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VanMurph's View: Review Of Dallas

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
Murphy Burch is back for his second season of blogging. He will be sharing his views on the Panthers during the year, along with fellow fan blogger, Cliff Peeke (Peeke's Points).

Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

VanMurph's View Blog Archive

The saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” And if you’ve ever driven across that state, you might just be inclined to agree. On a coast-to-coast trip, you will spend almost half of your time in the Lone Star state. As examples of its immenseness, I offer you these two facts about Texas: If you live in the city of El Paso, you live closer to San Diego than you do to Houston. If you live in the Northern Panhandle of Texas, you live closer to the middle of North Dakota than you do to the city of Brownsville. Texas is a BIG state…

With Dallas being the world headquarters of my employer, normally when I fly into there I’m either attending a training event or I’m just passing through on my way to someplace else. This trip marks the first time in nearly a decade that I’ve come to north central Texas for anything other than a work-related function. Although I rarely get to visit Dallas outside of work, I’ve spent a lot of time in the DFW Metroplex over the course of the last 19 years. Because of that, I’m familiar with the layout of the area and the location of many of the local attractions and hotspots.  One thing I was not overly familiar with, though, was the outright enthusiasm folks here have for hockey, and the Stars in particular. Being located in a so-called “non-traditional hockey market”, you would expect the Stars to face all of the same difficulties we’ve become all too familiar with in South Florida. And they have in fact had their share of misfortune, including occasional attendance woes. But while the Cowboys and Mavericks may garner a disproportionate amount of coverage in the local media, make no mistake about it; Dallas is also a hockey town. Eleven years removed from their only Stanley Cup, the Dallas fans are just as eager for a winner as we are, and they passionate about their team.

The Panthers, suffering through an early season slump, pulled into Dallas to try their luck at getting things turned around. Having visited here during the pre-season a little over a month ago, the Cats were familiar with the arena, and they knew full well what to expect from Alex Auld and company. The start of the game was very fast-paced, but it was marked by numerous turnovers on both sides of the puck in the neutral zone. Once the Cats settled down and began to control the flow of the game, the scoring soon followed. It took almost seven and half minutes to register the first shot on goal, but within a few minutes the Panthers were up 3-0 on Steven Reinprecht’s natural hat trick (the last two goals coming just 29 seconds apart). What followed could be described as two teams clawing their way through a fairly poorly goaltended game, but each one determined to win. The Panthers needed to end a losing streak, and the Stars were looking to improve on their 6-4-2 record.

Heading into the shootout, the Cats were skating with confidence despite giving up several leads during the game. All it took was a glove-side backhander from Rostislav Olesz and a trio of stops by Scott Clemmensen to get our guys out of the building with two points and some momentum heading into St. Louis the following night. As I’ve said numerous times, I think a little confidence will go a long way toward righting this ship. 

Notes from the American Airlines Center:

- In my opinion, this arena is one of the top five in the country from a purely aesthetic viewpoint.  Located near the heart of downtown Dallas, the outside has a brick façade and beautiful elevations on all four sides and all four corners. The design of the building reminds me of an old-time high school.

-Parking immediately across the street from the arena cost me $15. There were other lots located around the arena.

-Outside of the East entrance is a promenade called AT&T Plaza. It serves a similar purpose to the area located just outside the main entrance of the BankAtlantic Center. On the night of the Panthers game, a KISS cover band had a stage set up and they performed a mini concert (You’ll see their photo a little later in the blog). Also on the plaza was an inflatable hockey tent where you could shoot pucks.

-Above the west entrance there is a very large TV screen that shows programming including the Dallas ABC affiliate, whose studio is located just off of the AT&T Plaza. I thought it was kind of cool to stand and watch through the window as the local news team aired its live evening newscast.

-Upon entering the building you are subjected to magnetometers and bag searches.

- Passing through the main entrance, you are greeted by beautiful marble floors a stunning display of large American Airlines aircraft models suspended from a beautiful map of the continents on the ceiling. As an airplane guy, I found the display to be very tastefully done.  It sort of reminded me of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

-The concessions areas are located along the concourses facing the outside walls of the arena.  This setup is common throughout venues around the league, and it makes for some crowded concourses during intermissions. Those of you who’ve been to the BankAtlantic Center know that we have actual concessions bays located throughout the concourses, and that type of setup doesn’t impede the flow of traffic around the bowl.

