The Dallas Stars resumed their tradition of signaling the start of their year with the Ice Breaker event, and by all accounts, it was a huge success.
Over 3,500 attendees swarmed the Galleria between 11am and 1pm and were rewarded with the rare opportunity to not only get autographs from their favorite Stars players, but also the chance to meet and interact with them.
With 22 members of the Stars’ roster set up at tables at various different locations throughout the mall’s three levels, fans had the chance to go through multiple lines and get face-to-face time with just about every player during the two-hour timeframe. And it was all free, yet another detail appreciated by the diehards that showed up.
“This is great, because most of the other franchises charge you (for autographs) and they don’t,” said fan Carol Stone, who clutched a pile of memorabilia that she was thrilled to get signed. “They’re down to earth and they’re all nice. They’ll take all the time in the world for you.”
Of course, besides the primary incentive of meeting the players, there were plenty of other attractions to keep fans occupied.
In front of the ice rink in the middle of the mall’s lower level, a table was set up where fans could meet and get autographs from Stars Ice Girls. And for the people that opted to get into the spirit of the moment and lace up the skates themselves at the rink, a number of Ice Girls joined them on the ice, even taking the time to offer pointers to some of the skaters out there.
Another big attraction was the video game station, conveniently located in front of a toy store, where multiple TVs were set up with the new EA Sports NHL 11 video game, with both PlayStation 3 and Wii consoles available for fans to test their skills on.
And on top of all that, the Stars’ flagship radio station, Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket (1310-AM), broadcasted all morning and into the afternoon from the rink level, just feet from the ice, as the Orphanage show with Davy Lane and his guest host Toby from the band Deep Blue Something were on hand talking hockey. Stars broadcaster Daryl ‘Razor’ Reaugh also joined them on the air for over an hour.
But while all that was fun, being able to go face-to-face with the players was really the main incentive that brought in the crowds.
“I’ve always liked it, I’ve come to every one they’ve had,” said fan Karin Cannon. “It’s just a lot of fun getting to see them.”
“It’s awesome,” added avid Stars follower Samantha Ellis, who admitted she was too nervous to start a ‘real’ conversation with any of the guys. “This is our third year. They didn’t have it last year, but we’ve been here every year. I get giddy every time.”
It is true the Stars did not hold an Ice Breaker before last season, basically because the logistics couldn’t get worked out with to the NHL’s compressed schedule. Due to the two-week Olympic break in February, training camps started earlier, the players had less time off and with the way Labor Day fell on the calendar in 2009, they couldn’t squeeze it in. But all of the players who were here for the last event in ’08 remembered it well and looked forward to Saturday’s.
“The staff and the players really love doing this event every year, especially the players,” noted Rob Scichili, the Stars’ Vice President of Communications. “A lot of them have made comments to us that they are really blown away about how many fans come out, in the middle of football season kicking off and baseball season still going on, but if you look around, it’s good to see that the Dallas Stars are alive and well. There’s a lot of people here today and they’re excited about hockey season starting in just a couple of weeks, and that’s what this is all about, just reminding people that it is hockey season.”
The players do enjoy the event very much, especially when they see first-hand how eagerly their fans are anticipating the start of the season. And with the Stars’ first pre-season game coming up just 10 days away on Sept. 21 and the regular season opener less than a month off, on Oct. 8 in New Jersey, some players were feeding off the energy of the fans.
“Every time we come in, there’s a lot of fans,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas
, who has happily attended every Ice Breaker event. “I think it’s good to have that interaction with them. It’s a nice way to kick off the season. I think it gets the fans excited about the team, and for the player, when you do the Ice Breaker, you really start feeling like the season’s around the corner.”
“It’s always cool - before the season, everyone’s always excited and it’s been a long off-season,” added forward Brian Sutherby. “It’s always nice to see the fans and interact with them - they’re excited, it gets us going and looking forward to the start of camp.”
Even newcomer Adam Burish
, who signed with Dallas as a free agent on July 1 after contributing to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championship in June, was impressed with the massive turnout.
“It’s fun,” said Burish, who arrived in town just five days earlier. “For me, coming down to Texas, you really don’t know what to expect as far as hockey goes, but these people are into it, they’re excited about it, and it seems like a good way to kick off the season.”
In addition to the fans and players having a great time, the increased traffic brought into the mall also benefits the tenants at the Galleria.
“As far as attracting more people, yes, it does,” acknowledged ‘Rose’ S. Rose at the Herstyler kiosk on the second floor, a mere 20 feet or so from where Sutherby and center Mike Ribeiro
’s table was set up. “So it’s good. We’re glad to have them here.”
That’s pretty much how everyone felt. And with Stars training camp getting underway less than a week away on Sept. 17 in Charlottetown, PEI in Canada, it’s clear that players and fans alike are ready to get the new season started.