Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Philadelphia may be an Eagles town, but they love their Flyers

Traditionally since I started this blog last summer, I've mostly posted news items that have something to do with the National Hockey League and given my take on them, but here I want to write about a personal experience I will always reflect on as a memorable one.

Last week, I received a phone call from my long-time friend Derek and he asked me if I was interested in going to a Philadelphia Flyers game. I'm not talking about in one of three possible venues in the New York City metropolitan area. It was in Philadelphia. Unless you have a scheduling conflict, as a hardcore hockey fan, you can't turn such an opportunity down.

After receiving a text message last Friday that the extra ticket fell through, I was really bummed out. This is coming from a fan of my hometown team in the New York Rangers, mind you. It might not be as surprising had this come from my Minnesota Wild or Phoenix Coyotes fan perspective. But fortunately, Derek called again the next afternoon and said the offer was back on the table. I gladly accepted after my family didn't mind that I not go to my grandparents' place for Easter dinner. I can do that any year. Going to a Philadelphia Flyers home game on Easter Sunday I could not.

With the arrival of Easter Sunday, I hit the road around 1:15 PM under beautiful sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s across New York City's nearby northern suburbs. Surprisingly, there were not that many motorists on the local highways and driving across the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey was an absolute breeze. You cannot say that very often.

If you have driven on the New Jersey Turnpike between New York City and Philadelphia, you know it's a fairly quick ride compared to most road trips. We are just talking about 85 miles apart here. Just pop in your favorite music compact disc and you'll definitely be in one of the two cities (depending on which direction you're going) by the time it's finished. You could even skip a song or two and you'll still only need just the one CD. My favorite one when I've made this specific trip is Dire Straits' 1991 album On Every Street. While the seventh track "Heavy Fuel" immediately has me think of the music played during the Minnesota North Stars' 1991-1992 home opener player introductions, I enjoy hearing it while driving in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

Just don't get too discouraged if you go 70 to 75 miles per hour on the New Jersey Turnpike and everybody else is completely whizzing by you as if you're driving on a local street somewhere. People on this highway are simply nuts on this road for going so fast.

Because Derek lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, I didn't have to go through Philadelphia itself to reach my destination. He's exactly 115.2 miles from me, but the driving distance is longer since no one can do so in a straight point A to point B line. But my trip wasn't flawless as I had to deal with a 20-minute delay thanks to a nasty accident that occurred on Interstate 476 (known as the Blue Route to the locals) in Conshohocken just north of Interstate 76 (the Schuylkill Expressway).

While on the local roads down there, I had put on Sportsradio 610 WIP and what do I hear being talked about in late March? The Philadelphia Eagles. Can you believe that? The National Football League season has been over for nearly two months and people down there are talking about the Eagles. Hello? Does anybody realize the Flyers are in the fight of their lives in trying to nail down a trip to the postseason? What about the Philadelphia Phillies, a team looking to prove their 2007 National League East division title was no fluke? Nope, it was the Eagles. Just ridiculous. Derek even told me on Monday that this is a regular occurrence.

I finally arrived at his place at 3:40 PM. Now it was time to enjoy my stay in the Philadelphia area as much as possible, even if it was only for 30 hours. After meeting up with Derek's sister Alexandra and two of his other friends Stephanie and Nick a little while later, we then headed to the arena. We entered the city from the south end by driving north on Interstate 95 (the Delaware Expressway) past Philadelphia International Airport and over the Girard Point Bridge. I remember previously crossing over this bridge and seeing the downtown Philadelphia skyline from here back on September 14, 2005 when I went with Derek to a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park.

Stephanie, Nick, myself and Derek outside the
Wachovia Center prior to the Flyers' home game
against the New York Islanders on March 23, 2008.