-There is a wide variety of food available, and it is very similar to what’s available in the BankAtlantic Center. The prices are considerably lower on some items, but comparable on others. One thing they have, and that I have only seen in a few arenas, is a cheesesteak stand!  You know, I think it should be a crime to allow those things to be cooked inside an enclosed building! It is virtually impossible for me to smell a cheesesteak and not buy one, regardless of the cost. It’s funny how you can be the slightest bit hungry and suddenly be able to rationalize spending $9.50 for a sandwich; such is the power of the cheesesteak.

-The concourses are fairly narrow and reminded me of the ones in Phoenix; a long straightaway on each side of the arena followed by a slightly angled turn at the corners. The middle level of the arena is called the Platinum level. It contains the suites, and it also contains several restaurants that are only accessible by fans who are seated in certain sections within the arena.  Very special thanks to Jared Mazzola (the Dallas Ticket Representative who sold me the tickets) for also including a stamp on the back of the tickets, which allowed me to have access to the Platinum level.

-The Platinum level afforded several dining choices including an all-you-can-eat buffet. But with a price tag of more than $30 per person, my friend and I decided to head over to a club called the Dump Lounge. The sponsor of the club, The Dump, is a furniture store in Dallas. The Dump Lounge is a very nice club similar to the Patron Club at the BankAtlantic Center. The lounge is complimented with large comfortable sofas, chairs, and pub tables. It opens two hours prior to game time and has several large flat screen televisions around the room. Since they didn’t have Bud Light Lime, I had a 24oz Miller Lite for $7.50, and the bartender hooked me up with a bunch of lime wedges. The food in the lounge was reasonably priced and the atmosphere was conducive to relaxing before the game. I had a couple of nice conversations with some Stars fans, and the topics covered ranged from the injury to Mike Modano to the seating over at the new Cowboys stadium.

-The upstairs concourses were considerably narrower than the lower level ones. If you take into consideration that there were also lane dividers in front of each concessions area, it made for a really congested concourse during intermissions.

- Just before the player introductions, the lights dim and very cool motivational piece featuring video clips of the Stars is played. A great song accompanies it, and the whole production is very well put together.

-In a ceremony before the game, the Stars’ head coach (Marc Crawford) was presented with an array of gifts commemorating his 1000th game coached in the NHL. The fans of the team gave him a warm ovation.

-I visited a couple of suites and they are very similar to the ones in the BankAtlantic Center. The main difference is the stadium seating area just outside the suites; in Sunrise the suites’ seating area has basically the same pitch as the rest of the seats in the arena.  In the American Airlines Center, the stadium seating in the suites is on a shallower slope and they’re farther apart.

-The slope of the lower bowl is similar to the BankAtlantic Center, but the slope of the upper level is much steeper. It’s so steep in fact that when you’re seated in a normal posture and the person in front of you is leaning forward, their head blocks your view of a significant portion of the ice.

-The music played during the pre-game skate and during the game is similar to what we’re used to hearing in the BankAtlantic Center. In fact, some of the songs were identical.

-During the National Anthem, the Stars fans shout the word “Stars” really loudly when it comes up during the anthem. It’s impressive to see that level of crowd participation.

-The glass around playing surface at the American Airlines Center leaves a little to be desired.  The panes were relatively narrow and they were connected with large bulky plexiglass dividers.  Those dividers made it very difficult to see the action down on the other end of the ice. I spent a great deal of time looking up at the center-hung scoreboard to see the action at the far end of the rink.

-Speaking of the center-hung scoreboard, it was one of the nicest I’ve seen. The displays were very large, and crystal clear. There was quite a bit of information, including shots and penalty minutes, displayed above the four main screens. Around the top and bottom of the scoreboard, there were ringed displays that showed a variety of things including, general information, suggestions to make noise, and of course, advertisements. The vibrant colors and flashing displays made for a very nice attention getter. There was also a lighted display that went around the entire arena between the upper and lower levels. It was used in conjunction with the center-hung rings to create a nice visual effect; sort of like surround sound for your eyes.

