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'He was just a great guy -- a normal guy': Stars remember Vinnie Paul

The late co-founder of Pantera was more than a friend to Dallas' 1999 Cup-winning squad

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Maybe the best story in the long friendship of Craig Ludwig and Vinnie Paul is how the two met.

Ludwig and teammate Richard Matvichuk were out for one of their afternoon motorcycle rides back in 1993 and stopped by a roadside bar. As Ludwig was heading to the restroom, he heard a shout from a busy table packed with band members.

"Hey, you're Craig Ludwig," the voice said.

Ludwig was surprised. The team just moved from Minnesota that year and not a lot of people recognized hockey players. But Vinnie Paul knew Ludwig and his backstory.

"He told me he was a big sports fan, knew that I played in Montreal and won the Cup there. It was a bit shocking," Ludwig said. "But it was also pretty cool that here is a rock star and he's noticing me."

That started a lengthy relationship between, Paul, then the drummer for Pantera, and the Stars. He and brother "Dimebag Darrell" became running buddies with a team that would win the Stanley Cup in 1999 and his house in Arlington became a hangout where a memorable party took place.

All of that is being remembered after Paul died of an apparent heart attack at his Las Vegas home June 22. He was 54 and many Stars players had known him for 25 years.

"You just never expect to hear that news…" Ludwig said, his voice trailing off. "I guess everyone says that, but I … I just never expected that."

Ludwig said Paul was a happy person who wanted to celebrate life, so he wants to keep those memories alive. Former Stars center Guy Carbonneau said the relationship between the Stars and Paul was both just everyday friends and something special.

"He was just a great guy -- a normal guy," said Carbonneau. "He was always fun to be around, but you would never have guessed he was a big star."

A few Stars saw how big he was when they went out of the country to watch Pantera. Ludwig and Dan Stuchal, now in charge of brand development and broadcasting, but then the director of team services, were invited to Mexico City to attend a concert where Pantera and Metallica were performing. Stuchal said it was mind-boggling.

"Obviously, we're all metal fans and we knew how big they were in the U.S., but to see an entire soccer stadium of 90,000 fans go crazy for them was incredible," Stuchal said. "After Vinnie died, you could see the outpouring of love around the globe on social media, but we saw it back then. He was a megastar, but he never acted like that."

Former Stars captain Derian Hatcher said he was always very comfortable around Paul and Pantera.

"There was just so much respect there," said Hatcher, now the coach of the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League. "We respected what he did and he respected what we did, and that's just how it went. I don't think anyone made a big deal about it, but there was definitely respect for what we were doing."

Stuchal said he had a rare perspective on the relationship.

"As a kid from Wisconsin, I was just in awe of all of it," he said. "But it really was total mutual admiration between the team and the band. It was pretty special."

Paul and his brother are immortalized in Stars history because of the "Dallas Stars" song they penned that now serves as the goal celebration song.

"I was in charge of the locker room music, and it was just getting stale, so I asked Vinnie if he could work something up," Ludwig said. "He and 'Dime' put it together in about a day, and it really fired us up in the locker room. That's all it was then, was just some music for the room and the players, but you look now, and it's a part of the team's history."

Also part of the team's history is the story of the Stanley Cup being dented in a party at Paul's house. While Carbonneau was blamed for the incident way back when, Ludwig said they were passing the Cup around on Paul's balcony and he dropped it accidentally.

"If you want to know who did it, it was me," Ludwig said. "But I'll also say it got a lot more damaged than that during that summer, and they always found a way to fix it."

Tweet from @FOXSportsSW: RIP to @Pantera drummer, Vinnie Paul. We were able to witness your passion for the @DallasStars first hand. Your legacy will live on every time our guys hit the ice. pic.twitter.com/g0zxMnIb7V

Ludwig said that Paul enjoyed the intrigue of the situation and how important it was to the media.

"He loved it," Ludwig said. "I think he had five interviews one day, and if I remember, every story was different. It gave him 'street cred' in both the music industry and the sports industry."

The Stars expect to have plenty more stories like that to honor Paul and keep his memory fresh.

"He loved to laugh, and he would laugh at everything you said. And it wasn't courtesy laughter, he really thought it was funny," Ludwig said. "The thing I'm going to miss most is that laugh of his …

"I already do."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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