After a summer of record breaking heat, a change of Head Coach and an infusion of depth and grit that could result in a minimum of six new players in the Opening Night lineup, it would be easy to understand the anxiety of some members of the Stars organization heading into the kick-off event for the season ahead. The Stars Icebreaker at the Galleria has become a rarity in professional sports, a chance for the average fan to mix and mingle with their favorite athletes for free. While some may have worried about the reaction for this first event of the 2011-12 season, long before the official start time lines were long, anticipation was heavy in the atmosphere and it was obvious that fans were thrilled to have hockey back. Even long time Stars personalities were blown away by the response.
“This is the greatest turnout for this event we’ve ever had, “said Stars Play by Play announcer, Ralph Strangis. “I was a bit concerned with the reaction to the team not having an owner yet and being out the playoffs the past couple of years but this is fantastic. I am really impressed with our fans.”
The feelings of admiration were mutual as Stars faithful waited patiently for the chance to get an autograph or take a picture with one of their old favorites or welcome a new player to town. The enthusiasm and passion for the team made a strong impression on some who have yet to step on the ice in a Dallas uniform.
“Coming from Phoenix, I have never been a part of anything like this,” explained off season signee, Center Vernon Fiddler
. “It’s certainly worth the time to come out and sign some autographs and take some pictures. These are the people who cheer for us and make us a better team. It’s the least we can do for them.”
The willingness to please and friendly smiles from the players made the effort to come to the Icebreaker worth it for Stars supporters. One hour before the players made their appearance, lines formed more than halfway across the third floor of the Galleria, at one of eight autograph signing stations. First in line was Claire Robertson, an Assistant professor of Art History at the University of Texas at Tyler. A ninety minute drive beginning at 8am was rewarded with a chance to meet the players and team she has cheered for years.
“I appreciate the fact that the Stars do an event like this for the everyday fans and it is free. I’m like most fans and can’t afford seats on the glass. This is my chance to get up close, meet the players and talk about the team. This is one of the greatest promotions the organization has ever come up with and I don’t mind driving to attend,” reasoned Robertson.
For fans living in the DFW area, the thrill of being at the Icebreaker was just as rewarding.
“Why am I here so early? Because it’s the Stars. I came last year and loved it,” added Chris Riley of Dallas. “I come here to interact with the players. You spend so much time going to the games and cheering for the team but you never have the chance to meet them and talk one on one. That’s why this is so great. We have a new head coach, new players and new talent. I think this is going to give us the edge we need to have a playoff year.”
Nancy Alexander of Grand Prairie has been a long time Stars fan but attended the Icebreaker for the first time. Her sights were immediately set for her two favorite players.
and Brenden Morrow
are my favorites and I love the Dallas Stars,” said Alexander. I’m here early to get autographs and pictures. My husband has come here for the last three years but this is my first time and I am looking forward to finally meeting the team.”
While the Stars players were the main focus at their autograph stations, down on the Galleria Rink, the Dallas Stars Ice Girls were having their own skating session with some of the younger attendees. As most of the Ice Girls are natives to the South, the Icebreaker became the perfect opportunity to show off their newly honed skills.
As first year team member Chelsea explained, “I just learned to skate once I made the squad. At first it was terrifying but now it is starting to get much easier, which is nice.”
3rd year IceGirl and captain Kaime seemed to be in mid-season form as she signed autographs, posed for pictures and escorted Daryl “Razor” Reaugh as he played good-will ambassador at the Galleria.
“It’s my job to personally escort him from place to place and make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble,” Kaime surmised. “My first year on the squad was my first time on the ice and then the 2nd year I learned so much more. We have our new Ice Girl posters out now and they seem to be pretty popular with the people here. I think this is going to be a great year for the girls and the fans too.”
As the players and Ice Girls worked to make the event a success and ensure all fans went home happy, the organization also reaps the benefits of creating a special day to jump start the new season. With the beginning of training camp just days away, it is time not only to appeal to die-hard fans but also reintroduce the Stars to casual sports fans who may be paying attention to the beginning of football season or the American League pennant race.
“The main thing after you’ve had a summer away is to get back in front of the community and remind them that October is just around the corner and the season is almost here,” said Stars President Tony Tavares. “It’s important to come out to the Galleria and meet with your fans but it’s just as important to be seen and remembered by the people out here who are not fans and let them have a chance to see what the players are all about. I believe hockey players are the most well-mannered, friendly and accessible athletes of them all. This is a great way to show everyone what these players are like and convince them to come down and watch the team in person.”
As the time winded down it was hard to tell if the fans or players enjoyed the day more. A few lucky fans walked away with autographed jerseys right off the players’ backs. At the same time, the Stars walked away with an extra appreciation of the people who cheer all season long.
“There were so many people who came out today, it was a pleasure to be here and sign autographs and take as many pictures as possible,” summed up Adam Burish
. “There was one guy here with a Dallas Stars bowling ball that we all got a kick out of. You might as well have fun, shake a few hands and meet the people who are the reason we can play this great game for a living.”
The goodwill fostered at this type of event will go a long way in keeping the fan base happy and returning to the American Airlines Center once the games start up again. The ultimate goal for the organization is to keep these fans coming back and grow attendance as well. Returning to a prime position in the minds of the DFW sporting public will not happen just through promotion but mainly because of the what happens when the skates get laced up for real. During the next few weeks, a new team identity will be forged on the ice under new coach Glen Gulutzan and a new direction of the organization will take shape as the ownership issue will be settled. The work toward a new future has begun and could not have gotten off to a better start than Icebreaker 2011.Bruce LeVine is the post-game co-host for Dallas Stars road games on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket. Email Bruce at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BruceLeVine22