Watching Brett Hull rip a scorching wrist shot from the right face-off circle past a bewildered goaltender, seeing Pat Verbeek set up shop just outside the crease and then banging home a pass from behind the net, marveling at yet another blocked shot from defenseman Craig Ludwig…
Okay, that last one didn’t happen again, but all the other sights were on full display last Friday night at the DejaBlue Arena in the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter as a team made up of former NHLers, most of them former Stars, faced off against the NAHL junior hockey club Texas Tornado in the Pros vs. Prospects IV charity event.
Besides the fact that many former Stars were participating, the present-day Stars were heavily involved as well, as center Mike Modano dropped the ceremonial first puck and the Pros squad was coached by Stars coach Dave Tippett. And then of course, Hull, the Stars’ current co-General Manager suited up, as did Stars assistant coaches Ulf Dahlen and Mark Lamb.
The fact that the oldtimers’ team defeated the Tornado 13-7 in a contest that very much resembled an All-Star Game (i.e., lots of offense, very little hitting or intense battling for loose pucks), was irrelevant for most of the participants, on both sides.
“It’s just fun to get together with the guys,” said former Star (and North Star) great Neal Broten, whose number 7 jersey hangs from the rafters at the American Airlines Center. “It brings back a lot of good memories, so I think it’s fun for all the guys to come back here.”
“It’s very nice, it’s different being in the dressing room around all the guys again,” added Lamb, who played 403 NHL games over the course of a 16-year pro career, including a Stanley Cup championship in 1990 with Edmonton. “It’s a totally different perspective. It’s fun sitting in there telling some funny stories, having a few laughs and getting ready for the game. And it’s all for a good cause. It is good to get back to being what you used to be and that’s a player and that’s the funnest part of hockey.”
Tornado center Jason Zawacki, who grew up in Plano, admitted that he sometimes had to stop himself from just watching in awe.
“It was unbelievable,” Zawacki said. “I grew up watching all those guys from when I was about six years old - definitely the best experience. They kind of embarrass you a little bit. And you kind of get starstruck a little bit when you go one-on-one.”
Proceeds from the game, and the auctions of the oldtimers’ jerseys afterwards (Hull’s number 16 fetched the largest bid at $1200), benefitted the Frisco Education Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club of Collin County.
Despite the fact that some of the ‘Pros’ don’t skate very often, many of them still looked pretty impressive. In the game itself, which fittingly ended with 99 total shots on goal (representing the year of the Stars’ Stanley Cup championship), former Stars defensive forward Bob Bassen collected a hat trick and an assist and Verbeek contributed two goals and an assist to lead the team of NHL Alumni. Former St. Louis Blues enforcer Kelly Chase, who is now part-owner (with Hull) of the NAHL’s St. Louis Bandits, scored a goal on a penalty shot and added four assists, while ex-Star Greg Adams also chipped in with two goals. Hull, the hero of that ‘99 Cup winning club, scored a goal as well.
Guys like Adams, who still had quite a bit of speed, Dahlen, who earned two assists, and former Kings and Red Wings defenseman Steve Duchesne - who never skated for the Stars but lives in the area and is assistant coach of the local Dallas Stars Midget AAA youth squad - as well as Bassen, Verbeek and Chase, all looked like they could still be playing.
For the guys that played on the 1999 Stanley Cup championship team, just seeing their former teammates brought back the fond memories of that special time.
“When we get together, we don’t talk about it, but it’s always there,” Verbeek said. “You just know that when you’ve got that group of guys together, all the stuff you had to fight through and all the stuff you went through, it’s a special bond that you never forget and will always be a part of your life.”
“Playing here and winning the Cup here, I love coming back to Dallas, I love seeing the people and I’m happy to be here,” added former Star Benoit Hogue, who scored a goal and an assist in the game. “It was a special time here, we had a tight team, a good bunch of guys in the locker room - coming back and seeing guys like Pat Verbeek and Bob Bassen, it’s a great feeling. It’s a short trip, but this makes it last forever. You get to see the guys, see what they’re doing, what’s going on. I wouldn’t miss it.”
But the fun of catching up with their old teammates, and for supporting a good cause, isn’t limited to just those fortunate to have won a Cup here, it extended to everyone.
“A lot of ex-teammates here,” noted Tippett, who played in the event a few years ago but due to old injuries, had to scale back his involvement to just coaching. “It’s good to see a lot of old friends that you only run into at things like this. It’s good, raising money for charity. The Schlegels (Bob and Kirby, who also own the AHL Iowa Stars) have done a great job with this organization, so anything I can do to help out, more than happy to do it.”
“It’s just fun to be a part of it, it’s fun to see the guys again,” noted goaltender Corey Hirsch, who manned the Stars’ crease for two games in 2002-03. “People come out and like to see the ex-players. Obviously, the charity stuff is the main reason, but it’s fun. It’s fun to be around the game still.”
The Pros vs. Prospects idea began back in 2004-05, the year the lockout wiped out the NHL season. That time, the Tornado faced a squad consisting mostly of Stars players, with a few oldtimers like Guy Carbonneau, Ludwig and Tippett also suiting up. But since then, the Pros team has been filled with retired former NHLers.
Much of the credit for the night’s events belongs to former Stars defenseman Ludwig, who is now the Tornado’s assistant coach. He helped recruit the former NHLers for the game, while also skating in it himself. Even his son Trevor, a Stars’ sixth-round draft pick (183rd overall) in 2004 who just completed his senior season at Providence University and a former Tornado defenseman, filled in for the oldtimers after former LA Kings sniper Luc Robitaille canceled at the last minute.
“I think that Craig Ludwig’s worked really hard to assemble a great group of pros,” Tornado head coach Dwight Mullins said beforehand. “I know our guys are excited and our whole organization’s excited, so we’re going to enjoy the whole evening.”
“It was fun. For me, it actually gives me a little different perspective of our own team,” said Ludwig, who skated without a helmet. “You get to see some little things and where you can improve, who does what and all that.”
While the ex-players and the fans certainly enjoyed themselves, it was a nice brief escape for the Stars’ coaching staff from the NHL stretch run and the club’s recent slump.
“The mind is still pretty much on the grind right now,” Tippett admitted. “It’s a good couple hours to get away, but it’s coming down to the critical time, so got to put lots of time in on that.”
But for one night, it was fun to relive some old memories with the Stars of yesterday and the Stars of tomorrow.