In Kevin Smith’s 1994 cult movie Clerks, the main character, Dante, picks up a shift at the convenience store on what was supposed to be his day off … and his day for playing hockey. “I’m not even supposed to be here today,” he repeats over the course of the film.

So it is with the Dallas Stars. They’re not even supposed to be in Edmonton, Alberta, in one of the two National Hockey League “bubbles.” They’re not even supposed to be playing hockey games in August and September. And they’re certainly not supposed to be in the Stanley Cup Final. Yet here they are, with a chance to win the best trophy in sports for the first time since 1999.

Part of this is because of the weirdness of sports in the time of COVID-19. Back when things were normal, the Stars didn’t look like they’d be playing for the Stanley Cup. They’d started the 2019–2020 season with just one win in nine games, a 1-7-1 record (the last number being overtime losses). That was immediately followed by a 16-4-2 tear. Then came December 10: the day that Jim Montgomery, who was in his second season as head coach, got fired for “unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League,” as general manager Jim Nill said in a statement. (Montgomery later entered rehab for alcohol abuse.)

Veteran assistant Rick Bowness, who hadn’t run his own team since the nineties, became interim head coach following Montgomery’s ousting. Under Bowness, the Stars won a thrilling Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl on January 1, then continued winning consistently for the next two months. When the NHL stopped play in March because of the pandemic, the Stars were good but nothing special. At the time, they’d been mired in a six-game winless streak that had dropped them to fifth place in the Western Conference, which would have meant facing a tough first-round playoff series in April had the season continued as planned.

Summer was a different story. Because of the adjustments and convolutions of the NHL’s expanded (expandemic?) restart format—basically, the league canceled what was left of the regular season but added a preliminary playoff series—the Stars were seeded third instead of fifth. They got past Calgary and Colorado in the first two rounds before making surprisingly easy work of top-seeded Las Vegas in the Western Conference final. They’ve been doing it with big hits, defense, scoring depth, and stellar goaltending, though not always in ways that could have been predicted.

They’re still underdogs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was the best regular season team in the NHL last year, and had a better record than the Stars this season. But then, so did Colorado and Las Vegas. The Stars took Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, 4-1, on Saturday, but Tampa won Games 2 and 3. Game 3, on Wednesday, was especially brutal (they won 5-2). The Stars will need to spend less time in the penalty box and find more offense to get back into the series.

But with two back-to-back games this weekend (Game 4 on Friday and Game 5 on Saturday), and a possible Game 7 set for September 30, there’s still plenty of time to get on the Stars bandwagon before the Cowboys disappoint you. That’s why we’ve made this (admittedly partial) educational guide to Stars fandom, with a curriculum ranging from basics to high-level bluffer’s knowledge.


Important Person to Know: Jamie Benn

Game 1 of the final marked the seventh anniversary of Benn taking on the captain’s C (in September of 2013, of course, this happened in training camp, not the playoffs). His ascension, along with the acquisition of Tyler Seguin that same year, began an era of great promise but mixed success. Benn won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer (goals plus assists) in 2015, and may have been an even better player in 2016 (he was one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as league MVP). But he’s also played for seven different coaches in his eleven seasons, and the Stars missed the playoffs in both 2017 and 2018. Perhaps that’s why, early in the 2018–2019 season, Stars chairman Jim Lites took aim at both players. “They are fucking horseshit,” he told the media in an explicitly on-the-record conversation.

Was this a motivational ploy? Is it water under the bridge? No matter. Last season’s club turned it around, and now this season’s team is exceeding expectations. Benn remains the heart, bone, and muscle of the roster, and while statistics show he had a quiet regular season—just 39 points in 69 games—he’s made up for it in the playoffs, with 18 points in 18 games before the final started. He and Seguin have yet to score against the Lightning, which will have to change for them to come out on top.

A Random Thing to Say That Makes You Sound Like You Already Follow Hockey

“It’s the Stanley Cup Final, not Finals.” (In the NHL’s grammatical view, it’s a single series rather than a plural collection of games, and therefore a singular noun. Someone tell the NBA.)

