Archive for Matt Day

9 Ways I Choose to Remeber Number 9

by Matt Day
Mike and me

They say that when Wayne Gretzky moved to LA, that he brought hockey to the SouthWest. He may have planted the seed, but it was Mike Modano and maybe a small few like him that made those seeds grow and take root in these so called “non traditional” hockey markets.He spent 21 years in the NHL, 3 times he skated for team USA in the Olympics, he has won a World Cup of hockey and also the Stanley Cup. He ended his career as the highest scoring US born hockey player of all time and one of the greatest all time players in the game.
We can rattle of stats of Modano all night, but his contributions go beyond the numbers. That’s why I’d like to list the 9 things I’ll remember about Modano, in no particular order.

  1. I remember a young kid with the weight of a franchise  on his shoulders and he was placed in an unproven market. He became the Dallas Stars and the face of hockey in Texas and beyond.
  2. I remember his first season here and a head on collision with Mark Messier’s shoulder. We were afraid for his safety as they carried him off on a stretcher. Moments later I remember the horror of watching the paramedics drop Modano in his stretcher face first. You can’t keep a good man down.
  3. I remember the goals and points Modano sacrificed as a team player. Bob Gainey struggled to get Modano to buy into his defense first system. The result was Modano becoming one of the best two way players in the history of the game.
  4. I remember the brilliant look of Modano skating. The way his jersey blew in the breeze as he skated past defenders made the most skillful and difficult moves look easy.
  5. I remember his ability to become one with his line mates. Whether it was Ulf Dalen or Jere Lehtinen it seemed he had the natural ability to read their minds and get them the puck without even looking.
  6. I remember seeing Modano out stick handle 4 Ducks players one handed as he held up his hockey shorts with his other hand.
  7. I remember how he answered his critics who called him soft as he battled major injuries to his wrist and shoulder on his way to winning the Stanley Cup. It was his team and watching him skate the Cup will be a memory I’ll always cherish.
  8. I will remember how much he cared. As his career began winding down and he achieved milestone after milestone he continued to be overcome with emotion. His trail of tears ending in one of the most emotional and fitting season ending games. His and Jere’s last as a Star ended in their two shootout goals winning the game for Dallas.
  9. I remember his final words at his US Hockey Hall of Fame speech. I was fortunate enough to be there as he discussed his time in Dallas. He stated that at the beginning he felt it was one of the worst decisions the franchise could have made. After reflecting on his time here however he said this, “What I’m most proud of is being a part of the group that brought hockey to Texas.”

 

As Dallas Stars fan from the beginning and a season ticket holder for eighteen years I have had the privilege of watching him grow and achieve greatness. Thank you, for what you have done not only for the team, but what you have done for hockey in Dallas, in Texas, in the United States, and far beyond the Stars.

Miracle on Ice

by Matt Day

The year was 1980 America had just launched the last of its deep space probes. Oh wait, sorry I think that was from Buck Rogers.

It was 1980, we were in the middle of the gas crisis, disco was dying if not already dead, and the cold war raged on. However, none of this was any concern to a 6 year old boy growing up in Garland, TX. My only worries at the time were my sports teams and not missing my favorite TV shows. My favorite sport depended on the time of year. It was all about my Cowboys or Rangers with the Mavericks soon to join my world months later. The seeds for what would become my true favorite sport were just about to be planted.

You’ve read the stories and watched the movies about the 1980 Olympics. You may have read about the political and emotional impact surrounding the ‘Miracle on Ice’ game. This is the story though, of how all of these factors introduced a young boy to the ‘Coolest Game on Earth.’

To prepare the children for some of the events we would see at the Olympics our gym teachers at Watson Elementary would teach us about them. However, there isn’t much you can show children about the winter games when you live in Texas. This meant we played a lot of sock hockey. I was good at it. It came so natural to me that one day after cutting my finger at home I got a note to excuse me from gym class. When I realized we were playing hockey the note mysteriously disappeared.

One day my kindergarten teacher gave us a homework assignment. It was the 1st homework assignment I had ever received and also the best ever. The Olympics were on late and so she asked us to get our parents permission, if possible, to stay up and watch the hockey game that night. She said it was a very important event and she didn’t want us to miss it. I was excited, but also really didn’t believe my parents would allow it. I told my teacher that my parents wouldn’t let me stay up for Monday Night Football so I didn’t think I would get to watch the hockey game either. My teacher then wrote me a note to give to my parents. I wish so bad that I still had that note.

My parents gave me permission under the condition that I took a long nap before the game and that I watched quietly so that I wouldn’t wake anyone in the house, especially my baby sister. I was able to accomplish one of those.

My parents woke me up, set me on the couch and reminded me of the rules, which included going to bed as soon as it was over. I was so excited. It was my 1st time staying up by myself. The hockey game was a secondary thrill until the drop of the puck. I was immediately drawn to the speed of the game. I didn’t understand all of the rules, but the point of the game was obvious. The speed, grace, and hard hitting action were enough to make a young and impressionable little boy fall for the sport, but then when you add the drama that went with that particular game then you realized I had no chance. It was the 1st time I felt the electricity of the crowd and the importance of the moment. I got so caught up in the game that before I realized it I was chanting U-S-A! U-S-A!

