|Langenbrunner First Tasted Stanley Cup Success as a Member of the 1999 Stars|
|November 21, 2010 by Sean Hartnett, JL15.com contributor|
|The Dallas Stars were a team that was hovering on the periphery of greatness during the mid-to-late 1990's. The Stars made a healthy habit of finishing 1st place divisionally each season but ultimately fell just short of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. In the summer of 1999, that stigma was erased as Dallas reached hockey's mountaintop by defeating the Buffalo Sabres in a thrilling six-game series as they raised Lord Stanley's Cup.
The Western Conference of that era was full of heavyweight teams such as the Detroit Red Wings who were just coming off of winning two consecutive Stanley Cups with their group of legends that included Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan and Igor Larionov.
Another dominant team of the era was the Colorado Avalanche who tasted Stanley Cup success in 1996 and regularly figured prominently in heated Western Conference contests. Superstars like Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic were joined by youthful talents like Milan Hejduk and Chris Drury. The St. Louis Blues had their own formidable group with the likes of Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Grant Fuhr, Piere Turgeon and a young Pavol Demitra.
Everywhere you looked out West, it seemed that every team was loaded whether it was the Phoenix Coyotes with their fearsome duo of Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk or the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim who boasted the offensive talents of Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya. Needless to say, the competition was intense and the road to the Stanley Cup Finals was paved in blood, sweat and relentless battle.
Legendary former Dallas Stars' playoff hero and current club General Manager, Joe Nieuwendyk kindly took time out of his busy schedule to share his memories of the 1999 Stars.
Dallas General Manager Bob Gainey already had assembled an impressive core of players in their prime with Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Sergei Zubov, and Ed Belfour as the team's spine to build around. The Stars also possessed a roster that from top to bottom was one of the strongest in the NHL as veterans Guy Carbonneau, Craig Ludwig, Pat Verbeek and Dave Reid not only provided leadership but gave Dallas tremendous depth. Jere Lehtinen and Jamie Langenbrunner were flourishing as their roles with the Stars increased as each became more heavily depended on.
"He knew how to go about adding the right characters to the locker room environment. Bob was excellent at putting the team together. He wouldn't speak often but we felt his presence. Everyone had a lot of respect for him and he was a real class individual. We had a great collection of front office staff and our owner Mr. Hicks helped us get over the edge," Nieuwendyk explained.
The Stars were a mostly veteran filled-team but Langenbrunner quickly endeared himself to his teammates in his early years in Dallas. Nieuwendyk recalled his own similar experiences with the Calgary Flames, "When I was in Calgary I had the advantage as a young player to learn under a lot of great veterans around me. Jamie was surrounded by guys like Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane, Dave Reid and Pat Verbeek. There were a lot of great people he could learn from."
"There aren't too many guys I'd rather go to war with than Jamie. He learned to work hard early in his career and picked up on things quicky. We had a great relationship off the ice and all the players respected him in Dallas," he continued.
Head coach Ken Hitchock preached a style of hard-hitting, "defense first" responsible hockey. No player better represented the Stars' brand of hockey better than their bone-crushing captain Derian Hatcher. "Hatch was a high-energy guy. He was always our leader in minutes played and a shutdown guy on defense. Derian was a really good captain for us and the right fit the role by the style of hockey we played," Nieuwendyk recalled.
Hitchcock also prided himself on being a renowned Civil War buff who studied the history of legendary battles and the famous generals who led them. His idea was to build an ethos of togetherness and camaraderie within his ranks in the Stars' locker room.
Nieuwendyk spoke of the effect Hitchcock had on the team, "Ken was the best coach we could have had at the time. Hitch pushed everyone towards being more responsible defensive players. He pushed Mike Modano hard to become more well-rounded and responsible defensively."
When interviewed, Hitchcock would speak about the belief of his team operating as a solid unit defensively and that doing so would lead to offensive chances. Like a general studying the troops on a map, he saw his players performing as a tight unit on the ice. For the 1999 Dallas Stars to achieve the ultimate victory, he demanded that his players sacrificed their own personal accomplishments for the good of the team.
"We had a real good mix of players that trusted in one another. Dave Reid was a guy who did the unselfish things to allow us to do what we could do. There were a lot of players like Pat Verbeek, Guy Carbonneau and Craig Ludwig who performed their roles very well," Nieuwendyk told.
Gainey had already built a very capable roster but one more piece was needed to put Dallas over the top. Free agent sniper Brett Hull was signed to the delight of Stars' fans though some skeptics were unsure whether Hull would buy into Hitchcock's system and sacrifice his offensive tendencies. Hull quickly erased such doubts by performing at a high level on both ends of the ice and quickly becoming a vital piece for the Stars.
Nieuwendyk spoke about Hull's influence, "Brett was an important piece. He gave us a personality and definitely brought a swagger to the team. Brett helped form our identity but he didn't receive enough credit for his game intelligence and passing ability on the ice. It's easy to call him a top scorer but he brought us so much more."
The road that brought Dallas to the finals went through three goalies that have each been referred to as all-time greats in Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek. The Edmonton Oilers of Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Mike Grier presented the first hurdle for the Stars in conference quarterfinals but Dallas was able to complete a four-game sweep.
Next round against the St. Louis Blues was an extremely hard-fought series as four of the six games were decided in overtime. As Game 6 progressed into overtime, Hull cut behind the Blues' net and found Modano who opportunistically put away the series-clinching goal as the Stars moved on to the Western Conference finals.
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