Dave Strader didn't know if he'd return to the broadcast booth this season.
The Dallas Stars play-by-play announcer has cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the bile duct. He has not called any games this season, watching them from his home in Glens Falls, New York, meaning that for the first time since 1979-80 he hasn't been a fixture on television or radio airwaves.
That's why Saturday is going to be a special day for Strader and the Stars.
Strader will return to the booth that day when the Stars play the Tampa Bay Lightning (8 p.m. ET; FS-SW, SUN, NHL.TV) at American Airlines Center, beginning a homestand in which he will call all five games, simulcast on TV and radio as usual. His wife, Colleen, has joined him for the stretch of games, and there is a watch party planned at his sister's home in Glens Falls.
"It's exciting," said Strader, who joined the Stars booth last season. "I'm sure it will be cathartic. I saw this stretch and I was feeling well and I had some tests coming up in the early part of February. And I told the Doctor, 'Look, no matter what the result is out of these tests I still want to do this.' And he said absolutely."
Strader, who got the diagnosis June 3, had always hoped he would get to broadcast Stars games this season, and found he had a renewed sense of urgency when Dallas flew him in to attend its game at the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 29.
In addition to broadcasting for the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers and NBCSN, Strader worked Red Wings games on TV from 1985-96, so it was special for him to see one last game at Joe Louis Arena; Detroit will begin playing at Little Caesars Arena next season.
"To get there and see the [Stars'] last game at 'The Joe' and reconnect with some of my friends there, including my first broadcast partner Mickey Redmond, that was great," Strader said. "And that's when I really, really got the itch again. When I feel well enough to do games, I've got to get back and do them."
Strader also had a special moment with the Stars before that game when coach Lindy Ruff had him announce the starting lineup in the locker room.
"That was unexpected." Strader said. "That lineup card that Lindy handed me, I'll hang on to that forever."
Throughout the season, the Stars have kept Strader in their thoughts. The players are wearing stickers with his initials and a microphone on their helmets. Strader's son Trevor sang the national anthem at the Stars' Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Oct. 22, when there was a booth set up to collect handwritten messages to Strader, who said he has read thousands of them delivered to his home.
"It's been both humbling and overwhelming," Strader said. "I didn't know what to expect. The response, and the level of truly caring thoughts and notes from the Dallas Stars fans, was just really incredible. It's a big part of keeping a positive attitude about everything."
Strader, 61, said he gives Colleen much of the credit for the strength their family has shown since his diagnosis, and that the two-week trip to Texas comes at an exciting time for him.
"I think this trip is going to mean an awful lot to her and I think it's just the right amount of time to really re-establish -- we've always been positive -- but there's always been the reality this is a long road no matter what," Strader said. "So this has been a great diversion for that, so we'll have a new sense of enthusiasm when I go back and resume treatments. And who knows, maybe I'll be back to call a couple more [games] this season."