By Joe Hanretty
Can you believe hockey season is upon us already? Well, it is, and every team has at least two games under its belt. There were many exciting games in the first two days of the season, headlined by the Boston Bruins, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. I had the opportunity to attend the Dallas Stars home opener as they faced off against the Chicago Blackhawks last Thursday night.
Sitting in section 326, I was able to observe every play from high above. I could hear the players yelling for the puck, listen to the click of puck hitting stick, the clanging of the posts, and of course, the chanting crowds at the American Airlines Center. I have been to football games and basketball games, but being at a hockey game is unlike anything else. I thought the game moved quickly on television, but sitting there in person, the pace is on an entirely different level. If I took my eye off of the ice for even a moment, I risked missing any number of plays and even goals.
The Blackhawks came out sluggishly against a slightly revamped Stars team. In the offseason, the Stars acquired Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky from Ottawa, although the team already sported a phenomenal first two lines spearheaded by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The Stars thoroughly outplayed the Blackhawks in possession time and scoring chances. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford had easily one of the best games of his career. The turnovers in Chicago’s own zone and sloppy forecheck play led to numerous chances for Dallas to succeed. The Stars were even gifted three breakaways and came away with nothing as Crawford came up with save after heart-stopping save.
The Blackhawks broke early on in the second period, though, with a power play marker from defensemen Duncan Keith, who scorched a bullet past the Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen from the right circle. The crowd, a fourth of which was Blackhawk fans, let out a resounding cheer and sang the team’s celebratory tune, “Chelsea Dagger.” At that point, the scoring chances were still in favor of the Stars. It was only a matter of time before Dallas answered. And answer they did, as the Blackhawks put themselves into a 5-3 disadvantage by committing two penalties. On the first possession with their power play squad on the ice, the Stars scored the tying goal off the very impressive stick of defenseman Trevor Daley. He had snuck in about eight feet from the crease and fired home a pass from the opposite side. Crawford was left almost helpless. The crowd went absolutely berserk, screaming “Dallas!” Guitar riffs ripped through the stadium. Then, they chanted “Stars!” followed by more riffs. I admitted to my friend that, although there is no better venue for hockey than Chicago, the crowd really rocked the place.
Shortly thereafter, the Stars scored again! The house was vibrating with the lights going off, and the speaker system reached optimum levels. All I could do was sit calmly while the Stars fans jokingly heckled me in my Blackhawks jersey. The casual fan might have thought the Blackhawks just did not have enough push to get anything going offensively. However, the Blackhawks are not the average team, as many know. They fight back from any deficit and somehow, someway, they manage to squeak out ties and wins.
As if the Blackhawks knew what I was going to be writing a few days later, Patrick Sharp delivered. Positioned at almost the same spot as Keith was for the first Chicago goal, Sharp fired from the right circle and beat Lehtonen to his glove side, above his pads. The crowd went ghostly quiet, aside from the oh-so-loud Chicago fans. From that point on, there was an obvious anxious and tense aura that filled the arena. The crowd stirred every time the Stars entered the offensive zone and quieted when the Blackhawks threatened. The game came to a tie and went into overtime. Still nothing. Then came the shootout.
Crawford stood tall for all three shots Dallas challenged him with. Lehtonen answered by stopping two Chicago attempts. The Blackhawks finally countered with one of the best, Patrick Kane. He would not be denied as he sent a backhand shot past Lehtonen: game over. Both teams received points. The Stars fans were stunned; their home opener was spoiled. It was a well-balanced contest nonetheless. The season is young, but it has begun with a flurry.