(photo by Alexandra King)

Thankfully there were no traffic issues, so just a few minutes later, we made it to the Wachovia Center around 5:15 PM and the weather was still perfect. Hardly a cloud in the sky, little if any wind and it wasn't really that cold. I was already thrilled to be there. The Flyers' current home that opened on August 31, 1996 still looks quite new to me and appears to be very well maintained from the outside. The arena is considerably bigger and taller than the Wachovia Spectrum, located just across the parking lot. As we walked to one of the entrances to enter the building, all I could see were so many people in Philadelphia Flyers jerseys. Well, duh! Look where I am! I'm in Philadelphia, of course. It was great to see the fans decked out and so many of them even on Easter Sunday.

Once inside, it was quite crowded and plenty of people patroning the shops and food concession areas. I even spotted Islanders television host and reporter Deb Placey and her camera operator walking past me in the concourse. Not that I'm just your typical male fan here judging some female broadcaster mainly by their appearance, but I must admit she really looks good for someone who is 42 years old. Deb definitely provides some good coverage of the Islanders on and off the ice for MSG+ during each game and it was especially noticeable when the team honored legendary former coach Al Arbour earlier this season.

A few times I'd hear Flyers fans cheering with excitement as you could tell they were ready for this game. But since their opponent wasn't exactly a team that was competing with the Flyers for a coveted playoff spot and weren't even a contender to play in the postseason, it wasn't buzzing or having that atmosphere you'd expect against teams such as the New York Rangers. After stopping by the AT&T Pavilion, a place you can eat, drink and chill out to watch sporting events on some big screen TVs, we finally made our way up to Suite 54 to simply relax, have a bite to eat, have a few drinks and take in the game.

An early evening view seen from outside of Suite 54 of the Wachovia Center shows the downtown Philadelphia skyline behind the Wachovia Spectrum during the Philadelphia Flyers' home game against the New York Islanders
on March 23, 2008.

Let me tell you, even if I watched the game from a regular seat inside the arena, I was in awe when I got to see the Flyers play in person in this venue. It is different seeing them as the visiting team as opposed to actually being in Philadelphia. From where I was located inside the Wachovia Center, it was a must that I just had to take it all in. The arena interior is very pleasing to the eye. I'm not just talking about all the modern state-of-the-art amenities the arena has (especially that huge scoreboard with the HDTV screens), but some of that feel taken from the Spectrum was visible here such as all the Flyers and 76ers banners that hang from the ceiling (or rafters as it is referred to). It does look like an intimidating place to play, that is especially if you're on the visiting team. I know it is minor in people really taking notice of this, but even the plexiglass holders are orange to match the team's primary color. Despite it only being pregame warmups, I enjoyed watching the Flyers players in their home black uniforms trimmed in orange and white frequently pepper both their goaltenders in Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki with some practice shots.

A general view of inside the Wachovia Center shows
a neutral zone faceoff during the first period of the
Philadelphia Flyers' 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on March 23, 2008.

Normally the arena is completely full, it appeared 90 to 95% of the seats actually had fannies in them. A good number of the suites were unoccupied though. Maybe since it was the Islanders for whom the Flyers were playing and that it was Easter, those might be contributing factors for why there were any absentees. Either way, it was a fun atmosphere to be in regardless if you are cheering for the Flyers or not.

Unfortunately, I failed to take any pictures of this very brief part of the evening, but make sure that every time you attend a Flyers home game, you stick around to hear Lauren Hart sing the national anthem. Seriously, you would rather hear her sing than take off to the nearest concession stand or run off to the bathroom. She's got a fantasic voice and you can get very moved by it when she sings, too. Lauren is the daughter of the late Gene Hart, a former Hockey Hall of Fame television announcer for the Flyers.

During the second intermission of the Flyers' 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on March 23, 2008, I stand inside Suite 54 in the Wachovia Center with the arena scoreboard behind me.

While I was watching the game with Derek, Alexandra, Stephanie and Nick, I enjoyed talking to some of the people that regularly go to Flyers games and watch them from this suite. They are true fans. They really love the game and that's what made my experience even more special. I even high-fived them each of the four times the Flyers scored. Okay, I will admit that it helps everyone who knows me understands how I feel about the Islanders and that came into play here. They knew I am from New York, yet I'm sure they were happy I was rooting for their team on this night.

