The Big Mac Blog

It took years, but fans are coming back to watch the Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn (14) is one of the main reasons his team is in second place in the NHL’s Western Conference, and why fans are coming back to see the Stars play.
Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn (14) is one of the main reasons his team is in second place in the NHL’s Western Conference, and why fans are coming back to see the Stars play. AP

Not sure I believe this, but the Dallas Stars rank 14th in the NHL in attendance averaging 18,273 fans per home game. The American Airlines Center seats 18,532 for hockey.

Pretty sure that’s a giant lie, but the rest of the league rounds up, too.

Even if the numbers are (most certainly) fudged the AAC actually has an atmosphere again for Dallas Stars home games. No longer can a fan sling a herd of elephants at home games and know no one will be hit.

The Stars have been one of the best teams in the league since the season started, and players have noticed the fans are showing up.

The team ranked 19th in the NHL in attendance in 2014-’15 and 28th in 2013-’14.

“When you are in an empty rink you notice it for sure,” said Stars center Jason Spezza, who came to the team last year in a trade from Ottawa. “The crowds here have been one of the biggest things that have surprised me here. In Canada, you do take it for granted there. But this is a sports town here; they love sports and they love it when teams are doing well and they have supported it.”

It has taken years and years (and years) but for the first or second time in nearly a decade the Stars are consistently attracting fans outside of their core fan base, which routinely arrive no matter how irrelevant the team or the game. The Stars missing the playoffs in six out of the last seven years had, predictably, damaged attendance.

Whether that above attendance figure is entirely accurate, which it isn’t, is not the point; the point is the Stars are indeed drawing again. Don’t look at TV ratings or anything of the like; in hockey, the best metric is to compare hockey to hockey. To compare the statistics of hockey attendance or ratings to other sports up to and including dogs playing poker is a no-win proposition.

The Stars are slumping right now - the team has lost four straight games, and seven of their last eight to fall from the top spot in the Western Conference and five points behind the Chicago Blackhawks. The Stars’ defense remains a concern, but it is January and the Stars were doomed for an ugly stretch. This is still a good team with the best forwards in the game.

Speaking of the Blackhawks, at least one ex-Blackhawk has been pleasantly surprised by the crowd and the atmosphere at the AAC this season. Stars forward Patrick Sharp was spoiled by the best home crowd, outside of the Edmonton, in the NHL over the last 10 years when he was with the Blackhawks.

He was traded to the Stars in the offseason and the man knows a good crowd. When he was traded he realized he was going from a place that is one of the hottest hockey markets in the league to one that runs hot and cold.

“Right from the start of the season in October it has been a good building,” Sharp said. “I have been pleasantly surprised by the fans here. I never take it for granted because I was in Chicago when we were getting 7,000 or 8,000 at the beginning. I appreciate what it takes to build it up.”

For the Stars it has taken years, growing pains with young players, and considerable heart break but they have something the fans are watching.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7760, tengel@star-telegram.com, @macengelprof

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