Dave Strader was back in the broadcast booth Saturday, and it turned out to be a magical night. Antoine Roussel notched his first career hat trick, and Jamie Benn scored in overtime as the Stars rallied for a dramatic win over Tampa Bay at American Airlines Center. And Strader, who is battling cancer, was at the top of his game in providing the play-by-play.
"This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn't feel like I was sick at all," Strader said.
Strader was lifted during the night by a show of support from fans, who responded with a rousing ovation when he was shown on the scoreboard during a TV timeout in the first period. And then there was the show of support from Stars players, who saluted him at the end of the game.
"Of all the things the team has done, when they came over to salute, that was unbelievable," Strader said. "That was just unbelievable."
Strader's return meant a lot to the players.
"Dave was around here today at the morning skate, and it just brings a smile to all of our faces seeing him," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "It was nice to get him back and where he belongs. He brought us some luck. It was nice of our fans to give him a salute, and it was definitely nice as a group to salute him after the game."
Said forward Tyler Seguin, "I think everyone had a smile on their face. It really lifted our spirits, and I hope we lifted his."
It's been a long, tough road back to the broadcast booth for Strader, who hadn't called a game since Game 7 of last season's Western Conference Semifinal between the Stars and Blues. It was during that series he started to feel ill, and in early June came the cancer diagnosis. Cholangiocarcinoma. Bile duct cancer. And his world was turned upside down.
"Just how quickly something like this can happen. You hear about it happening to other people, but until you experience it," he said. "Things had gone so well here [in Dallas]. My wife, Colleen, had enjoyed it. It couldn't have been a better work environment for me, working with Razor and everybody else. And then to all of a sudden have this happen without any real warning. I knew I had a bad gall bladder that would probably need to come out. But I didn't expect to hear that diagnosis. That reality slap in the face and then the uncertainty."
There were downs and ups as doctors started treatment for the cancer in his hometown of Glens Falls, New York. The first chemotherapy treatment didn't produce results. A second line of chemo treatment in September put him into cardiac failure, but fortunately he was in the hospital for low blood pressure at the time. Medical personnel were able to bring him back without the use of paddles. And then it was onto a third type of chemo, which has produced results and got him feeling well enough to return to calling Stars games.
This latest chemotherapy will continue for now as he awaits some test results and possibly a more advanced treatment.
"The thing that is probably going to have the greatest impact on me are the test results I am awaiting from Sloan Kettering in New York, which is one of the leading cancer centers in the world," Strader said. "They've had some tissue samples of my tumor, and they are doing very sophisticated genetic testing. What they are hoping to match me to is immunotherapy or a targeted drug that will not only stop the progression of the disease but maybe knock it back. That's the hope of chemo, but sometimes that is more hit and miss. The big thing is going to be the results of the test from Sloan and hopefully an immunotherapy drug."
So, hope remains strong in what has been a sea of uncertainty for Strader and his family. Strader said his family has been important as he goes through his fight. But it takes a toll on them as well.
"The uncertainty is probably toughest on my wife, Colleen, who is the primary caregiver," Strader said. "You are so used to making plans. What are we doing next week? What are we doing next month? You have all these things you do, and now it's very difficult to do those things because of the uncertainty.
"The one thing I learned from this is that your goals and your focus is so much more about today. You hear people talking about living the moment, live now. You find when you get in a situation like this, you are forced to do that. And you appreciate your family even more, not that we take them for granted. When things are going well, it's kind of easy to do that. They are always there, always part of every day. When you are going through something like this, you really realize how important your family is."
Work can be important, too, and provide an emotional boost. That's why Strader was so excited to get back to his job this weekend.
"It's indescribable as far as the level of excitement I feel. There were quite a few times I thought I would never do another game," Strader said before working Saturday's game. "I've missed all the little things. Obviously, I've missed doing the games, executing the game plan we put together with the production staff. You miss the people and being around everybody that is a part of your everyday routine."
And as he has worked his way back to calling games, Strader has been touched by the support of his Stars family, both the organization and the fans.
"It's been immeasurable what the organization has done, how understanding they've been and how supportive they've been," he said. "It's been great to get the outpouring of support from around the league. With just one season to connect with the Dallas fans, the support I've received from them and the well-wishes, emails, Twitter responses and however else people have connected with me, it's been unbelievable."
It's something he witnessed in person Saturday night, and it's given him a shot of energy and hope. He's scheduled to call the next four Stars games, including the national broadcast of the Dallas-Boston game on NBC on Feb. 26. And now he is looking at the schedule to see where he can call more games down the road.
"Yeah, it does give me [hope]," Strader said. "It gives me confidence to do these next few games, and I start looking at the schedule and think where else can I fit in, depending on my treatments. I am hoping I can meet the team on one of these upcoming road trips when they come back East. It's all in the cards now."
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.