindy Ruff, who took these pieces and got every ounce of production possible out of them, even if his methods sometimes go against normal convention or cause fans heartburn.
Jason Heid: OK, so, let’s say I haven’t watched a minute of hockey all season, and I’m ready to jump aboard the bandwagon. First of all, am I welcome, or are you true-blue fans resentful of us late-comers?
Taylor Baird: Our bandwagon is big enough to hold everyone!
Honestly, many fans start as bandwagoners to begin with. Most Stars fans are accommodating and love to explain the game. We want everyone to be as passionate as we are about this team and these players.
Jason Heid: Great. What do I need to know about this year’s Dallas Stars team? What makes them special among NHL clubs?
Taylor Baird: They have the best bromance in the NHL with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Those two are quite possibly the best 1-2 punch in scoring the league has today.
And the Stars play an exciting brand of hockey (also called “high event hockey”). Which basically means, during a lot of games, it’s going to be a lot of goals both for and against. It’s entertaining.
Jason Heid: So the Stars win if it’s an offensive slugfest?
Taylor Baird: 95 percent of the time, yes. Most teams in the league can’t keep up with the speed of attack the Stars can put on the ice. The Stars falter when they can’t play a run-and-gun style, when they’re forced to slow down.
Jason Heid: OK, I’m sold. Am I poser if I go out and buy a jersey?
Taylor Baird: Absolutely not. In fact, you should buy a Victory Green jersey to blend in. Also, it’s the best color in the NHL, and Stars fans definitely stand out, both in the league and among Dallas sports teams, when wearing it. When I see someone in that shade of green, I’m often like “MY PEOPLE!” and you have an instant sense of community.
Jason Heid: Which player’s name should I have on my jersey?
Taylor Baird: Safe picks are Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and John Klingberg.
If you like a blue-collar, fighter-type, get an Antoine Roussel. He’s arguably the best pest in the league. And opposing fans hate him, which is fun.
Taylor Baird: Oh, here’s where my snob side comes out. I’m big on lower bowl, but that’s because I love the sound a skate makes on ice. And you can sometimes hear them communicating (and chirping at each other). Platinum has probably the best sight lines, in that you can see the whole ice and watch the play develop without watching the jumbotron at times. Upstairs is where you find the diehards that make a lot of noise — they’ll give you the best atmosphere.
Really there’s no bad spot in the AAC for Stars games.
Jason Heid: How many playoff games you expect to be at in person?
Taylor Baird: I have tickets to game one, but I planned a camping trip (stupidly) for the weekend, so I will miss game 2. I don’t anticipate there being a game 5 this round.
Jason Heid: That is some confidence. So Stars in 4?
Taylor Baird: I can comfortably pick that. I think in actuality [Minnesota] might push the series to 5, maaayyyybe 6, but the Stars are going to the second round this year, at the very least.
Jason Heid: I’m sure most bandwagoners are going to be watching at home or at a bar, of course. And that’s always been my problem with hockey. I can never follow the damn puck. Or am I looking at the wrong thing on the screen when I’m viewing the action?
Taylor Baird: You should watch the players, not the puck. Watch where they go on the ice. Wherever the most guys are, that’s where the puck usually is. Watch the direction they turn their heads or bodies to anticipate where the puck will go next.
It’s the hardest part to picking up watching hockey on TV. And one of the reasons the sport is best taken in in-person versus the little black box.
At least until you get used to watching the players, not the puck.
Jason Heid: Maybe I should train my eye. Watch some games in slo-mo.
Taylor Baird: You’ll need it with this squad. They sometimes play like they’ve got jetpacks taped to their skates.
Jason Heid: OK, so what’s your prediction for how deep this run goes? All the way to the Cup?
Taylor Baird: I think they go to the Western Conference Finals, but ultimately fall short versus the LA Kings. They’ll take that experience and use it to drive them next year.
Jason Heid: Oof, those California pretty boys?
Taylor Baird: Haha, yes. Which makes me disgusted to say.
Jason Heid: Anything else we bandwagoners need to know to be let into the club? Secret handshakes? The proper chants? The ability to explain whatever the hell “icing” is?
Taylor Baird: Wear green, and you’re in the club. We don’t do secret handshakes, though maybe that can be my staff’s summer project when August hits and we’re all asking “Is it October yet?”
Chants are organic: follow the crowd and they’ll lead you. But don’t “woo” — that’s dumb. And when people yell “Who cares?” after an opponent goal, don’t. You care. Otherwise you wouldn’t say you don’t.
Don’t bother with icing. Half the time the refs don’t know what it is either.
Jason Heid: Ha. Oh, one more thing. What’s the Stars fan’s nightmare scenario for this year’s playoffs? Something that could conceivably happen and haunts the darkest corners of your mind?
Taylor Baird: That’s easy. Either our goaltending implodes (Kari Lehtonen has some playoff demons to exorcise this year, for real). Or one of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, or Patrick Sharp have their seasons ended due to injury.
And I’ll be making a sacrifice to the hockey gods now, thanks.
Jason Heid: Does that involve eating a barrel of poutine?
Taylor Baird: With a Molson to wash it down!
And a side of maple syrup.