A closeup view of the scoreboard shows Philadelphia Flyers players celebrating their 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on March 23, 2008 at the Wachovia Center.

By the time it was over, the Flyers picked up two big points in the Eastern Conference standings with an impressive 4-1 victory. Philadelphia has had goaltending issues for years, right? This season has been no exception and the Flyers have still been trying to find out who is the true starting goaltender for them. Just two years ago, the team thought Niittymaki was their man after a solid 2005-2006 season and his outstanding play in the 2006 Winter Olympics where he won a silver medal. But he's remained too inconsistent to nail down the #1 job.

A Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia cameraman follows Philadelphia Flyers players (left to right) Daniel Briere,
Martin Biron and Scott Hartnell as they leave the ice
at Wachovia Center after defeating the New York Islanders
4-1 on March 23, 2008.

The Flyers acquired Biron in a trade deadline deal last season from the Buffalo Sabres and have given him ample time to win that job. He hasn't succeeded until perhaps pretty recently and this victory may have helped him. Something you haven't heard very often in Philadelphia happened on Easter Sunday. Flyers fans chanted Biron's name in the final minutes of the game thanks to his 32-save effort. One save in particular really got the crowd on its feet. It was when Biron robbed Josef Vasicek with a stretching skate save against the right post. Really impressive, I must say. But Miroslav Satan spoiled Biron's shutout bid with a power play goal with 4:27 left in the game.

Thankfully, I had asked Derek in advance to set the timer on his DVD recorder and record the game coverage from Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. The Flyers television personalities are very recognizable with Jim Jackson as the play-by-play announcer and Steve Coates as the lead color analyst. While not doing work for Versus, former Flyers forward Keith Jones will be in Coates' role as he did for this game. Coates was down at rinkside reporting from between the team benches. Another Flyers game I have in my library is quite valuable to me. It is from the very first regular season home game in Minnesota Wild history on October 11, 2000. I appreciate Derek helping me capture this on VHS tape back then as well with Jackson and Coates working the game.

I took this snapshot to show one thing I don't like about the arena. While watching Philadelphia Flyers games broadcast from the Wachovia Center, there are two camera platforms and they provide OFF CENTER views of the ice. WHY?!

There is one problem I do have with Comcast and how Flyers games are shown on television. While people might think I'm quite picky with this, but I never understood why two platforms were built to house the primary game angle and player isolation cameras. Both are noticeably off center from the red line. One of them is closer to the right blue line and it looks terrible when watching a game. This camera was used when I was looking at my DVD copy of the game. When this arena was built 12 years ago, why couldn't Comcast have just built a single platform with the cameras aligned with the red line? Hopefully sometime down the road, this is corrected.

Oh, and straying just a bit off topic for a moment, if you are told you were only allowed to choose just one local newscast to see while you're in Philadelphia, Derek's pick is Action News on WPVI-TV. Each time I'm down there, I get at least one of their newscasts on tape (or in this case, on recordable DVD). Sometimes, I'll also record one of the other local stations.

After staying out until about 3:00 AM and then watching Super Troopers (too funny!) with Derek, I finally called it a night. I'm such a night owl.

No visit to Philadelphia is complete unless you have an authentic cheesesteak. That's right, you heard me. A cheesesteak! I know, Flyers broadcasters will talk about Tastycakes. If you're not in the city itself where one usually ventures to the popular spots such as Geno's Steaks, Pat's King of Steaks or Steve's Prince of Steaks, I highly recommend one place in Philadelphia's nearby western suburbs. It is the Pepper Mill, located on the corner of Route 352 and Paoli Pike in East Goshen (has a West Chester postal zip code). Someone even wrote a blog review which backs up what I think of this place. Right along with the way our national economy has gone into the crapper with skyrocketing prices on diary and other essential food staples, if you want a regular cheesesteak, it'll cost you. From $6.15 back in September 2005 to now $7.80, it is still worth every penny. I suggest you try one with onions and ketchup first. Every time I go here, I buy one for the moment and another to bring back home. And yes, the Pepper Mill's cheesesteaks remain remarkably fresh for an entire drive back to New York and beyond that, so if you're unable to pack it into a cooler, absolutely no problem.

