But apparently it's a welcome difference for Texans. The Stars have averaged 15,374 fans per game at 16,814-seat Reunion Arena. Some come for the hockey, some for the carnival atmosphere. Anyone who has ever attended a Star home game will not be surprised to learn that Jeff Cogen, the team's vice-president of advertising and marketing, was once an employee of Ringling Brothers. It is the rare professional sporting event that offers such promotions as deejay dog races, in which local disc jockeys pull "lucky listeners" around the ice on sleds, and between-periods sumo wrestling.
In its first season as a hockey venue, Reunion Arena has become one of the NHL's toughest rinks for visiting teams. The Stars are 15-10-7 but have lost just one of 17 at home. One key to their success—besides Cogen, of course—has been the play of 23-year-old Mike Modano, a No. 1 draft pick in 1988, who is having a breakthrough season. When Modano pumped in the first of his two goals against Ottawa (he now has 24 in 32 games), LeTourneau, of the North Stars Booster Club, shook her head. "I paid $2,000 a year to see this kind of performance from him," she said. "As soon as they go somewhere else, he goes nuts."
The shared ordeal of moving to a new city has resulted in a closeness they had not previously known, say most of the Stars. Says defenseman Mark Tinordi, "Moving means all these little hassles—finding schools for your kids, finding doctors, where to shop. Doing it together has made us more of a family."
And as in most families, there is a certain amount of bickering. "There's such a thing as seeing too much of one another," says Neal Broten, who skates on a forward line with his brother Paul. "The weather in Texas is the same all the time. Every day you throw on the same old shirt, same old pair of jeans. I don't even need my winter boots. I miss the snow. I miss firing up my truck, cranking the heater, scraping off the windshield—all that stuff I grew up with."
Broten's mood might have begun to sour earlier this season when a stranger in Dallas provided him with an unsolicited hockey tutorial. Sidelined by a hip-flexor injury, Broten was in the stands for a game when a fan began explaining offsides. "The guy meant well," says Broten, who recently played in his 900th NHL game. "I didn't say anything."
To teach Texans the game's finer points, the club ran a weeklong series of ads in The Dallas Morning News this fall. The series was called Hockey 101, and each day it explained a new term. "Icing—no, not the stuff on a birthday cake," one lesson began. "Spearing—no, not what you do to get an olive," said another.
There is plenty to learn. There is still the occasional panic in the stands when the goalie leaves the crease on a delayed penalty. Someone stop him! He thinks the period is over! "But for the most part," says Star president James Lites, "our fans know when to cheer. After three or four games, they become experts."
And the experts agree that the biggest need is simply to learn to live with Norm Green. On Nov. 12 Green was quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as having told the Dallas International Sports Commission that if the city would not improve Reunion Arena or, better yet, build a new facility, he would consider moving his team to nearby Tarrant County. Although Green declined to be interviewed for this article, a team spokesman says his comments were "taken out of context."
"So now he's bitching about Dallas?" said Steve Froehlig, who showed up at the Target Center for Thursday's game with a haircut that read NORM STILL SUCKS. "There's a surprise."
For all the anti-Norm chants during the game against Ottawa, most of the people at the Target Center otherwise seemed content to applaud their old friends. In a nod to the Stars' erstwhile home, Gainey put the two Brotens, Jim Johnson and Trent Klatt—all Minnesotans—on the ice to start the game. After his first goal Modano saluted section 101, where the still-intact Booster Club was seated.