Unfortunately Dad realized it first. He came in and gave me my first warning. Dad came in to check on me twice more that night. The second time I had to explain that the game wasn’t over it was the second halftime break, thingy. Just think how hard it is to explain 3 periods and 2 intermissions as an adult I was only 6 and didn’t fully understand it either. The final warning was worth getting in trouble for and it was only by the time on the clock and by the mercy of my father that I was able to watch the last portion of the game. When Mike Eruzione scored to give the US the lead with 10 minutes left I couldn’t stay quiet. The rest of the game was the most intense in sports that I can remember. I was on the edge of my seat the last 3 minutes. U-S-A! U-S-A! I cheered at full whisper until I joined with the crowd in the final count down and Al Michaels finished us off with his classic call, “Do you believe in miracles?!”

Miracle

That was a moment I can not forget. It was so vivid that I can still describe my experience as a 6 year old to this day. The hard part came for my teacher the next morning. She had to explain to me that we lived in Texas and I would virtually have to wait four more years to see my next game after the gold medal game the next day. That game I did not get permission to watch, but it did not matter the damage was done. I was hooked on hockey.

Hockey Fights Cancer – This Time Its Personal

by Matt Day
Better than a surgical mask

“Welcome to the American Airlines Center” That is what I read as my backside laid at center ice and I stared at the arena ceiling, with thousands of people laughing at me and my Ice Girl crush in the corner of my eye looking disappointed as she said “Oh, Matt!” I had made a pretty poor attempt at musical chairs during an intermission of a preseason game in 2010. What no one else realized is that I was having trouble even standing and walking at that point. That moment was my rock bottom. I could no longer deny that there was something seriously wrong with me. I was weak and as I got up from the ice I noticed that my skin was the same color as the ice. I finally stopped making excuses and went to the doctor. The next day the doctor sent me to the emergency room and a few days following that, I was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. As we began “Hockey Fights Cancer” month my battle had already started.

I could tell my oncologist was nervous when he sat us down to tell us the news and a little shocked at my reaction. I found it a relief that they knew what the problem was. I knew it was going to be a long and difficult road but I relied on a philosophy I learned from my grandfather. There is a path laid before you and you must take that path. You can’t take it kicking, screaming, whining, and complaining or you can lift your head up and take it like a man. No one will fault you either way, but really how do you want to be remembered? That attitude my faith, family,  and friends helped more than you can imagine. This is the story of my Stars family and how they supported me during this most trying time.

I was too weak and my blood volume was too low for surgery. To build me up I was given one liter of an iron solution every day for two weeks. I got the nickname of Ironman around the clinic. The time came for surgery and my surgeon wanted to have it as soon as I could. He scheduled me for October 14, 2010. I saw that it was the day of the Stars home opener and the return of Mike Modano as a Redwing. I told my doctor if he truly wanted me to be in good spirits for the surgery he would postpone the surgery and allow me to make that game. He agreed and so I made plans to go to what I thought could be my last game.

The Stars started their season on the road which meant my first opportunity to speak to members of my Stars family in person would be at a watching party. I learned that if I told my friends and family in person and I stayed calm that it went over much better.  I did that for all but one group of friends that night. Word spread around the restaurant and had reached the Ice Girls. I knew we got a long but I didn’t realized how close I was to that special group of ladies until that night. I’m still sorry for making it so difficult for their director to keep a smile on their face all night. That night, the encouragement, and support they have given me ever since is why I will always look out for them.

It was time for the opener and the Stars Fanatics had a pregame tailgate party. It was there that I received the greatest hockey gift ever. The group had gone to practices and had the Stars team autograph an inflatable butt cushion. I deeply cherish that gift even today. That game was one of the best and most memorable games I’ve been too in my 18 plus years as a season ticket holder.

Matt's Team Signed Cushion

Matt’s Team Signed Cushion

At first it was thought that I would only need to have surgery to have a golf ball sized tumor removed. After opening me up they realized it was a puck sized tumor, I lost a third of my colon and I would need chemotherapy. I received several visits from coworkers, friends, and family including my Stars family, but I always seemed to get an encouraging message just at the right time from. The night before having my medical port put in I was feeling really down and couldn’t sleep. I looked at my phone and I had a Facebook message from Celena Rae who had just learned of my struggles. It was a long, touching letter that cheered me up to the point I could sleep. The same thing happened the night before I was to start chemotherapy but this time it was from my favorite Ice Girl who also had just found out. She told me the encouraging story of her friend who had gone through the same thing. It seemed as if I was receiving the encouragement I needed just when I needed it. It came from many sources but in this case from my Stars family.

The support I received on game days was overwhelming. It started with my favorite bartender and my pregame restaurant that wouldn’t serve me a beer without a doctor’s note. Then there was the pregame hugs and kind words I was given when making my rounds. A friend would also sneak homemade cookies into the arena for me. However, the greatest lasting encouragement came from another source.