One other thing I have to remind myself to do before driving 2½ to 3 hours back home is to make sure I pick up a copy that day's Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer. I'm likely to just go across the small parking lot from the Pepper Mill over to Wawa (southeastern Pennsylvania's equivalent to 7-Eleven). I was surprised that convenience stores sell the three major New York City newspapers here, but Derek reminded me of their high out-of-town readership base as national newspapers as opposed to just local ones. So I was able to get articles from the Flyers game just so I have something of nostalgic reading material from the night before.

Remember when I mentioned earlier about WIP sports show hosts and callers talking constantly about the Eagles during their offseason instead of the Flyers? Yup, that's what we heard on the way to and from the Pepper Mill before eating our lunch at his place. I couldn't believe it, but he could. Sure, he lives in the Philadelphia area, so I understand. He can get Sports Radio 66 WFAN in New York City from here and at times would rather hear their programs instead.

But why the Eagles? Is it really more important to talk about whether or not Donovan McNabb is going to be injury-free next season as their starting quarterback and lead them back to the playoffs than about what's currently going on with the Flyers? C'mon even the Phillies' new season should be getting more headlines after what they accomplished last year. Allen Iverson's long-awaited return to Philadelphia with the Denver Nuggets is the only thing that will garner any mention of the Philadelphia 76ers these days. And they appear to be heading for the NBA playoffs. Go figure.

Plain and simple, the Eagles are the marquee team in Philadelphia even though they haven't won a championship since 1960. That was before the Super Bowl even existed. Sure, maybe long-time Eagles fans view this drought in a similar way that the New York Rangers had for 54 years from 1940 to 1994 and the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1967 to now. But you don't hear about that in the national media, do we? Nope.

The Flyers have an opportunity to write a nice feel-good story for themselves with or without a Stanley Cup championship, a title they haven't had since 1975. But they'll have to make due without the services of Simon Gagne, a valuable forward who developed into one of Philadelphia's top scorers. He's had concussion issues for the last two years and there's concern the Flyers are suffering deja vu all over again in the aftermath of Keith Primeau's retirement three years ago because his symptoms never ceased.

Despite bottoming out at the worst period in franchise history in which they were the worst team in the league a year ago, the fans stuck with the team. Sure, just a few more empty seats at Wachovia Center, but note the word few. With the building nearly full on a regular basis, it shows how dedicated Flyers fans are.

When I went to this game, I saw more than just a Flyers hockey game. I enjoyed an experience. While I can say that about my own teams I love and what makes them, their city and their fans special, the Philadelphia sports scene while at times can be over the line in terms of acceptance, they're passionate and they love their Flyers. Going to a Phillies game is a lot of fun, but if you haven't seen the Flyers in Philadelphia, it's a ticket worth the price of admission. Even if your opportunity comes on Easter Sunday, do not pass it up. I repeat, do not turn down the invitation!

And I am so glad I didn't.

Sharks' TV broadcaster is now Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

For the second time in less than a month, one of the FOX Sports Net affiliates by name has gone bye bye.

First, we saw FSN New England rebrand itself as Comcast SportsNet New England on October 1, 2007 as the Boston Celtics' primary television broadcaster. Then FSN New York became MSG+ on March 10th.

And now, the San Jose Sharks will be shown on a network with a new name. It will no longer be called FSN Bay Area.

When the Sharks joined the National Hockey League for the start of the 1991-1992 season, their cable television broadcaster was SportsChannel Pacific. Feels like a long time ago, doesn't it? Then right along with a number of other regional sports networks, it became a part of the FOX Sports Net family on January 28, 1998.

