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Christmas with the Stars

by Travis Betts / Dallas Stars sat down with several Stars’ players, who talked about Christmas traditions, memorable Christmases, and what they are doing this year for the holiday.

None of the 30 teams in the NHL play games on Dec. 25, allowing players and coaches to spend some time with their families during the holidays. But because the NHL scheduled 13 games on Dec. 26, for most, the time off is short.

The Stars have players from five different countries on the active roster, and in any language or culture, spending time with family and being thankful for the good fortunes in life is important.

Family traditions
Like many kids in North America, Jamie Benn looked forward to Christmas morning with great anticipation. Benn, who is from British Columbia, remembers the excitement he and his siblings felt when it was time to open gifts.

“My brother and I got up really early. It seemed like every Christmas we were up at 5 a.m. opening up our stockings and just waiting for the family to get up so we could open presents,” Benn said.

But in Sweden, families traditionally celebrate and open gifts the night before Christmas. Even though he got to open his presents a day earlier than kids in North America, Nicklas Grossman found it just as hard to wait to open presents on Christmas Eve when he was growing up.

“That day was a struggle, actually. You always woke up early because you were so excited, and then you had to wait until the evening to open gifts. Usually we had a big Christmas tree and we were waiting for Santa to sneak around the house, somewhere around the late hours, with a big bag of presents.”

Another Swedish tradition takes place during the afternoon on Christmas Eve. Millions turn their televisions to watch the Swedish version of the Disney Christmas special, “From All of Us to All of You,” titled “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul.” Fabian Brunnstrom said that many Swedes watch for one character in particular.

“At 3:00, we watch Donald Duck. It’s an hour-long program every Christmas. After that, we open our presents,” Brunnstrom said.

Another Stars’ forward, James Neal, recalls an annual Christmas day tradition in his neighborhood in Whitby, Ontario. After opening presents in the morning, the Neals would head down to the local frozen pond for a pickup game.

“We’d all head out to the pond down the street and we’d all go play pond hockey and we did that pretty much every Christmas Day,” Neal said. “There were a lot of people that would be there, so it was a good little game.”

The one that stands out
Toby Petersen, like many of his teammates, treasures the time he spends with family. But the Minnesota native won’t soon forget Christmas of 1997, the one he spent halfway around the world.

“The one that kind of stands out as being different is the one where I was playing at the World Juniors, and we were in Geneva, Switzerland. It was memorable just because it was so different. We were in a unique city,” Petersen said. “It was a lot of fun. We went to a church service over there. I was with teammates though; I wasn’t with family. In that regard it wasn’t great, but it was worth it.”

Neal  understands the significance of the annual World Junior tournament. The 22-year-old was in Sweden in 2007 representing Team Canada.

“The Christmas I didn’t go home for, and won a gold medal for the World Junior Championships was pretty special because growing up, every Christmas Day you’d get up, and you’d watch the World Junior Championships and you watched Team Canada play and you wanted to be a part of that.”

Making the time count
Like many NHL teams, the Stars get Christmas Eve and Christmas day off before getting right back to work on Saturday. Because the two-day vacation is not as long as the break people in most professions would enjoy, the players and staff try to make the best of their time. Center Brad Richards is taking a quick trip to Florida to be with family.

“I’ll be going back to Tampa, at my house there. My parents stay at my house during the winter. My sister and her boyfriend will be there and I’ve got a lot of close friends that will be over on the 24th. We’ll do a Christmas party there and then on the 25th just relax, fly back that night, and get ready to go against Colorado.”

Many of the players’ families are staying back at their respective homes, so some teammates have scheduled a Christmas dinner together. Grossman’s family is still in Sweden, but some made the trip to Dallas this year for the holidays.

“Most of them are still back home. I actually got my dad and one of my sisters over. They were the ones who could make it. They think it’s fun, it’s different over here. We don’t really see too much snow and stuff, but it’s fun. You see a lot of the lights on the houses, and it kind of makes it feel like Christmas at least.”

Petersen plans on spending Christmas with his wife and two children in Dallas.

“We’re just going to spend time together and try to draw out Christmas as long as we can, because we only have the 48-hour break, so we have to make it worthwhile.”

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