Part of my chemotherapy required me taking a pump home or my “poison to go box” as I called it. There would be nights were I would have to carry this to the games and watching parties with me. To be safe I would need to wear a surgical mask when in public to protect my weak immune system. Walking through a dollar store looking for masks I noticed a little girl with a cast that was signed by her friends. I also noticed a different kind of mask on the shelf. I bought a Jason style goalie mask and decided I would rather be known as the crazy guy at games than the sick one. I brought a marker so that my friends could sign it and I could hang it up on the wall for the times I was sick, home alone, and feeling down. The masks caught on and before too long I had a wall full of masks some of which were decorated for me. It was such a touching gesture.

I am now three years cancer free and couldn’t be more appreciative of the Stars organization and what they have meant to me. From my fellow fans, my Ice Girl sisters, players, and those in the front office I consider them all my family. When you see me dress up, greet and entertain fans it is just my way of giving back to an organization that has done so much.

I love you all! Go Stars!!!

Wearing and Retiring Number 25

by Matt Day
Matt Day in #25

My cousin and I began discussing ramping up our attendance at Stars games. More games meant the need to expand my Stars wardrobe. I only had a blank white home jersey and was looking at buying a road black. The black jerseys did not look as good blank, as the white so the question came up of who would I get put on mine. I had already seen a few friends of mine get burned by trades just after having purchased that players jersey. I decided to have my name put on it. After all the Stars couldn’t trade me. I picked the number 25 because it was my favorite number that wasn’t taken. I ordered it by mail through a holiday promotion the Stars were having. It was due to arrive in the middle of December.

December 15, 1995 a package was dropped off at my neighbor’s house. I raced over and verified it was indeed my new game day sweater. I was so excited and could not wait to wear it to Reunion Arena. December 19, 1995 the Stars acquired Joe Nieuwendyk from the Calgary Flames. My cousin Bryan was the first to call me and give me the news. I said, “Don’t tell me.”, He said, “Yep.”  My cousin and I have that ability to have full conversations in a handful of words. In that one word I knew Joe had taken my number. I laughed, moved on, and thought that the story would end there.

The next season was our first as season ticket holders and we decided to try going to a few of the events they held during the season. The first was Skate with the Stars, which was a chance to meet the players and get a few autographs. As we approached Nieuwendyk’s table he noticed my jersey and asked, “You know that’s my number, right?” I was a shy guy and normally would have just jokingly apologized and moved on. For some reason this time I did not back down. I looked Joe in the eye and replied, “It’s my number, I had it first. I’ll give it to you they day you win the Cup with the Stars. Then I will retire this jersey and never wear it again.”

June 19-20, 1999 Joe Nieuwendyk and the Stars live up their end of the bargain by defeating the Buffalo Sabres in the third overtime of game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. Adding an exclamation point to our deal, Joe Nieuwendyk took the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs most valuable player. After celebrating the Cup victory I honored my end and removed my jersey for the last time. It has since been framed and hung on my wall.

Stars Game 1 – A New Hope

by Matt Day
Opening Night at American Airlines Center

Over forty nights a year are spent together with thousands of the same people, with the same hopes and dreams as you on the roller coaster ride we call a hockey season. All that time spent experiencing the same intense emotions, you begin to bond with other fans, the atmosphere, and even the team itself. You never want that feeling to end, you want it to last as long as possible but one day you hear the final whistle and it’s over.

We are left with an empty void for months. That whole time we try to recreate the experience with no success. We try to figure out what went wrong and who should be cut or fired. We think about the good in the team and what we can build on. We might follow the draft, free agent signings, and trades. We listen to other fan or writer opinions while we form our own. We watch preseason hoping we see something positive in the team, but even that doesn’t satisfy our need to fill the void left at the last season’s end. This whole offseason has been building up to one moment. This is the moment when months of speculation start to become reality. New general managers, coaches, and player changes finally start taking shape.

This is game one, this is opening night and there is always something special in the air. Is it the smell of the ice, because it has never smelt fresher? Could it be the scent of vulcanized rubber or the sound of the pucks as they hit the glass? Those are great things but I speak of a feeling shared by thousands of fans that attend the opener. It is the feeling of hope. Every team starts the same and there is a hope that this time will be special. Perhaps this is our year you never know.

I never miss an opener because the experience is one of the best you will get this side of the playoffs. I have been to every home opener since 1996. I’ve missed important meetings, business trips and more. In fact the importance of this game to me was clearly shown in 2010. After being diagnosed with colon cancer my doctor scheduled surgery for me to have a puck sized tumor removed. He told me the date and I said, “No! That’s the day of the Stars home opener I will not miss it. What’s the next possible date and can you get me well enough to make the game?” I made the game and have been cancer free ever since. The point of that story is that the home opener has come to symbolize even more to me.

It’s a celebration of new hopes and beginnings for the team and for me personally. That’s why you might see me going the extra mile in my crazy outfits or my efforts to greet the fans and get the crowd into the game. If it’s a new beginning then we want to get it started right. Fans can motivate teams, a motivated team gains momentum, momentum can win games and create winning streaks. So what are we waiting for? Let’s Go Stars!!!

My opening night costume, alongside the Dallas Stars Ice Girls

My opening night costume, alongside the Dallas Stars Ice Girls.

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