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Stars Unveil New Team Plane

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

New Stars Team Plane
For most of us, whenever we travel by plane, we fly on commercial airlines, sit in cramped coach seats (possibly with a small, whiny child kicking the seat behind us), are subject to the whims of airport delays, and are usually lucky to get anything to eat beyond a tiny bag of pretzels or peanuts.

That is not how your Dallas Stars travel, especially not after owner Tom Hicks just upgraded their private plane from a 727 to a new Boeing 757 twin-engine jetliner. The Stars took the inaugural flight on the new plane when they lifted off Tuesday afternoon from Love Field for a trip to Los Angeles ahead of their date Thursday night against the Kings (9:30 pm, my27, News/Talk 820 WBAP). 

It can accommodate up to 71 total passengers, includes 24 fully-reclining, 360-degree swiveling sleeper seats for the players, and has 47 other first-class seats located in three other sections throughout the plane. 

The new 757, which will be utilized by both the Stars and the Texas Rangers baseball team, also features an upgraded video entertainment system and an iPod docking station that allows passengers to play movies from a lap-top, iPod or DVD player in each section. There are also two electrical outlets and phone jacks at each seat, a bar in the back, as well as a comfortable four-seat couch. 

For a team that will fly approximately 112 total hours in the air over the course of the regular season and which will have 16 flights where the club returns to Dallas immediately after a night game, traveling in such luxurious conditions can only help.

“I think that, certainly with the travel that we do, that any advantage that we give our players is going to benefit us in the long term,” said Stars General Manager Doug Armstrong. “We probably travel more than anyone in the NHL right now, and to have a plane like this and to have the seating where the players can recline, it’s going to really enhance our travel and make things a lot better for us. And I think there will be a competitive advantage, not only to our team, but also in acquiring free agents.”

“It’s great,” added center Mike Modano. “It’s just getting rest and being able to get from point A to point B as easy as possible, it doesn’t come easier than this. Comfort, ability to spread out, you’re not packed in on each other, it helps. Our travel’s not the best here, so however we can get the upper hand here, it helps.”

While the advantage of more comfortable accommodations might not be felt immediately, the players believe it will help and might possibly translate into better performance on the ice at some point.

“It’s tough to put down in x’s and o’s and say yes or no, but it won’t hurt,” goaltender Marty Turco said. “It certainly won’t hurt our chances of feeling better when we get there.  It’s a luxury that we have had before, traveling as well as we do, but this just kind of sets precedent for pro sports teams to give us every advantage possible, when you have an owner like Mr. Hicks, who does what he can, it just makes you feel good and lets you worry about less things and concentrate more on what we do.”

“Especially with us, we have so much travel because of our division, it adds practice time, it adds time that other teams have without the same travel, so any time we can keep the players fresh, it’s wonderful,” coach Dave Tippett noted. “It’s a beautiful plane. It makes everything a lot easier to travel. We’re very fortunate to have an owner that believes that he wants to do everything possible for the players to give them the best opportunity to be successful, so it’s a wonderful little perk for us.”

While the Stars did fly pretty nicely before, the upgrade from a 727 to a 757 gives them better fuel efficiency and lower noise levels (inside the plane and out), and allows for longer individual flights (from a maximum 2500 miles to 4000 miles). Also, the 727 could only hold up to 54 passengers, while their limit is now 71, something that made possible the extra wrinkle on Tuesday where the players’ wives joined them on the trip to LA. 

“We were traveling first-class before - there was absolutely nothing wrong with the plane we had before, but this is even better,” defenseman Philippe Boucher said. “All the comfort you can have, more room, and we’re on it so much, I think it’s really going to help us. Compared to other teams, we travel so much, so the more you can rest, the more you can have some comfort, hopefully it will help by the end of the year.”

In addition to relaxing and sleeping comfortably on the new plane, the players engage in other activities to pass the time. For the real word on what goes on in the air, we consulted flight attendant Randi Johnson.

“Some of the guys play cards, some of the guys sleep, a lot of guys watch movies, all kinds of different things,” said Johnson, who has flown on the Stars and Rangers plane for just over a year. “Marty and Brenden (Morrow) like to play cribbage. Jeff Halpern and Krys Barch and them like to play poker, so all kinds of fun things.”

Although Johnson did identify Halpern as the one who bugs her the most during flights, she noted that outside of a couple of isolated incidents, most players are generally mild-mannered.

“I’ve seen a poker game get out of hand, I’ve seen a water fight,” she admitted. “But they’re all really good and well-behaved, so I don’t really have a lot of dirt.”

Mr. Hicks and his wife Cinda helped determine how the inside would look, and clearly did a good job with it, because as big and as nice as the accommodations are, it looks stylish, too.

“My wife Cinda and I did design it,” Hicks confirmed. “There’s a nice lady in Fort Worth that does all this work and we went over there and spent a day - Cinda did a lot more than I, I promise you - but we did design it. 

“We have a lot of late-night flights - the Stars coming back from Vancouver, the Rangers coming back from Seattle - and this way the guys can sleep on the way home and be more competitive the next day. In today’s sports world, you want to retain your players, you want them to like playing here, you want them to be treated first class, and you want to attract free agents. And we want players to know that if they play for the Dallas Stars or the Texas Rangers, they’re going to have first-class facilities, as good as anybody in the country, and we think that’s a good investment.”

The way the Stars travel now is a far cry from how teams used to fly as recently as 10-15 years ago, back when most clubs flew on commercial airlines. That meant no post-game flights, since most games end later than the last flight out of a particular airport.

“Obviously, just chartering makes it a lot easier,” said Tippett, who played 11 years in the NHL from 1984-94. “We never used to fly out after a game, we used to go commercial, so by the time you got to sleep, it was three in the morning, and you’d always have the first flight out in the morning. I always felt sorry for the other people on the plane, because you’ve got grumpy, stinky hockey players... 

“The players get a lot more rest, they get fed much better, you don’t have the delays in airports and things like that, so it just makes everything a lot easier, it runs a lot smoother.”

“When I was a rookie, I always had a middle seat, sitting between two big boys, up straight and no leg room, and this is the total opposite,” recalled Boucher, who skated in 18 games for Buffalo as a 19-year-old in 1992-93. 

He doesn’t have to worry about that any more; none of the players do. 

And if this new plane translates into just one more road victory throughout the season, that could mean the difference in earning a playoff spot or a division title, and it will have been all worth it.

“Our division’s two time zones away, it’s not as easy as people think, but this makes it a little bit easier,” Turco said. “Let us concentrate on just playing hockey, and getting pampered is something we’re not used to, but we’ll take it.”
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