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Focus and Commitment

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

May 27, 2004

The 2003-2004 Dallas Stars season did not begin the way Head Coach Dave Tippett envisioned. By the middle of November, the team was hovering around .500, winning one night and losing the next. In their losses they were getting crushed. A three-game road trip out East was a disaster : a 3-0 loss at the New York Rangers, 4-1 at the New York Islanders and 4-1 at the Boston Bruins.

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Coming home would change that, right? Wrong. The team lost their next game to the Detroit Red Wings by a 6-2 final at American Airlines Center and all sorts of rumors about trades, firings and everything else were swirling around the organization.

Just when things looked as though they couldn't get worse for Dave Tippett, they did.

On November 14, Tippett woke up in the wee hours of the morning not able to feel the left side of his body at his home in Plano. Although he still wanted to fulfill the responsibilities of his job by going to the morning skate before his team hosted the Phoenix Coyotes that evening, everybody around him agreed that the best decision was to get him to the hospital immediately. Having emergency surgery to remove a bulging disk in his neck, he missed the next two games as his team tied Phoenix and lost in Colorado the following night.

Looking back on that injury, Tippett said that he dealt with it like any injury over his playing career.

"I looked at it as I did when I was a player and got injured for a day or two," Tippett said. "The sooner you get that distraction behind you, the better."

"It was something that definitely took a toll on my body, but hopefully it wasn't taking a toll on my mind."

Whether he would admit it or not, everything had to be taking a toll on his mind. With his health and his team fading, the Dallas Stars stood at 11-15-3-0 on Dec. 10 after a 2-1 loss in Phoenix. They were last in the Pacific Division and in 12th place in the Western Conference.

What were the Stars going to do? Fire the coach? Trade all the players? Or just be patient and know that somebody would turn this thing around. The Stars opted for the latter and their patience paid off because that somebody who helped turn things around was Dave Tippett.

To understand how this Dallas Stars team woke up and resurrected their season, one has to go back in time and look at the man who helped dig them out of their hole. A man who has climbed his fare share of mountains and always kept the same, positive outlook.

Growing up in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, Dave Tippett had parents who made sure their son was getting to the ice rink in the morning, whether he wanted to or not. Even to this very day, Tippett thanks his parents above everyone else for helping lay the groundwork to which he would stand on for the rest of his life.

"First and foremost I would have to thank my parents for getting me to where I was as a player and now as a coach," Tippett said. "They were the ones that put the foundation there and pushed me along."

In juniors, Tippett had a coach by the name of Terry Simpson who had a strong influence on his career. He taught young Tippett what it took to play at a higher level and the idiosyncrasies of the game of hockey. It was then when Tippett started to dream about playing in the NHL.

"You definitely dream about being an NHL player," Tippett said. "But there are certainly a lot of people who dream about it and a lot of people who don't get a chance to do it.

"I always said that I was going to play at the highest level I could until somebody told me I couldn't play anymore or I didn't want to play anymore."

The highest level he could play was the National Hockey League, and Tippett proved he belonged. Dave Tippett was a smaller NHL player. One who, despite his comparably tiny frame, played against the best players in the world night in and night out.

A defensive-minded player during his 11-year career, Tippett recorded 262 points in 721 NHL games.
"The greatest player I ever played against was Wayne Gretzky," Tippett said. "He was having some unbelievable years when I played against him.

"No one player could dominate our game that much offensively. It was just awesome to see what he was doing compared to everybody else. Unfortunately, I was matched up against him every night."

Even though Tippett did not have the skill or the size of certain NHL players he was going against, he played against them all season long. He had a 5-10, 180-pound frame and still found a way to be a full-time player in the league for 11 years.

"I think it was a physical and mental commitment to take care of yourself and give yourself the best chance to succeed," Tippett said. "I love to compete and when you love to compete at the highest level, it's amazing what you can accomplish.

"The biggest thrill for me wasn't playing in the NHL or making money. The biggest thrill for me was going out and competing against the best players in the world."

Not only did Tippett play against the best players in the world, but he played with them as well. He had the opportunity to soak in everything from the great individuals who were surrounding him. Tippett slowly began to learn that great leaders listen and watch the people around them.

"The greatest player I ever played with was the most outstanding individual I've ever been around on a daily basis," Tippett said. "Mario Lemieux was a guy who thought the game and played the game at such a high level, it astounded even the guys who were playing with him."

