Mike Modano, Dallas Stars forward Benn like Fort Worth vibe for training camp

Posted Monday, Jun. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In September 1993, citizens of Tarrant County convened at the Fort Worth Convention Center to welcome a fresh-faced, newly branded sports franchise to North Texas.

Of the 5,466 fans that descended upon the dome in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, many left with memorabilia emblazoned with the green and gold logo of the Dallas Stars after the transplanted franchise played in just its second hockey game in North Texas, an exhibition against the St. Louis Blues.

The audience turnout was on the low side of expectations, and the new manifestation of one of the “second-six” franchises once known as the Minnesota North Stars put up a feeble attempt, losing 4-0 to the Blues.

It was an eternity ago in the life cycle of the team, before two Presidents’ Trophies, two Campbell Bowls, the American Airlines Center and a Stanley Cup championship.

North Texas hockey legend Mike Modano was in only his fourth year as an NHL player, getting his first taste of Cowtown, where he said he spent some time during his more “youthful” years.

“There’s a different vibe over there, but it’s unique in itself and has a great personality. I love it,” Modano said at the Stars’ recent rebranding gala.

Twenty years and a ceiling full of banners later, the Stars will return to the Fort Worth Convention Center to host their four-day training camp Sept. 11-14.

While the franchise is much different than the one that last visited Fort Worth, the parallels between Year 1 and Year 20, the first year of the Stars’ rebranding overhaul and first full season under owner Tom Gaglardi, are easy to see.

Spearheading the effort from within the organization to bring the Stars back to Tarrant County was president Jim Lites, the same man who originally took the Stars to Fort Worth in his first tenure as Stars president. Lites is scheduled to be in Fort Worth on Thursday as the guest speaker in the Fort Worth Chamber’s Sports Series luncheon at the Colonial Country Club.

“We said, ‘Where are we going to run training camp in the new world order?’” Lites said. “I said, ‘Let’s think about Fort Worth,’ and next thing I know, we’ve got a deal cut with the Convention Center and Mayor [Betsy] Price is throwing her weight behind us, businesses there are supporting us and wanting to get involved with us, and we’re wanting to get involved with them.”

Practices will be held on Sept. 12 and 13, building up to a “Green and White” scrimmage on Sept. 14, all of which will be open to the public and free of charge, giving Fort Worth fans a chance to pick up a T-shirt or hat sporting the Stars’ new green and silver logo. They’ll also be able to get a feel for a young team led by the successor to Modano as face of the franchise, Jamie Benn.

“It’s big for us to branch out there,” Benn said. “Me, personally, I haven’t been [to Fort Worth] too many times, but I have been out there. It’s very western.

“I actually went to a place out there and did a little two-stepping myself,” he said, preferring not to reveal his dance hall of choice.

While the organization’s camp stakes are firmly planted in Fort Worth soil, players, both past and present, will get a good taste of Cowtown as they make appearances for the fans around the community while staying downtown at the Omni Hotel. More information on special events will be released closer to the camp dates, Lites said.

Gaglardi said Fort Worth offers the perfect location for the Stars’ camp, taking the players away from their homes — per the wishes of the coaching staff — but keeps the team within its local market.

Should Fort Worth prove to be a good host this fall, Lites said he could foresee the city remaining the preseason home of the organization for years to come.

“We’re going to blow Fort Worth out for four days and get them introduced to our sport, and hopefully that will stick to us over time,” Lites said.

Once the team breaks camp, it will continue its local market tour, playing exhibition games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City on Sept. 20 and 27, respectively.

The Stars hope to revive the excitement of ’93 as well as the 1999 Stanley Cup not only in Dallas but in all of North Texas.

“We have Dallas on our jerseys but Fort Worth in our hearts,” Lites said.

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