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Stars Alumni Classic great fun, another chance to see former players

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Frisco, Texas - Life as a Dallas Stars season ticket holder is good these days, especially because they were the only ones able to get through the doors of the Dr Pepper Arena Sunday night, where they witnessed the 2011 Alumni Classic.

With an intriguing mix of current players and Stars alumni separated into two squads, Mike Ribeiro scored three goals and an assist to lead Team White to a thrilling 11-9 victory over Team Black.

Tom Wandell snapped a 9-9 tie with 2:42 remaining, converting a pass from current Stars assistant coach Stu Barnes for the game-winner before the recently-retired Mike Modano sealed the win with an empty net goal.

The event, held exclusively for season ticket holders, drew a crowd of about 4,000 for a great opportunity to see some old fan favorites such as Joe Nieuwendyk and Guy Carbonneau sharing the ice with the current players.

Modano and Verbeek
Alumni Classic Photo Gallery
Getting another chance to watch Modano wear a Stars jersey one last time, skating alongside his 1999 Stanley Cup-winning linemates Jere Lehtinen and Brett Hull was a treat, as was the sight of former goaltending great Eddie Belfour, wearing a full face shield, skating as a defenseman.

“I think it’s great, first of all, for the organization, getting all the season ticket holders in here,” said former Star Bob Bassen, the club’s primary alumni contact, who had a prominent role in putting this event together.  “I don’t know about the current guys, but the alumni are very excited because we don’t get to do this much any more.”

“It’s great, especially getting that many of those old guys from ’99 that played here, and of course, the team that plays now,” added Lehtinen, who also scored a goal.  “It’s great that Joe and the organization put this together.” 

Nieuwendyk, the current Dallas General Manager, has promoted the notion of including Stars alumni at various team functions and that process is only going to continue.  To him, creating and celebrating the club’s winning tradition, especially by highlighting the accomplishments of the players that came before them, helps build a certain pride in the organization.

“I’m a big believer in having alumni around,” said Nieuwendyk, a key figure in that 1999 Cup championship.  “They’re going to get more involved as we go along.  It’s important.  I’ve seen in some other organizations where they’re an important part of what you’re trying to do.  It’s good for our guys to get to know Bobby Bassen and Brent Severyn and players like that, because you appreciate how hard they worked in their careers.” 

For many alumni, being able to re-connect with some of their old teammates, as well as the chance to stay involved with the Stars organization, was very important.

“It’s great for the organization.  It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the career that we had here, and we were very fortunate to have a successful team here,” said former Dallas defenseman Richard Matvichuk, who now lives in Southlake.  “You see all the old guys that you played with and won a championship with and you get to see all the guys playing now.  It’s a great experience.”

As for the current players, many of them were excited to meet some of the old-timers they watched as kids.  Goaltender Kari Lehtonen indicated he was excited to meet Belfour, while defenseman Stephane Robidas, who grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan in Quebec, enjoyed sharing the same locker room with some of his heroes.

“Guys like Carbo and Mike Keane and Craig Ludwig, all the guys I grew up watching, and now to have a chance to play with those guys - and of course, guys like Hull and Modano and Nieuwendyk, Verbeek,” Robidas said.  “First I’m a hockey player, but I’m a fan too, so it’s just fun to get a chance to hang around those guys and get a chance to meet them and talk with them.  It’s a lot of fun.”

With the 2011-12 pre-season completed and the regular season about to begin Friday night when the Chicago Blackhawks visit the American Airlines Center (7:30 pm start), the current players were glad to have a night where they could play just for the fun of it again.

“There’s only so many times you get to play with these old-time greats, with no pressure, you can just enjoy the game,” noted Lehtonen, who coached the victorious Team White.  “And it’s great for fans to be able to see this.”

Bassen noted that some of the local alumni have begun skating together every Friday on the same Dr Pepper Arena ice, as a way to stay in shape while also enjoying the camaraderie that helps make hockey so special. 

“That’s one of the things you miss when you stop playing, the guys, so it’s awesome to get together and help the Stars, too,” said Bassen.

On the ice, some of the former players still looked good, with Nieuwendyk demonstrating some impressive speed, while Pat Verbeek showed he still has a lethal shot, scoring two goals for Team Black.  Keane contributed a goal and an assist, and Carbonneau added two assists.

During the shootout at the beginning of the second half (yes, there were only two periods, each 25 minutes long, sometimes with running clock), old-timers Lehtinen, Nieuwendyk and Keane each scored, as Team White won that competition 3-1.

Among the current Stars, Ribeiro shone brightest, while his usual linemate Michael Ryder added three assists, and Jake Dowell contributed two goals for the victorious Team White.

“It’s a good thing they mixed and matched us because I don’t think the old against the new would be a very good game,” Nieuwendyk quipped.   

With Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft acting as the respective coaches, netminders for the local junior hockey squad the Texas Tornado manned the creases and faced a barrage of shots.

“It doesn’t matter who it is, I’m not afraid to bench them if they’re not playing as planned, so it’s an opportunity for everybody to show me what they’ve got,” joked Lehtonen, who paraded the official championship trophy around the ice afterwards, of his coaching philosophy. 

While some of the old-timers seemed to get less ice time as the game progressed, it was unclear if Lehtonen sat them for performance issues or if conditioning was a factor. 

Either way, it appeared that just about everyone involved had a fun time.  Even former Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock made an appearance, making broadcaster Daryl ‘Razor’ Reaugh laugh several times during an intermission interview shown on the video board.

“It’s just great to see some of my old teammates and Hitch is here, so it’s great,” Nieuwendyk said of the event.  “It’s a great organization, we have some history and it’s nice that we can blend some of the old with the new.”

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