A new era begins for this network as of March 31st when the Sharks' television broadcaster will be Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Unlike in Chicago where the launch of their CSN channel on October 1, 2004 spelt the end of FSN Chicago in 2006, the San Francisco Bay Area's primary sports regional network with Comcast Corporation (the top cable company in the United States) owning a 45% stake only decided re-named itself.

John Ryan of the San Jose Mercury News reports today that CSN Bay Area would broadcast their first game with the 2008 San Francisco Giants season opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants own a 20% stake in the regional sports network.

The Sharks' first cablecast on CSN Bay Area will be the next day with an April 1st home game against the Los Angeles Kings, the front end of a home-and-home set with their Pacific Division rival on consecutive nights. With the Golden State Warriors' broadcast of their road game in San Antonio set to begin at 6:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time, the Sharks game will be on CSN Bay Area+ instead.

Comcast SportsNet Bay Area becomes the 10th regional sports network in operation by Comcast.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

FSN New York is now MSG+

This may be a slight local bias on my part, but since there are three New York City metropolitan area teams that are affected by this, I'd make a mention of it.

As first reported by Long Island Newsday sports columnist Neil Best on February 26th, FSN New York would be changing its network name. As of 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time last night, the cable channel originally known as SportsChannel among long-time viewers was officially re-branded as MSG+.

The first broadcast event under the new name was the NetJets Showdown exhibition tennis match at Madison Square Garden between the recently retired Pete Sampras and the current #1 player in the world four years running in Roger Federer. To no surprise, Al Trautwig was in a primary role for the festivities as host for its local pregame and postgame coverage. The match was also simulcast nationally on The Tennis Channel. Mike Reynolds of Multichannel News reported today that MSG+ pulled in a 1.11 household rating in New York's Designated Market Area (DMA).

Ever since Madison Square Garden Network (primarily known now as simply MSG) lost both the New York Yankees and New York Mets as important teams it covered on its once proud sports empire in the New York City television market, FSN New York had the majority of its programming during the winter season. The Islanders and New Jersey Devils have remained the only mainstays dating back to the SportsChannel days and only since the NHL lockout in 2005 had both teams locked up long-term television contract extensions. During the summer, FSN New York had been nothing more in recent years as just an infomercial and sports re-run channel. Only the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer has rescued the channel from complete abyss from losing any remaining viewers when their games have been aired live.

MSG Network of course has had the higher profile MSG arena tenants in the New York Rangers and New York Knicks with the New York Liberty fulfilling any fan interest to watch professional women's basketball in the summer months. Even though neither the Islanders nor the Devils play at Madison Square Garden (obviously not), the two teams will share MSG+ by name. It will take some time for their fans to get used to it. You'd think they would've by now after recently having either team from time to time be on MSG when they play at the same time or each other.

Imagine trying to identify the name off the tip of your tongue the overflow channel when the Knicks and Rangers both are playing at the same time and when the Devils and Islanders need a channel for their game. MSG+2? MSG2+? A little weird if you ask me. Sounds more like a math equation instead of a network name.

Besides the visual changes such as MSG's graphics making its way onto MSG+ to replace the familiar FSN look also seen on its other affiliates across the United States, MSG+ will provide fans an even more direct opportunity to interact with MSG personalities during live games such e-mailing in questions and feedback. Tonight's Islanders road game against the Tampa Bay Lightning featured the enhanced fan interaction platform.

Speaking of that game, notice it may not have been a coincidence at the time of this network name change, you saw one of the MSG+ personalities and did a double take. Why? As Neil Best reported in today's Long Island Newsday, Islanders ice-level reporter and intermission host Deb Kauffman decided to change her work name to her actual married name. So she will now be known as Deb Placey.

Time will tell if this simple name change from FSN New York to MSG+ will boost viewership with some of MSG's programming and the continued coverage of the Islanders and Devils plus the occasional Rangers game when shoved aside by the floundering Knicks. For those locally that want to watch FSN signature shows such as FSN Final Score and the Best Damn Sports Show Period will still be able to do so.

