GDB LXXVII: DOWN DAYS IN THE BIG D

Aside from buying fake Rolex watches in Time Square or strolling along the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, there was a time not so long ago when a trip to Texas was the most anticipated NHL stop for this member of the travelling circus that is the Edmonton Oilers.

The Dallas Stars were good — good enough to win a Stanley Cup under Ken Hitchcock in 1999. The Oilers were good — good enough, barely, to sneak into the playoffs year after year and somehow give Hitch and his team enough hell to keep it interesting, despite being overmatched. Like when Todd Marchant danced past Grant Ledyard and…

Reunion Arena was always packed, even if it smelled like garbage with those big Smithrite bins cooking in the sun near the big doors by the visitors dressing room. The stands were full of Texas dames with big hair and store-bought boobs, big-money oil guys and kids in Mike Modano jerseys. The ice was easily the worst in the NHL, more often the texture of a Slurpee than something fit to play hockey on.

The night life, especially in the area known as Dallas Alley, was ridiculous. There was no shortage of places to go and have a beer or 10 to wash down a Texas T-bone big enough to feed a family of four. Short-sleeved shirts in January. You could walk down to Dealey Plaza near the Texas Book Depository and stand on the exact spot where John Kennedy took a bullet — as we sometimes did on the stagger back from The Bone or the alley to the Reunion Hyatt.

And, of course, given all the time we spent in the Lone Star State between regular season games and playoff series for the better part of a decade, Big D was a second home. The waitresses in the hotel restaurant knew the players, coaches and reporters by name. No lie.

These days, like today when the 30th-place Oilers face the also-ran Stars at the hideous Americans Airlines Center, not so much. The rink doesn’t stink anymore, but the teams do.

Down days in Bid D, to be sure.

MEMORY LANE

If I told you today’s game holds a lot of intrigue for me, I’d be lying. I’m not concerned in the least with which line Charles Linglet makes his NHL debut on. I’m not stirred by whether Ethan Moreau and Patrick O’Sullivan are healthy scratches, although they should be. I haven’t looked up the line combinations for either team. Statistics and streaks? Not here. Not today.

I’m happy sitting at home with my wife and sons Sam and Michael contemplating yard work instead of dissecting what the Oilers and Stars have turned into since a trip to Dallas was a helluva lot of fun and what happened on the ice mattered. So, some snippets from better days…

  • The Hyatt Reunion was NEVER not under construction. They just kept adding gaudy glass towers to it without ever tearing down the original crappy part. The lobby bar was always hopping. Store-bought cans every where. It was an automatic two-hour detour right before the elevators and one that made for fun at deadline more than once.
  • I always marvelled at how Modano could be the best skater in the NHL while doing it on the worst ice you’ve ever seen. The only thing nearly as remarkable was his prowess with the ladies, in his days as a single man, of course. Modano was legend.
  • It’s morbid, but you can still buy replica editions of the Dallas Morning News documenting Kennedy’s assassination in Dealey Plaza. Street guys wearing sandwich board ads sell them. I bought one in 1998.
  • I laughed out loud when I saw tough guy Garret Burnett rolling like big leaguer in a Hummer dressed in 26-inch DUBS at the AAC. Burnett never did play a game for the Stars — he saw action in 10 games with the AHL Iowa Stars in 2005-06 and was in Dallas to rehab an injury this day, I think, — but he sure rolled like a millionaire.
  • As an aside, the parking lot for Dallas players was a Fantasy Garage and the epitome of excess over the years. Big American iron on big shoes — the obligatory tricked out Escalades, Hummers etc etc. Then, there was Billy Guerin’s sweet Mercedes. Thank-you, Mr. Hicks, and Jason Arnott’s chopper, painted in team colours.

ROAD SHOW

  • Dallas TV guys Darryl Reaugh and Ralph Strangis are one of the best tandems on TV, but they barely speak to each other when the cameras aren’t on. Word is, they don’t get along. Total pros.
  • In our first trip into the AAC, one of the guys in charge of making the ice told me it was every bit as bad as at old Reunion. It cost, what, $300 million to build the new joint and they still couldn’t get it right?
  • If you wanted meat in your mouth, Bob’s Steakhouse was and is the place to go. You can get a 48-ounce porterhouse there. Jim Matheson, Rod Phillips and I once sat beside Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson and watched him tackle a chunk of beef bigger than Mike Ribeiro.
  • The sound booth at Reunion Arena was where everybody who smoked gathered between periods. It was no bigger than 10-by-20, but you’d have 30 people in there sucking cancer sticks between periods instead of making the trek outside. Cops, ushers, reporters, scouts, you name it. You’d come out of there stinking like hell.
  • Dallas GM Doug Armstrong had his own cheat area for smoking in a stairwell beside his box on the press level in the new AAC. It was handy as for us addicted souls until some do-gooder playing hall monitor f*cked it up for everybody by tattling. The fire department installed a smoke detector in the cheat area. After that, even Armstrong had to schlep to the parking lot for a face rocket.
  • Before one game at Reunion, it was 1999, I think, I was having a butt with the guys who run the sound in the booth and they asked me if there was a tune I wanted to hear. I said, "What the hell, give me some Crazy Train." They boys tossed it on as the Oilers came out for the pre-game warm-up. After that, those guys spun Crazy Train every time the Oilers took the ice for warm-up for about eight years, even after the Stars moved to the new rink. True story.
  • There’s lots more of course, but, well, not today…

THE VITALS

As for today’s game, OK fine, some items scalped from the game notes.

  • The Stars have at least one point in every game this year (1-0-2), and have not lost at home to the Oilers in regulation time in six games (Dec. 8, 2006).
  • Dallas has a 20-3-2 record on home ice against Edmonton since 1996-97.
  • The Stars are winless at home this season against the Oilers, and have not gone a full season without one win since 1992-93.
  • Brenden Morrow leads the Stars in points this season against Edmonton, with two goals and two assists in two games. He has 12 goals and 16 assists in 30 career games against the Oilers.
  • James Neal has three goals in three outings against the Oilers, including the game-winner in the last meeting on Jan. 22. Neal has 4-1-5 in seven career games.
  • Jamie Benn has two goals and three points in three games against Edmonton.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.