Tag Archive for traditions

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!!!

Hey, you’ve got a monkey on your back!

by Matt Day

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It all began at the last game of the 2009-2010 season. It was depressing to know we were going to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. Talking to friends in the corridor before the game I was reminded that today was the last day to use our gift cards. As a season ticket gift we were given $100 gift cards to use for concessions or merchandise but we had to use it before the end of the season. I had forgotten so in a panic I ran to the gift shop to use up the last of the money on the card. There was little options to what I could afford and not use my own money. I ended up with a Stars pillow and a stuffed Stars monkey.

I always come up with a crazy bit to help make the hockey experience fun not only for me but the people around me. Unfortunately the past couple of years the play on the ice was not always easy to watch. As the 2010 season approached I had decided to put that stuffed monkey to use. The Stars had a “monkey on their back” having missed two playoffs in a row. As a reminder I had decided to wear the monkey for every home game following a loss. It was supposed to be a reminder that every point counts and we can’t be giving them away early.

Late in the season the Stars were on a roll. They were in first place in the Pacific division and second in the West. They were the hottest team in the NHL heading into the Olympic break so people began to criticize me for wearing the monkey. We were at a watching party when someone told me it was a lack of faith on my part to wear the monkey after losses. I then declared that I was so confident in the Stars that I would wear this monkey on my back for every Stars event I attended until we made the playoffs. A few minutes later a camera crew from Fox Sports South West came up to me and asked if they could interview me about the Stars and the monkey. With the previous conversation on my mind, I again declared my intention, but this time on camera and it was broadcast to all my hockey family. I also added that I was symbolically taking the playoff monkey off the Stars backs and putting him on mine. What harm could there be in this anyway? The Stars are killing the league and there aren’t that many games left.

The last day of the season had arrived. Injuries to key players had created a total collapse for the Stars. Still after having lost several games in a row there was a slim chance they could make it. It hurt but, we needed Detroit to beat Chicago in regulation. Detroit had nothing to play for and could have easily mailed it in to rest players. Like true sportsmen they did not and they defeated Chicago just as we needed. The Stars only needed a win against Minnesota who they had beaten three games in a row. However, the Wild didn’t mail it in either and handed the Stars a season ending loss. The first message I received was from my ticket rep. He wanted me to know how sorry he was that I had to wear the monkey for another year. We missed the playoffs by one point and so the monkey lives on and on and on!

Months in to the second year of the monkey I began to get tired of telling little children that they could not have my monkey. I had a drunk woman try rip it off my neck run off with it. I’ve even had people try to buy it from me. That is when one day I saw them at a dollar store. I decide to buy these stuffed monkeys to keep people from my monkey. I’ve also learned that giving a gift that makes a child’s day is worth far more than the dollar I spent on the monkey.

Many tell me how cute and how great the monkey is. When I tell them I can’t wait for the day that he is gone then they get confused. I’ve been asked if I don’t like wearing him, why don’t I just stop. They also think it is superstition that drives me to continue to wear him. They say it’s been so long maybe he’s bad luck and so I should stop. Why then do I continue even if it goes on another year? It’s simply that I gave my word. I do my best when at all possible to keep it. I’m not always successful but I try even in small things. Don’t get me wrong I don’t hate the monkey or the fun I have with him. I’ve actually grown attached to the little thing. I just hate what he represents. Playoff hockey is the greatest thing to me in sports and every day I wear that monkey is another day away from greatness. When that day does arrive I ask that you celebrate with me as I have that monkey removed and we return to the playoffs.

The 1998 Playoffs – Conference Quarter-finals

by Matt Day
This is Part 1 of a three part series about the 1998 Playoffs and “The Best Game I Ever Missed”. Watch for Parts 2 to come on April 9th and 12th, 2013.

 

1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs - Photo Credit SportsLogos.net

1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Photo Credit SportsLogos.net

After finishing second in points in 1997 the Stars were upset in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers. Determined not to let this happen again the Stars made big news signing free agent Ed Belfour in the offseason. Struggling early in the season with his new defense Belfour finally got into the groove and lead the team to its first President’s trophy and the team’s best record ever, to that point. The playoffs were here again and first on his plate was Eddie’s last team, the San Jose Sharks.

The San Jose Sharks went all out at the trade deadline in 1997 to get Belfour from the Blackhawks in hopes they could work out a deal to resign him. It did not work out and this was their chance for payback with their new goaltender and playoff MVP from last season, Mike Vernon. The payback however did not involve the men between the pipes.

The last season had taught me that with all the excitement that went with playoff hockey also came moments of extreme bitterness. The previous year was my first as a season ticket holder and being upset in the first round had taught me such bitterness. I was 0-4 in playoff games because all four losses in that series were at home. I was eager to end that streak and to taste playoff victory for the first time.

I did not take long for this series to get ugly. Bryan Marchment of the Sharks, who was known for his cheap shots on the other teams key players went to work and may have prevented the Stars from skating the Cup a year early. Marchment took out Joe Nieuwendyk’s right knee and forcing him out of the game. This was only game one of the playoffs and even though the Stars dominated the game in a 4-1 win the victory was bitter-sweet. All my thoughts were on if and when Joe could return. Nieuwendyk was the Stars leading scorer for the season and a huge loss for the team.  Our worries were confirmed when we learned that he had suffered a torn ACL and would be out for the season. The Stars went on to dominate game two as well and you couldn’t help but think this series was over. Someone forgot to inform the Sharks of that though as they took the next two in San Jose to tie the series.

Game five in Dallas again was a nail bitter as the Stars escaped a close one with a 3-2 win. I was living and dying with every shift. Every goal for or against was leaving me on emotional highs or lows. Game six was in San Jose and we really needed to end it there because I was not ready for another game seven. It was another close one and when San Jose forced overtime I could only think, “Oh no, here we go again!” I would have been devastated had the Sharks scored and sent us to another game 7 in Dallas. Another chance to watch my team exit early in round one again would have been too much to bear. Trade deadline acquisition Mike Keane eliminated my fears and the Sharks with his overtime game winner. Injuries to Nieuwendyk and Jere Lehtinen crippled the Stars, but it did not keep them from winning the series in 6.

The Sharks provided a few firsts for me in hockey. My first ever Stars game I went to was a victory against the Sharks in 1995. My first playoff win and series win as a season ticket holder came this series as well as one more first. A tradition was born that series. To celebrate the playoffs my cousin and I wanted to try something different. We noticed a booth outside Reunion Arena that offered free face painting and so both of us had our faces painted all three games of the series. It was fun and we didn’t really think anything of it until a fellow season ticket holder informed us of an interesting coincidence. Having already painted up our superstitious friend had thanked us and pointed out that our personal records were 0-4 without face paint and the Stars were 3-0 when we dawned the war paint. Round one was tough but over it was now time for some revenge in round two.

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