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Another Big Day For Stars

by Ralph Strangis / Dallas Stars

Ralph Strangis

There are few people in this business I admire and respect as I do Joe Nieuwendyk.  He’s thoughtful, educated, empathetic and sincere. He is professionalism personified.  His affect on this organization the first time around was enormous.  The record will also show that the Dallas Stars have not been the same since he left.  Yes we’ve done some very good things – but it’s my personal observation – we can do better and we can be better.

Consider this; since Joe left in March, 2002, the Dallas Stars have WON three playoff series.  Three.  In seven years.  In the 5 seasons prior to that – the Stars won ten playoff series, made two Stanley Cup Finals appearances, and won it in 1999.

Of course the success of the “good old days…” was not all of Joe’s doing, nor are our shortcomings now a  direct result of his absence alone. But his return is as welcomed as it is needed.

I’ve stayed in close touch with Joe over the years, talking frequently.  His history here combined with the distance he’s kept and the experience he’s accumulated since he’s been gone gives him a one-of-a-kind perspective.

Joe has thought carefully about this for some time – and during the past week Joe went very deliberately through the process, taking his time, slowing it down, making sure that he did his homework and talked to all he needed to, and that he was satisfied that it would be the right thing for everyone.

I can tell you that he’ll make thoughtful evaluations and informed decisions.  He’ll carry a “follow-me” air of professionalism through Frisco.  His presence and his actions will make us better.  I’m thrilled on many levels that he is joining us – again.

A few years ago I wrote a piece for about my friend Joe Nieuwendyk.  I thought you would enjoy reading it on what is a very big day for this organization.

Ralph Strangis

December 11, 2006:

On a wet December morning in 1995 I pulled into the Valley Ranch parking lot to catch practice.  I grabbed my coffee cup from the dash, leaned into the door and unfolded myself out of the car.  My cup hit the window and the hot brown java found its way down my right pant leg.  Awesome start to the morning.  Really nice.

As anyone involved in hockey will tell you – there is no problem in the world too large or too small that a trainer or equipment manager can’t help solve.  And so I moved toward the room, and fought temptation and just left it alone until a professional could take a look.

The first person I ran into was Stars assistant equipment manager Lance Vogt who assessed the situation quickly, threw a considerate nod and easy grin my way, wet a towel and handed it to me.  They can make it look so easy.

“What’s goin’ on “Landau” ?  I said as I diligently started the process of not doing a whole lot to improve how things looked and would look for the rest of the day.

“Well - - - ah - - no - - I shouldn’t say anything really”

Talk about perking a guy’s ears up.  I didn’t even finish college but I could still smell that story over the dissipating coffee stench.

“OK - - - what’s the deal Landau?”

I’d like to tell you that it was my crack interrogation methods or my irresistible charm that forced him to spill the beans even before I finished that question.  The truth was he was just aching to share his secret.

“They told me to make up a “25 Jersey”.

And there it was.  Right there.  That moment.  I’ll never forget it.

We had some good players and some great people around our group.  We had had a little success, some playoff runs, and some fun.  I had watched this team since I was a boy in Minnesota through mostly more bad times than good.

But it was this day and that moment that for me the Dallas Stars turned the corner and became ‘for-real’.  We had to give up something.  I had never heard of Jarome Iginla and maybe he would one day become … well… Jarome Iginla.  But it didn’t matter.  Whatever it costs to be that team was worth it.

With 29-year old Joe Nieuwendyk a Dallas Star – now we were for real.  Other teams would look at us differently, players would consider coming to Dallas like never before.  Mike Modano would have someone playing behind him that would open things up for him.  And Mike and everyone else would have a guy to follow.

There is no doubt that the Dallas Stars organization has been molded in Bob Gainey’s image – and that today – when we’re at our best – that’s the legacy we honor.

And it was Joe Nieuwendyk who first brought that class and poise to the ice, and exemplified all that this team would become everywhere he went.  Shortly after Joe was brought in, Belfour, Zubov, Carbonneau, Keane, Langenbrunner, and the rest became Dallas Stars and completed the puzzle.  Gainey and Hitchcock had assembled their team and pushed every button to keep them at or near the top for years to come.

He was a big brother to Jamie, a mentor and friend to Mike, and an on-ice example of what a great player looked like.  He scored big goals and huge goals and had a wonderful pair of hands that probably never were involved in a coffee-spilling incident.

He had time for everybody.  And I mean everybody.  There’s an old saying that a guy who’s nice to you but mean to the waiter isn’t really a nice guy.  Joe is the nicest of guys.

The stories of Joe rescuing helpless baby birds or adopting dogs are legendary and endearing and reveal a lot about his character.  He’s the kind of guy you’re proud to know and even more proud to call a friend.

I have so many memories of Joe.  On the ice in this franchises biggest games he was as big a player as we have ever had.  And on the ice – here’s the truth; when he was in Calgary he made the Flames better, when he was in Dallas he made the Stars better, when he went to New Jersey he made the Devils better.  He has a ring from each stop.

I clicked on the Panthers game the other night and saw young Stephen Weiss interviewed between intermissions and he was asked about Joe.  He had the same look in his eyes and the same sound in his voice that all of do when we talk about “Nieuwey” (that’s how I’ve always spelled it).  Now – Florida is better.

Off the ice we’ve had great fun.  We’ve watched football games together – ate wonderful meals – shared good times – and solved plenty of the world’s problems.

11 years almost to the day after I spilled the coffee I called Joe to wish him well in the next phase.  I left him a message.  Hey you know – he’s busy – he’s had a lot on his plate lately and lots of people calling – and who would blame him if he didn’t call back the Stars play-by-play guy.  Shortly after I made the call he returned it and asked how I was, how the team was doing and how Mike, Brenden, Marty and some of the other guys were.

You see – he’s one of those guys where it is never about Joe.

In 2006 – unfortunately – there just aren’t a lot of people, let alone athletes or “leading men” like Joe.

And that’s how come you always remember even the smallest details about the day you found out a special one was coming into your world.

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