One problem for MSG. They also cover entertainment events such as music concerts on MSG, NY (formerly MSG Sportsdesk) as a way of reinventing their program format and an attempt to recapture their dwindling audience. Given their direct competition with SportsNet New York (SNY) and even YES Network, the two channels that now broadcast the Mets and Yankees respectively, MSG Network needs all the help it can get to retain hardcore sports fans.

SportsChannel New York had its run from 1976 to 1997. I remember its final few years with New York Giants announcer Bob Papa as the primary host of Game Time as well as the network's final airing of SportsChannel Light on September 28, 1997 featuring host Bremante Bryant. Then the transformation into what ended up as FSN New York with a festive launch party on January 28, 1998 in New York City that showed former mayor Rudolph Giuliani flipping on a symbolic switch in front of News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch. The Devils played in Edmonton that night and were the team to be honored as the first game to be shown under the new network banner.

While MSG Network itself re-launched on October 5, 2006 with their new present-day logo and programming lineup, FSN New York was basically the second class citizen without the Islanders or Devils to broadcast on a quiet night. Now as MSG+, the name alone won't bring in more viewers, quality programming will.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Brad Richards makes smash hit debut for Stars

The Dallas Stars entered Tuesday's trade deadline with one thing in mind. That would be to acquire a gamebreaker. Mission accomplished.

Most knowledgable hockey fans know that the face of the franchise since the team arrived in northern Texas fifteen years ago has been Mike Modano. But outside their back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances that includes their only championship in 1999, the Stars have failed to perform up to the same expectations that they achieved during the regular season. Only twice since the Stars have been in Dallas have they missed playoffs. It's safe to say they have been a true perennial playoff team. Modano had a major say in that success during the last decade and a half.

But Modano is no longer that prolific point producer he used to be earlier in his career. This is despite earlier this season becoming the NHL's all-time points leader for an American-born player. From personal distractions off the ice to injuries to not feeling completely comfortable as the team captain after the departure of Derian Hatcher, he simply cannot carry the Stars far into the playoffs by himself. At 37 years old, he has been longing for quite some time for a difference-making teammate to play with in the twilight of his brilliant career.

He may have gotten that in the form of Brad Richards.

Modano's ex-teammate Brett Hull is now the co-general manager with Les Jackson, this season on an interim basis. Hull and Jackson made the bold trade on Tuesday to acquire Richards from the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it came at a high cost. First, Richards had to waive his no-trade clause in his contract that pays him a hefty $7.8 million per season through the 2010-2011 campaign. Heading to Tampa, the Stars lost a high quality backup goaltender in Mike Smith who had at one point challenged Marty Turco for the starting job. While Jeff Halpern wasn't a forward that was highly productive on the scoresheet, he was still of significant value. Even more so, Jussi Jokinen had been an important part of the Stars lineup. I must admit I usually think of his career success in shootouts for Dallas (17 for 29), especially two seasons ago when he scored on his first ten attempts. With the emergence of a career season from Niklas Hagman, parting ways with Jokinen was eased for the Stars if they were to get Richards, it is a player they were targeting for a while. However, when I first saw what the Stars gave up in the deal, I felt they gave up too much depth.

"Brad Richards is a special player," Hull said on Tuesday after the trade was completed. "Right here we have a guy who has won the Stanley Cup, won the Olympic Gold Medal, won the Conn Smythe Trophy being the MVP of the NHL playoffs. Since the trade went down Les and I have gotten calls from all over the league, from not only media that have known Brad, but he's gotten endorsements from his GM in Tampa Jay Feaster, from Wayne Gretzky who has given him rave reviews from him not only as a player but as a person. When you get people like that saying the things they are saying about him, you know you've got a quality guy."

Depending on whether or not the "high risk, high reward" theory holds true, should the 27-year-old Richards be the difference in how far Dallas goes in the playoffs this season, it's a trade well worth it. Given the position the Stars were in as the trade deadline approached, they were a pleasant surprise to have among the top point totals in the entire league. I have been pretty skeptical of their placing in the NHL going into this week. They had 85 points entering Thursday's home game against the Chicago Blackhawks, second to the slumping Detroit Red Wings who had lost 8 of their previous 9 games. I didn't even believe they were a Stanley Cup contender on the day of this trade given their recent playoff exits.

