Even in the age of satellite TV and “87 channels and nothing on,” it was still possible in 1997 to have what traditionalists (or old fogeys) call “a pure sports experience” with nothing but a radio and an empty room. Well, empty save the radio, several lightboards, and me.
I was working second shift at a prepress company in Arlington, which meant I couldn’t go to many Stars games during the week. Which meant that the relatively-new broadcast duo of Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh were my companions while I tried to suss out people’s font issues, screwed-up layouts, and kerning problems.
The 1996-97 Stars were really starting to click. Andy Moog was a solid backstop, Mike Modano was showing flashes of greatness, and Derian Hatcher was everything you wanted a team Captain to be. We had just added Sergei Zubov and Darryl Sydor, both defensive beasts. The team had racked up a great season, and won their first division title in over ten years. No reason to think we wouldn’t have a long playoff run… until we drew Edmonton in the first round.
What followed were seven games of playoff hockey that were as thrilling as anything I had seen as a fan. The last playoff series I remember being that vested in was when I was living in St. Louis, cheering for the Blues against the Maple Leafs in the 1994 Western Conference Semis. That was a goaliefest as well, with Curtis Joseph and Felix Potvin in opposing pipes.
With the Stars / Oilers, I would be rooting against CuJo this time. And I knew what the man was capable of: standing on his head with the best of ’em.
By the time the two teams had forced a Game 7 in the Western Conference Quarters, we had two overtime games already, with Game 5 at Reunion going to double OT. That’s why Game 7 winding up with a 3-3 tie didn’t surprise me one bit, and you could hear Ralphie almost giggle as the horn blew, and he went to break with “Well, folks, here we go again.”
In the end, that first overtime was enough. Grant Ledyard tripped on a bad patch of Reunion ice (not an uncommon occurrence, especially in late April) which allowed Todd Marchant (hard to not type “That Bastard Todd Marchant” – oh, I guess I just did) to break open and sneak one past Moog. I sat there, stunned.
I think it jolted the fans in the barn as well. Stunned silence doesn’t always come across on a radio broadcast, but there was almost no sound behind Ralph and Razor for a few moments as they gamely broke down the defensive breakdown.
Obviously, there would be better days as a Stars fan coming. You’ll see a lot of those in this column, I’d wager. But that loss, in some weird way, is the most memorable game for me. That was when I realized I was on the bandwagon to stay. A Fanatic. It’s easy to be a fan and wear the sweater when you have a load of Stanley Cups under your belt. The bigger measure is when you start to sniff success and have it whisked away from you.
That should be when you want it more.