High School

Important Person to Know: Anton Khudobin

From Ed Belfour and Marty Turco to Kari Lehtonen, the Stars have always won with goaltending, and for the past two seasons, they have had a great one: Ben Bishop. Problem is, he’s been “unfit to play” for most of the postseason (NHL teams are famously secretive about injuries, and that is the only disclosure that the league requires, whether it’s COVID-19 or a broken leg). Khudobin, a career backup with almost no playoff experience, had been a decidedly excellent “1B” to Bishop’s “1A” the past two seasons. Now he’s just The One, whether enduring an unbearably high volume of easy saves or making the seemingly impossible stops. Las Vegas, especially, couldn’t solve him, mustering just eight goals in five games. After the clincher in that series, “Dobby” received the team’s victory chain, an increasingly common tchotchke in several sports, hockey included.

Random Thing to Say That Makes You Sound Like You Already Follow Hockey

“Khudobin’s goals against average is impressive, but his expected goals against is even more so!” (“Expected goals against” is exactly what it sounds like, if not easily calculated: it’s a statistical formula that measures just how high-risk/stoppable every shot taken in a game was, thus giving a goalie more credit for making the difficult saves.)


Important Person(s) to Know: Miro Heiskanen and Joel Kiviranta

Heiskanen is the Stars’ best player, period, a 21-year-old second-year defenseman who went from rising star to future MVP hopeful (including, possibly, the Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs) this year, and especially this summer. In the playoffs he’s been averaging a point per game (6 goals and 18 assists in 23 games), nearly twice what he did in the regular season (8 goals and 27 assists in 62 games). He’s dynamic, explosive and seemingly unstoppable as an offensive force—all while playing smart defense too. Heiskanen and his fellow blueliner John Klingberg both have more playoff points than any Stars forwards, including Benn and leading goal scorers Denis Gurianov and Joe Pavelski.

Kiviranta is the Stars’ best story, a call-up from the minor league team in Cedar Park with only one goal in eleven career NHL games before injuries allowed him to make his playoff debut in Game 7 of the second-round series against Colorado. He promptly scored a hat trick, including the game-winning, series-winning, overtime goal. During the post-game interview, a plainly stunned Kiviranta humbly and hilariously told a TV interviewer, “I hope I get more games here,” and he sure has, with additional goals in Game 5 against Las Vegas and Game 1 against Tampa.

Random Thing to Say That Makes You Sound Like You Already Follow Hockey

“It’s too bad we’re playing a team from the South that’s only been around since 1992. Hockey is about tradition.”

(This is basically a subtweet of Minnesota, where the Stars began play as the North Stars in 1967 before moving to Dallas in 1993. Minnesotans are still understandably bitter, even though they have another team now—much like football fans in Houston who still can’t stand the Titans.)

Grad School

Important Person to Know: Rick Bowness

The oldest coach in the NHL, Bowness, 65, has worked for eight NHL teams in a career that now spans five different decades. Until this year he’d settled into the role of beloved career assistant, a defensive specialist and mentor to young coaches—before joining Jim Montgomery’s staff he last worked for the Lightning’s Jon Cooper—who could care-take this Stars team for one season with a conservative, stingy style of play.

But, as we learned from the “Road to the NHL Winter Classic” reality show, Bowness also drives a black Corvette. And after the unexpected break in March because of COVID-19, which basically gave him as much time to prepare for the playoffs as he’d previously had on the job all season, he got the team running like one, with a more aggressive offensive approach that may have also benefited from fresh legs. Should Bowness win the Stanley Cup as Stars head coach, it would be like if Wade Phillips had won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys.

Random Thing to Say That Makes You Sound Like You Already Follow Hockey

Friend in sports bar (sorry, ON ZOOM): “Did you know that ‘Dallas! Stars!’ song they play is by Pantera?”

You: “Did you know @tweetgrubes got them to play Power Trip at the arena in Edmonton?” (RIP to Power Trip’s Riley Gale, a huge Stars fan.)

Extra Credit

In addition to Dallas and Cedar Park, the Stars are repping Beaumont, Houston, and Odessa. Before getting to the NHL, Khudobin spent his minor league years with the Texas Wildcatters and the Houston Aeros, two teams that are now defunct. And Stars assistant coach Derek Laxdal, a former Toronto Maple Leaf and New York Islander, finished his playing career with the Odessa Jackalopes, for whom he was also an assistant for three years.

But there’s even more Texas on the other bench. Lightning forward Blake Coleman, a Plano native who grew up rooting for the Stars and playing in their youth program, is one of just five Texas natives playing in the NHL, and would be the first true Texan to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe next year.