But after the Stars' 7-4 victory over Chicago at the American Airlines Center, I have moved them up into the list of four teams that I believe winning the Stanley Cup is truly a real possibility. Now breathing down the neck of Detroit thanks to a very impressive 16-4 run since January 17th, the Pacific Division-leading Stars have a shot at nabbing the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs by the time the "second season" begins on April 9th.

How did Richards fare in his Stars debut on Thursday night? It was more than just a good first impression. It was downright a blockbuster performance as he set a Dallas record with a career-high 5 assists. That's right, he had FIVE assists. It was the kind of night where you as an unknown actor or actress would earn a standing ovation at a sold out theater under the bright lights of Broadway and then get rave reviews the next day in countless publications. Only here, we know who Richards is. He already has become a star in the NHL despite having been on a Lightning team that has fallen back on tough times in earning wins. There was no need for the name tag at a "getting to know you" event. Stars fans know what their team was getting.

Hagman scored a career-high three goals thanks directly in part to Richards setting him up for his first NHL hat trick in 467 regular season games he's played in six NHL seasons. Hagman already has a career-best 25 goals this season. In case you were wondering how Modano fared with Richards as his teammate, not bad at all, I must say. Even though Richards spent time primarily on the penalty kill with him on Thursday, Modano tallied his 525th NHL goal (now 29th all-time) and also had an assist in the victory. He was the last Stars player to record five points in a game back on February 10, 2002.

Antti Miettinen as the third member of the newly-formed Richards scoring line also recorded a goal and an assist. Richards, Hagman and Miettinen combined for 10 points on the night.

John Trachina of the Dallas Stars official web site asked head coach Dave Tippett for his impression of his newest player.

"He's just a good player in all situations," Tippett said. "The biggest thing we talked about is he just wants to come in and fit in. He recognizes that we've got a pretty good team here, he wants to come in and fit in with our group. Tonight, he played all parts of the game, he played penalty kill, power play, that line with Hagman and Miettinen was a great line for us, gave us great balance throughout the game. All three of our top three lines scored in the game, so that by-committee scoring, we’re going to need it spread around and that makes us hard to play against."

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News brought up a pretty interesting angle regarding the arrival of Richards to the team. Richards and Hagman were at one time on opposite sides of the Sunshine State rivalry given Hagman began his career with the Florida Panthers.

"Back then, I would try to run everything and try to stir things up. There were a couple of heated yelling and shoving matches with Brad," Hagman said.

"He's always in your face, and he's a pain to play against," Richards added about his new teammate. "But that's because he plays the game the right way."

Undoubtedly, if Richards goes on to play like this on a game-by-game basis having good chemistry with teammates such as Hagman, the Stars may be even tougher to beat then they have been in their last 20 games. There will be less pressure to rely heavily on Tippett's outstanding defensive-oriented system to win hockey games. That system has been top notch since he's been behind the bench. Under Tippett, Dallas has been in contention for the William Jennings Trophy every season as the league's best defensive team based on the performance of their goaltenders. Turco has recently had Smith and Johan Hedberg backing him up in net. With the arrival of Johan Holmqvist from Tampa Bay in Tuesday's trade, he could even benefit from who he has in front of him when he gets to play.

"We need to continue to play our game and play within our system defensively, offensively, with speed, and whatever the game plan is," Turco told the media on Friday as they prepared to face the Nashville Predators the next night.

Chemistry and defense wins championships. Following Tuesday's trade and Thursday's night impression the Stars made to the hockey world with Richards in their lineup, they might have both. Modano certainly sees it.

"You worry about chemistry, [but] talent and skill guys never have a hard time adjusting," Modano told Tracey Myers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "They raise their level, and everyone wants to raise theirs with them. Those type of players, they're few and far between that can make an impact like that."