-The sound system in the arena is comparable to many others in the league. As I walked around the building I didn’t hear any distortion and the volume levels were placed about as comfortable as I’ve heard anywhere. Check out these speakers:

-Out-of-town scores were displayed throughout the arena during the game.

-At each end of the arena, high above the goal zones, there were very large, crystal clear, LED screens that displayed the action on the ice and whatever else was being displayed on the center-hung screens. On each side of those screens were boards displaying an array of statistics and advertising.

-The programs for the game are the size of a standard magazine and were pre-placed at the seats before we entered the arena. They contained a roster card for each team, and dozens of articles and advertisements.

-The arena announcer is one of the best in hockey. His voice, inflection, and professionalism are on par with John Ashbridge in Vancouver.

-The seats are very comfortable, and they have cupholders.

-The nets around the endzones are white as opposed to the black ones in the BankAtlantic Center. As I’ve mentioned before, the white ones scatter the light rather than absorbing it, so watching the action through the net or looking at something in the crowd through the net is a little more difficult (just my opinion).

-The goal horn, despite being heard WAY too many times, is very cool. It sounds like a perfectly played note of music using three horns, and it’s accompanied by Rock n Roll Part 2. It’s quite impressive to see all of the fans in the arena standing and clapping and chanting in unison after the Stars score.

-The ceiling of the building is actually beige as opposed to the dark color of most arenas.  When the lights are up, it makes for a cozier, brighter feeling.

-Located throughout the arena were several Dallas Stars/Dallas Mavericks merchandise stores.  Not a single one of them contained even one product from another team, which was refreshing.  It shows that their respective organizations take pride in their teams and don’t cater to the visitors at all.

-Championship banners, including the Stars’ 1998-99 Stanley Cup Banner decorated the rafters.

-Neither the penalty kills nor the power plays were sponsored. In fact, there was very little sponsorship over the PA.

-There was not one, not two, but THREE blimps that were flown around the arena during the intermissions, each one dropping a different type of coupon. 

-The restrooms were laid out well, and there were enough of them that the lines were only moderately long, at worst.

-There was no in-arena host.

-Public transportation to the arena from the DFW international airport is basically non-existent. If you’re in Dallas and want to get to the arena from the airport, you should rent a car.

-A pet peeve of mine is vendors in the aisles, and they were out in force in the American Airlines Center. Luckily I was sitting two rows from the ice, but had I been sitting up a few rows, my view of the action would’ve been obstructed by vendors dozens of times during the game.

-They have a couple of specialty Zambonis. One is called the Fan Zam, and it includes seating for a lot of folks, flat screen TVs and chrome mags. It was a pretty popular item, and the fans seemed to enjoy it. While these two were out on the ice, there were also real Zambonis out there conditioning the ice.

-The Stars are one of a handful of teams in the NHL who do not have a mascot. As I mentioned in an arena summary last season, you don’t really know how positive something is until it isn’t there. While there are those who’ll argue that mascots have no place in hockey, there are also those who’ll point out that the antics of Stanley C. Panther and other mascots around the league provide entertainment and laughs for thousands of fans and children nightly.

-Their kiss cam is sponsored by 106.1 KISS FM (makes sense). It garnered the same reaction as kiss cams around the league. Overall, it’s always popular and well received by the fans. People just seem to get a kick out of watching other people getting smooched. Biggest cheers are generally reserved for the oldest people captured on camera, and the biggest laughs are always when opposing team’s players or fans are shown at the end… However, earlier I mentioned a KISS cover band that performed outside the arena; in the last spot on the kiss cam before play resumed, the game-presentation guys showed them waving to the crowd. The place went nuts! I even found myself cheering for them.

-The team of girls who clean the ice in Dallas are called the Dallas Ice Girls, and they’re sponsored by Planet Tan (a Dallas area tanning salon). They are very popular among the fans.  In fact, as the Panthers were leading handily early in the game, the fans were booing the Stars but cheering loudly for the Ice Girls. These girls were beautiful, and skated very well. They were dressed similarly to other ice teams around the league, and they compared favorably to them.

