If you didn’t know the National Hockey League was back, after a lockout that laid waste to almost half the season, who could blame ya? A game that struggles for national attention under the best of circumstances wound up settling its business just in time for the sports media to fixate on the NFL conference finals, Lance Armstrong’s chat with Oprah,and, most of all, the strange saga of Manti Te’o—the Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up whose tragic and inspiring backstory turned out to be a work of Internet and social media fiction.
Enter the Dallas Stars, which, having had fun with the Cowboys via Twitter when the lockout ended, didn’t hesitate to go after a laugh at Te’o’s expense during the team’s first game on Saturday, both online and at the rink.
It’s the sort of gimmick you more readily expect from minor league clubs, but for the NHL—and for hockey in Texas—there’s no such thing as bad publicity (unless it’s still about the lockout). The gag got the Stars covered by TMZ and USA Today, as well as Dallas media and national sports blogs.
“There is a certain level of irony in the Dallas Stars making fun of someone for not being there after they themselves haven’t been around since May,” wrote USA Today’s Chris Chase.
Actually, there’s a much deeper level of irony: making that joke given the Stars’ attendance struggles during the team’s transition from Tom Hicks’ bankruptcy to new owner Tom Gaglardi. Saturday’s game was sold out (we’ll just assume that empy seat was a paid no-show or unused house freebie, rather than an actual unsold ticket), but the Dallas hockey franchise is still just one season removed from drawing 6,306 fans to a game. That’s a far cry from the glory days around the 1999 Stanley Cup, when the Stars pulled off a 238-game sellout streak.
As Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy blog wrote:
Between this and their troll of the year at the expense of Tony Romo, the Stars are killin’ it this year. Although we’re curious if they could have made a joke about an empty seat last season… .
Less enthused was Ty Duffy of The Big Lead, who figured Te’o jokes were already old-hat after just four days. “This meme is just about toast,” he wrote. “We just need someone’s parents to pull off a stunt on Facebook before capping this off and throwing it down the well with the others.”
The only downside to such hijinks? People pay attention to the stunts, but not the actual hockey team. So hey, how about that Jaromir Jagr? Two goals and two assists is mighty impressive for a 40 year-old man who started playing in the NHL when his current team was still the Minnesota North Stars.