The Dallas Stars' home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs starts and ends with a raucous, rowdy crowd. Ready to make that happen?
Think about what you remember most about attending Stars home playoff games over the years. Noise. Excitement. Emotion. Passion. And the bottom line a great time.
This is the best time of year for a hockey fan. The best tournament in professional sports is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they are right around the corner.
When the puck drops at American Airlines Center for the Stars' first home playoff game, it's not just the 20 players in Head Coach Dave Tippett's lineup against the 20 players on the opposing bench. Add 18,532-plus rowdy fans to the Stars' side of that matchup and it gives the team an advantage that it needs in the big games of April and May.
Of course, what happens on the ice is all that matters on the scorecard. But did you ever stop and think about the impact you have on the team when you come to the game and make yourself heard for 60 minutes or more?
"When you're playing at home in the playoffs, a loud and raucous crowd is one of those things that gives you the home ice advantage," said Mike Modano. "I can think of so many times in the playoffs where our fans have given us that needed boost late in a game to dig down and find the energy to keep playing hard, especially into the long overtime games. They're an important part of winning at home in the playoffs and we appreciate their passion and support."
Dallas fans know the drill show up, be loud, stay until the final whistle and have a great time. It's what the playoffs are all about.
"I hope the fans really realize how important they are in a big game, especially in the playoffs," said Stars goaltender Marty Turco. "When they get loud at a pivotal point in the game and we make a big play, they get even louder and it really does help us out on the ice. When they get behind us like that, we appreciate it even more because a lot of hard work and sacrifice has gone into that game. The fans mean a lot to us and they really make a difference in the game." That difference is an energy that the players can really feel. It can be the difference in one more play or one more shift, which is all it takes to make or break a close playoff game.
"You draw a ton of energy from the crowd, especially when you're at home," said Stu Barnes. "That's the playoff atmosphere. You're excited, you're ramped up, the other team is ramped up, everybody is already at a higher level and then the crowd starts to go crazy. It's amazing and makes it so much fun. That's why the playoffs are the best time of the year."
It is the best time of year, when teams can experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows, a roller coaster ride that has no script. Anything can happen, and the home fans are there for the ride.
"The thing I like about the playoffs are the unbelievable swings of emotion you feel when we score or the other team scores, from big play to big play," said Stars fan Jennifer Mitchell. "It's awesome. I've been in the building for some of the biggest wins, like when Joe (Nieuwendyk) scored in overtime to beat St. Louis in 1999, and also when we had the heartbreaking overtime loss to Colorado last year. You just don't know what is going to happen, but it is unmatched drama and excitement. I can't wait."
The anticipation for each home game is huge in the playoffs, both for the fans and the team. The games are big, and everyone knows it.
"The energy that is created in the building during the playoffs is incredible," said Stars defenseman Mattias Norstrom, who experienced first-hand the difference a great home crowd can make, as his Los Angeles clubs posted some big home playoff wins over Detroit and Colorado earlier this decade. "It is a balance of the anticipation in the building and their energy. If you approach it the right way you can feed off it and use it to your advantage. You can actually feel the energy. When you get that big overtime goal, it is unbelievable. It is hockey at its best, to be at home and get a big win for your fans.
"The whole atmosphere is contagious. Everyone in the building senses that it's playoff time and you can feel it coming from the stands when you step on the ice. It is an awesome feeling."
That feeling extends to everyone on the bench, including the trainers, equipment managers and coaches.
"It's a great feeling to have the crowd behind you," said Tippett. "As a coach, you're always looking for things to give your team momentum. There are certain things that can happen in the game that can give the team momentum, but there's also the atmosphere that can cause that swing. When the crowd is revved up and as into the game as much as the players, that can give you the extra boost that you need."
Momentum swings are a part of every game, and when the other team begins to gain it, a good home crowd can help get it back. "When the crowd reacts to a big play or a big hit, it can help swing momentum. So it's a huge part of the game," said Jeff Halpern. "Our crowd is pretty smart. They know when to cheer at the right time and make noise at the right time. In big games, when the crowd gets more excited, it is easier to grab the momentum."
Crowd noise can really benefit the team late in a tight game when the players have to dig down deep for something extra to get through a long penalty kill or long shift.
"There is an acknowledgement by the players," said Stars Associate Coach Rick Wilson. "You see it in a big penalty kill in the third period. When an important kill is winding down and the fans are reacting, or a big save is made, or a big hit or a big blocked shot; these are all moments where the crowd noise pushes the players, it helps them take their effort to another level. There are so many situations that are huge in a game and the crowd can help all of them.
"Where I feel it a lot is on the penalty kill. The guys are scrambling, they're tired, they need to push themselves for another 20 or 30 seconds. The fans are like an extra half-guy on the ice, sometimes it feels like a full guy in a 5-on-3. It's the emotion and the energy that pushes them. You can feel it and you can sense it. No one says anything directly but it's there."
It doesn't matter what position on the team or how many minutes a certain guy plays. The crowd affects everyone, and they depend on that support to give them the home ice edge.
"Having a loud and rowdy crowd is always great for us," said Turco. "For me, standing in the net, making a few great saves and getting the crowd going is always a plus. When the crowd gets into it and lets us know they are behind the team, it is a big help."
"The crowd definitely has an impact," added Sergei Zubov. "Late in a big game, they can really push you. It's unbelievable sometimes when the noise gets so loud and the team is looking to get that next goal. It can really have an impact on our play and we appreciate it."
The playoffs are a true test of a team, as the marathon is filled with peaks and valleys, injuries and set-backs. And the further you go, the games get bigger and bigger.
"The fact that you have 18,000 people pumped up and behind you makes the home games in the late rounds even better," said Barnes. "The playoffs are such a physical test and when you can get that extra jump from your fans, it can go a long way. It is a huge lift for the entire team."
But every team has to win the first round before moving on to bigger stakes. You have to win in April before you can win in May. That's why the Stars team and fans cannot take the first round for granted. It's time to win or start your summer. "We want to come out ready to go and focused from the first game of the playoffs," said Halpern. "We know our fans will show up as well and we want to win for them. The fans are part of the team and the team a part of the fans. We really appreciate them and need them."
A crowd can sometimes will a team to victory with the noise they make. The atmosphere in the building starts and ends with the fans, and when the wave of emotion gets going it can carry the home team over the top.
"I've played and coached in some great playoff atmospheres," said Tippett. "I remember American Airlines Center rocking when Steve Ott scored the overtime game-winner to beat Colorado a couple of years ago. Those types of atmospheres are something we all strive for in this game. Those are the memorable games that you never forget. I know we appreciate those moments and I'm sure the fans do too. We're looking to hopefully create some fun memories in this year's playoffs."
So get ready to do your part. Let the team hear you! You could be the difference in the game.