The Calder Cup Attends a Party

Watch party number 5. The bad news is that the Hershey Bears did not look the terror of the regular season and lost. The good news is that Texas Stars found a way to win the first game of the AHL's final series. I did not wear a Bears sweater to watch party, it was too hot for that kind of attire, but I wanted to. At the beginning of the season, there were lots of folks wearing the colors of all manner of teams to Stars games. Now it is the green and white of the Stars that dominates.

The first watch party was on a lovely Friday night when the Stars were playing in Chicago in the second round of the playoffs. It was held in a local sports bar and it was packed. The parking lot was filled with pick-up trucks decorated with Texas Stars flags and decals. The crowd spilled out into the patio and beyond. I don't think that many people attending that night were drawn by anything other than hockey as the crowd was definitely making lots of hockey game noises and everyone was trying to push for the best angles on the many flat screens. The first watch party did not even slow down when the game went into overtime as most stayed to see the Stars get the goal that sent them home happy.

The second watch party was also in a local restaurant and the result was the same, lots of decorations, lots of fans and an overtime victory for the Stars. The video feed for the games in Chicago was not much to talk about. One camera moving up and down the ice following the play. No replays, no close ups of worried coaches, attractive fans or cute kids.

Fortunately for Stars fans, their opponents for the Western Conference finals were a Canadian team. Hockey fans in Canada expect television for all their games, even the lower level leagues. The feed for the watch party from Hamilton was a big improvement with multiple camera angles and replays of the important plays. Significantly, the Stars moved the watch party into the Cedar Park Center so that more fans could see the game. There were roughly 1,000 people spread across one side of the arena as the Stars and Bulldogs played the deciding game.

I know that I am not the only person who has brought my interest in hockey with me from some other area. As I was waiting in a concession line, the gentleman next to me was fretting about the number of shots on goal the Stars were giving up. I tried to ease his troubles by explaining that I had just endured watching the Capitals lose a series where the outstanding play of the opposition goal tender had negated an overwhelming shot advantage for the Capitals. He looked at me and said, I am a Bruins fan… (For those who have not followed the National Hockey League playoffs this year, the Bruins won the first 3 games of their series only to have the Philadelphia Flyers pick themselves up and win the next 4 ending the Bruins season.) Like me, he was watching his adopted team in an effort to soothe the disappointment. We shook hands as I told him that I could feel his pain.

At the other end of the spectrum were the two young women sitting in front of us who were both wearing hockey jerseys, one was from the Buffalo Sabres and I did not recognize the other. We asked her about the sweater and they laughed while explaining they did not know anything about hockey, and had borrowed the jerseys from the their brothers. Typical Texas Stars crowd, full of people who learned about the game in other places and just as full of people finding an enthusiasm for the game on this level of play. I think it makes it easier to explain why icing is not called when you are defending a power play when you know that they really want to know why. There may be a lot of teaching going on at Stars games, but the support for the team is remarkable. The noise from those 1,000 throats could easily have been twice that many when the Stars scored in the third period to take the lead for the first time that night. In the end, the Stars were outshot by a 2 to 1 margin in that final game but outscored the Bulldogs by that same ratio.

For the first game of the finals, Nathan Costa of the American Hockey League, stood guard over the Calder Cup while the fans got a look at the coveted prize. The Stars expanded the available seating, a good idea as attendance increase from the last watch party, to a side and one end zone of the arena. The Hershey broadcast crew (all the games in Texas will be available on television in central Pennsylvania) provided a great video feed. Oddly, for the watch party last night, you could not see the ice surface. The floor of the arena has been covered, carpeted and filled with rows of folding chairs. Not only is it hockey playoff season, it is high school graduation season. The cities around Cedar Park are delighted to have a building large enough to handle their graduation exercises without having to make the 20 mile journey in to Austin. The first of the ceremonies were held last weekend and there are more to come this weekend.

Once the last diploma has been handed out, Cedar Park Center will prepare for another crowd rooting for the Stars and one person sitting on the back row hoping to hear the Bears roar.

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