Playing in 721 career NHL games over 11 years, Tippett served as assistant captain during his tenure with the Hartford Whalers, was the captain for the 1984 Canadian Olympic Team in Sarajevo, and represented his country once again at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville. In 1992 he earned a silver medal with Team Canada, as they lost to Russia in the Gold Medal Match.

"The 1992 gold medal game against Russia was the greatest game I have ever played in even though we lost," Tippett said. "The magnitude of the game, the atmosphere of the Olympics and playing for your country were all wrapped in one.

"It's one of those games you don't leave anything in the bag and give it all you have."

Dave Tippett played with the best players to ever lace up the skates, played against the best players in the history of the game and participated in some of the biggest games ever. However, in 1994, it was time for Tippett to walk away from his playing career.

"I was fortunate enough to play a long time in the National Hockey League and my body decided that is was time to not play anymore," Tippett said. "The passion for the game was still there so I turned to coaching."

Tippett's first head coaching job came in the old International Hockey League with the Houston Aeros. He led the Aeros to the 1999 Turner Cup Championship while serving as general manager and head coach. Tippett was also named IHL Coach of the Year as Houston earned a 54-15-13 record en route to their championship.

"Anytime you win it's a great feeling," Tippett said. "It's the reason you play the game, no matter what level you're at."

Nobody wants to bring the Stanley Cup back to Dallas more than Dave Tippett. He believes that going through an experience like he did with Houston can help his team here in Dallas.

"When you go through experiences like that, you learn about yourself, your team and the commitment it takes to be a championship team," Tippett said. "With sports today being so business oriented, that bond you create when you win a championship as a player far outweighs any financial rewards you can get."

Those past experiences served Tippett well when faced with adversity this past season. When the Dallas Stars reached a crossroads in mid-December, Tippett grabbed the rudder of the ship and did what good coaches do. He led. Instead of panicking, Tippett remained cool, calm and collected as his team slowly began to turn things around. And turn things around they did. The Stars posted the third-best record in the league from Dec. 11 to the end of the regular season going 30-11-10-2 over their final 53 games. All credit went to where credit was due : the head coach.

"It could have been easy for Dave to lose control, but he kept a firm grip on the handle," Stars goaltender Marty Turco said. "He showed our team great composure and ultimately showed us the way back to playing up to our full potential."

Glenn James
Dallas finished the regular season fifth in the Western Conference and posted the second-best home record in the league at 26-7-8-0. With a 56-14-14 record at home over his two seasons in Dallas, Tippett has the fifth-best home record for a coach with minimum of 50 career home wins. Their play at home was a major reason why the Stars crept back into the playoff picture. Tippett also helped his team earn a franchise-long 17-game home unbeaten streak from Jan. 23-Mar. 20. The Dallas fans always got their money's worth when watching Tippett's squad at American Airlines Center.

"The bottom line is that our team is very hungry for success," Tippett said. "Players feel an extra urgency to play better in front of their own fans.

"We've put an onus on the fact that to be a top team, you have to be good at home. Our players have bought into that."

After finishing the regular season with hopes of winning the Stanley Cup, Tippett's team lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs. However, Tippett always will try and take something from each season to make his team better for the future.

"You hope that your group continues to grow and your young players continue to mature, not just as hockey players, but as leaders," Tippett said. "Players like Brenden Morrow and Marty Turco will continue to get better and start to form the foundation of our leadership for the future."

Guys like Brenden Morrow, Marty Turco, Steve Ott, John Erskine and Trevor Daley will learn from a man who has been through it all when it comes to hockey. They will learn how to become leaders, how to become better hockey players, how to remain humble and not panic when hard times come your way. They will learn from the guy everybody just calls : "Tip."

Speaking on his summer plans for the next couple of months, you can still hear that hockey is on his mind.

"My family and I will go back and forth from Dallas to Minnesota for most of the summer," Tippett said. "But mainly I will be concentrating on how we're going to fit all the pieces together for our team next season."

Hockey has been his life and will always be for the rest of his time on earth. He has been through it all - good times, bad times, championship times and frustrating times. However, his focus is never on himself. And right now it's on the Dallas Stars.

He has been one of the fiercest competitors to ever play hockey and now that fire is focused on bringing this team back to where people in Dallas think it should be : a perennial Stanley Cup contender. Through drawing on his good and bad experiences and knowing what a championship team is all about, Dave Tippett will stop at nothing to make sure the Dallas Stars are winners again.

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