Football is the sport most associated with Thanksgiving. It’s an easy connection to make since Detroit and Dallas have hosted NFL games on the holiday for several decades. In the Lone Star State, Thanksgiving night used to mean the blood-feud matchup between Texas and Texas A&M, until certain geniuses, who shall remain nameless, screwed that all up.
For me, the fourth Thursday in November has meant hockey. While working in the minors, the day usually meant a team meal on the road in places as diverse as Jacksonville, Florida or Johnstown, Pennsylvania. During the heyday of the Louisiana IceGators, Thanksgiving Night meant sellout crowds of more than 11,000 who couldn’t wait to watch hockey after a day of feasting.
These days, Thanksgiving hockey revolves around reconnecting with old friends and skating in a morning tournament. Hard to believe, but some of us have skated together for nearly four decades, starting back in the days when Prestonwood Mall was the only place in the entire Metroplex where hockey was played. Despite the time away from each other, it takes about 15 seconds to drop formalities and let the chirping begin. No joke is out of bounds and no nickname too offensive. (While undergoing cancer treatment, my teammates called me Chemosabe for a year). Douce, Smoke, BJ and Stewy are all present. I’m sure if we thought hard enough proper first names could be remembered, but that would take too much work.
The games are much slower than they used to be. The brain still tells the body what to do…the body just doesn’t respond as well. Over the years, life has taken its shots at all of us, yet we are still here skating, shooting, and pretending to be as good as we used to be. In some cases, the best players on the ice are the kids who once ran around the rinks with mini-sticks while their dads tried to keep their glory days alive.
It’s called “Beer League” hockey for a reason. Even though the tournament is over well before noon, some traditions live on. Over a few adult beverages, we catch up on families, careers and lives. A few barbs are thrown over relationships past and questions asked about people who used to play but haven’t been seen in a while. Luckily, most of the updates are positive as we have lost a few of the boys, but not too many. All too soon it’s time to go home and get ready for the family dinner. The days of hanging around the parking lot until all the beer is gone ended long ago. Hopefully, everyone will be back next year, but as time goes on you become more aware there are no guarantees all the same faces will return in 2023.
Driving home, it’s hard not to be philosophical. I will always be most thankful for my family, their health and happiness. When I look at the people I am closest to aside from my wife and kids, the common thread is hockey. Whether it is people I met during my time working the minors, friends I played with (and against) over the years, or folks I have encountered during my 13 years with the Stars, these are the relationships I cherish the most. Technology has allowed me to stay in touch with hockey friends in Canada, the United States and across Europe. No reintroductions are necessary. Both parties know how and where we met, the people you have in common and the good times that were had. Family comes first, but extended hockey family is second. The faces and hairlines may change with time, but the bonds to each other continue. When looking back on all the reasons to be grateful, the sport of hockey will always be high on my list now and forever.
And now for some Random Thoughts:
- The Stars players from Finland have created their own pool for the World Cup. The selections are:
Joel Kiviranta- Germany
No word on what the winner will receive, but bragging rights between the fellow countrymen will be biggest prize of all.
- Defenseman Nils Lunkvist, like most Europeans, is a big soccer fan, but did not enter the pool. “You know the Finnish Mafia. They don’t let outsiders in,” said Lundkvist with a smile.
- Stars reached the 3/4 pole (quarter of the season played) on Friday vs. Winnipeg. Head Coach Pete DeBoer has engineered the 2nd best beginning to a season in nearly two decades, (12-5-4) second only to the 2015-16 squad. The fast start was achieved despite playing 11 of their first 17 games on the road. There are still improvements to be made and a long season ahead, but Stars nation should be thrilled at what has transpired thus far.
- Dallas has the fifth rated power play in the NHL this season. Part of the reason for this success is the Stars increased proficiency in offensive zone entries. Miro Heiskanen’s decision-making abilities are a big reason why. “If the first forward tries to take the pass away, I’ll keep it. If he steps up, then I make the pass. I have to read the first man and decide,” explains the Finnish superstar.
- My wife made our entire Thanksgiving meal by herself. I think I’ll keep her.
- As discussed here last week, Jason Robertson will make a run at becoming the first Dallas Stars player to reach the 100-point mark in a season. His record setting point streak gets headlines, but Pete DeBoer is even more impressed with how Robo goes about the business of scoring. “His production is amazing to me because he doesn’t have the puck a lot, he doesn’t jump off the sheet if you’re a fan in the stands, carrying it end to end with a dynamic skating ability or a dynamic one-on-one ability. It's just production—sheer production. But at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing,” said the Stars Head Coach.
- Ty Dellandrea’s pregame skate, tip-drill lessons from Joe Pavelski, have been paying off. His tying goal against Chicago was on a redirection, one he might not have been able to perform a month ago. The rookie is quick to give credit to his mentor. “He’s the best in the game and maybe the best ever to do it. To be able to work with Pavs and use him as a resource is amazing and you have to take advantage of it.”
- As Jason Robertson’s point streak garnered headlines, we are reminded that franchise history is broken down into two categories: Dallas Stars history and the pre-1993 Minnesota North Stars history. If all those records and the names associated with them still belong in one entire franchise record books for Dallas, why do the Minnesota Wild wear North Stars colors for their retro look? If Brian Bellows and Neal Broten are still etched in the overall team record books, shouldn’t that entire portion of NHL history, including colors, belong to the Stars as well?
- Finally, now that Santa Claus has come down 5th Avenue, ending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Holiday Season is officially here. Please proceed with the festivities and have a great December, no matter what holidays you choose to celebrate.