-Besides the girls on the ice, the Stars also have a group of cheerleaders who entertain during the games.

-The first intermission entertainment was a shootout competition between a pair of local youth teams. The crowd really loved it! The kids were really small and provided outstanding entertainment! There was no entertainment during the second intermission.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times in these arena summaries, one of my favorite things about traveling to road games is meeting other Panthers fans outside of south Florida. This trip was no different. I had the pleasure of meeting several fellow Cats fans, and I’d like to say hello to a few of them. First, there’s Ann and Marnette Wegmann. They are a mother and daughter who live in Sunshine Ranches and they always make sure their trips out to Dallas to visit their son/brother and his wife (who are Stars fans) coincide with Panthers games.

The first Panthers sweater I saw was outside the arena. Aneesh Kumar was sporting a red Pavel Bure jersey, and his buddy Ryland Spencer was wearing a Florida Marlins hat. After a brief conversation with these guys I learned that Aneesh is from Vancouver and Ryland is from Seattle. They happen to sit side-by-side at the Seattle Seahawks games and they decided to fly down and watch the Hawks play the Cowboys and the Panthers play the Stars. Aneesh has been a Panthers fan since the first season because he was a fan of Beezer, and later a huge fan of Bure. Both Ryland and Aneesh are going to try to come down in February to take in a Panthers game in Sunrise.

Another couple of guys with whom I visited during the game were Jose Morales and his cousin Mark Grandal. Jose and Mark bought three-city round trip tickets on American Airlines from Miami to Dallas to St. Louis and back to Miami. These guys may look familiar to many of you because they were on TV during the road trip as much as the Panthers! Jose is a Panthers season ticket holder in section 402 at the BankAtlantic Center. His goal light helmet got plenty of use as the Panthers netted 6 goals on the evening (including the shootout winner). Jose and Mark were sitting directly across from me on the other side of the Panthers’ shoot-twice goal line. The helmet is the equivalent of painting your face in an opponent’s arena, so I give Jose a lot of credit for showing the Panther spirit 1000 miles from home! Oh, besides bringing his helmet to Dallas, Jose also brought a rubber rat to throw out onto the ice after the win! Although I didn’t get a photo of it, it’s nice to know that the rat I chucked all the way down to the Panthers’ end of the rink had some company. I promised Jose I’d mention this, so here it is: He and many others miss the “That’s how I roll” clip that was played after goals in the BankAtlantic Center in previous seasons. Is there any way it can be returned after the new “Big BankAtlantic Goal” call? (Throwing the rats was not meant to disrespect the Dallas fans. It was only my way of letting our guys know that even though we’ve struggled early, I still support and believe in them).

One last person I’d like to mention is my buddy Len. He is a hockey fan and a fellow pilot. His wife, like mine, is a flight attendant. Len picked me up at the airport in the morning, chauffeured me around Dallas including out to the game, and then got me back to the airport at the crack of dawn for my flight home to Ft. Lauderdale. Thanks Buddy, I really appreciate it! I’ll return the favor when you and Sandy visit us in Cooper City.

During the game, I got a text from Vanessa. After Rusty scored the Panthers 5th goal of the game (that beautiful backhander to the short side), she said she saw me on TV jumping up to celebrate. Since we were recording the game, she froze it and snapped a photo of it…

Thank you to all of you who emailed and sent messages to me on facebook after my last submission. I enjoyed corresponding with each of you. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: 

Thanks for stopping by the blog.


One last thing:  Because I was down in the corner in Dallas, I couldn’t get a hat out onto the ice after Steven Reinprecht’s natural hat trick. I thought about asking for an assist from some of the local fans, but to be honest, if someone at the BankAtlantic Cente asked me to help them throw a hat onto our ice for them after an opposing team’s player scored a hat trick, I’d laugh in their face…  Anyway, seeing as how it was Reino’s first hat trick as a Panther, I decided to give him a little tribute here in the blog.  I went out to Incredible ICE on Monday with a couple dozen hats and my friend Carl Kanas. With the help of Matt Redmond, we were able to get out onto the ice and stage a photo-op hat trick tribute to #27.  Here are a few photos of it:

-Here are a few photos from Dallas:

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