Cross #1 Off My List

Posted: October 30, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Today, on October 29, 2010, I was finally able to cross the #1 item off of my Bucket List.  You know, that list of 100 things you want to do before you die.  Well today I crossed off item #1 – I met Joe Nieuwendyk, current GM of the Dallas Stars, future and should’ve been this year Hall of Famer, amazing all around player and now I can say the NICEST person EVER.  Seven hours later and I’m still shaking.

I’ve been a huge fan of Joe’s since about forever.  I remember way back when we first got ESPN on cable in the 80’s.  24 hour a day sports coverage?  Are you serious?  What could you possibly show at Midnight?  Well if you’re a fledgling sports network, you can show hockey games in Edmonton, Vancouver and yes, Calgary.  I used to sneak downstairs and watch the games.  I loved hockey even back then.  1980 had that affect on a few of us.  Everyone back then was all about Edmonton because of Gretzky of course.  Well there was this other player that I used to see play for Calgary.  He was tall and lanky and young.  But you could tell back then that there was something special about Joe Nieuwendyk.  It wasn’t just that he had an amazing wrist shot and always seemed to find a way to score a goal just when the Flames needed it, he made the players around him play better.  He did the little things that separate the good NHL players from the 20-year NHL Veterans who have three Stanley Cup rings, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year and an Olympic Gold Medal.  The scary thing, he was originally recruited by Cornell University to be a lacrosse player.  The hockey coach saw him and there are many of us who are very thankful to that coach.

When Joe was traded to Dallas back in 1995, I was so excited because now one of my favorite players to watch was on my favorite team.  Watching what he did in Dallas just made me love the guy even more.  With a one-two punch of the Modano line followed by the Nieuwendyk line, the Stars were one of the league’s most dominant teams from 1997 to 2001.

I’ve been following Joe since his rookie year in Calgary, back in 1988.  And today, on my birthday of all days, I finally had the chance to meet him and speak with him.  So I am not only writing this down so that you can all share in my joy but also so that when I am like 90 and senile I have documentation of this moment and I can have my nurse read it to me and look at the photo of Joe and me.

I am currently in Dallas to see the Stars play.  Well last night they lost, 5 – 2 to the LA Kings.  I HATE the Kings.  They sure have the Stars’ number.  But it was a total blast to be here in Dallas, rooting for the Stars with so many other Stars fans.  Usually I’m in Columbus getting pelted by Blue Jackets fans for rooting for the Stars and calling Spacek and Dorsett candyasses and other nasty names.

Today, the Stars had a practice at their facility in Frisco.  Which just in case I forget this, I thought I was about in Oklahoma I had to drive so far.  And it was worth every mile of it!  So I was at practice with my Texas friends, @TXStarsgirl and @Lafs2Loud, AKA D’Ann and Myra.  A few of my fellow Stars tweeps had told me that Joe frequently is out and about (say that the Canadian way, eh) during practice.  So, between watching the players do their drills and stretch, and stretch some more, I kept an eye out for Joe.  There are windows overlooking the practice rink so that people in the offices upstairs can see practice.  Through one of the windows, I saw the back of a man wearing a blue shirt and I thought it was Joe.  The fact that I can recognize Joe by the back of his head or by seeing only his skate does NOT make me a stalker.  It’s called RESEARCH people and I was always an excellent researcher in school.  Seriously, I was.

We walked outside for a bit to see if Brad, one of the Managing Editors at Defending Big D was there and I think also so D’Ann and Myra could warm up.  Why do people in TX keep saying it’s cold when it feels great to me?  Anyway because Myra is awesome, I got to meet Mike Heika, the Stars beat reporter for the Dallas Morning News; Mark Stepneski, who runs the very popular Andrew’s Stars page and is now with Dallas; and Ralph Strangis, the play-by-play announcer for the Dallas Stars, one of the absolute best in the league.  Now this is another cool part of today because I tweeted yesterday to Ralph that I was at the game and came in from Cincinnati just to see the Stars play for my birthday.  And he responded back on Twitter which was really cool until today, when he remembered me.  When Myra introduced us, he said my twitter name.  That was the ultimate moment of the day until I met Joe.  Sorry Ralph, you’re still a very close second.   I wish I’d gotten a picture with Ralph but I hate to make them feel obligated and I’m sure they get bothered with that all of the time.  But I got to talk to Ralph and also listen to three hockey and Stars experts talk about the Stars.  That was amazing. But still no Joe.

We went back in and watched some more drills.  Then as practice started to wind down, and still no Joe, Myra suggested that we check out the Stars Store and then go wait to see the players as they leave.  I bought two Stars shirts and was excited.  I met Ralph and Mike and Mark – very cool.  I got to see the Stars practice – very cool.  As we were walking out of the store, in walked … you know who, the guy in the blue shirt.  And I was so right, it was Joe Nieuwendyk.  I can recognize him by the back of his head.  He looks good in that shade of blue.

I was stunned.  I was speechless – which is quite a feat for me and not something that happens frequently.  Actually I can’t remember the last time I was speechless.  Here he was right in front of me and I couldn’t open my mouth to ask him to sign the my Stars jersey with his name and number on it.  Thankfully and seriously Thank God Myra took some time off work because she was able to speak to Joe.  He was so gracious and kind and I could barely talk at first.   Myra told him it was my birthday and I came in from Cincinnati to see the Stars play.  Then she asked if he would sign my jersey.  Meanwhile, I’m just standing there in awe, all I could think was that Joe was bigger in person than I expected.  I knew he was tall but he seemed broader, arms bigger, larger than life itself.

I was expecting him to just sign the jersey and continue on his way.  I think he was going to lunch.  Then he asked me my name.  I am sure I looked even more stupid because I had to stop and think about that one.  Finally, I was able to say Kris with a K.  And he signed my jersey.  And we had our picture taken, he put his arm around me.  I put my arm around him but I was afraid to touch him.  Finally I was able to find my voice when we started talking about hockey.  He asked me why I was a Stars fan.  We talked about college hockey, Cornell and Miami.  He said he played a game once in Cincinnati when he was with Calgary – yes I was there.  We probably chatted for about 15 minutes or so.  He wished me a happy birthday and then he left.

Seriously just typing this, I’m still shaking.  I was blushing the whole time – damn pale complexion.  You know when you meet someone important, you wonder maybe you’ve just built them up in your mind and they don’t live up to your expectations.  I’ve always said if Joe is really a horrible guy, please don’t ever let me see that.  And even though everyone I’ve ever spoken to who has met Joe has always said he’s so nice, there was that worry in my mind.  What would I ever do if my image of Joe Nieuwendyk was shattered?  Well now that I have met him, all I can say is he’s like a million times better in person than anything I ever imagined.

Here he is, probably on his way to grab some lunch, when we stop him.  A lot of players would’ve just signed, taken the photo and been on their way.  And I totally would’ve been happy with that.  But the fact that he talked to me and asked me questions was so unbelievably, mind-blowingly amazing.  He really is the most amazing person ever.  I wish I could be more like him.  When you meet him in person and see how down to earth and humble and personable he is, you really begin to understand why so many people love the guy.

I’m kind of mad at myself.  There were so many things I wanted to say to him, like what an inspiration he is to me – especially with everything he went through in the summer of 98; how I think he’s doing an awesome job as the Stars GM; why I think the HHoF committee should be shot for not inducting him this year; etc… And I wind up talking college hockey with him.  I think he liked that though.  I don’t think a lot of people talk to him about college hockey and Cornell.

As I sit here in my hotel room, looking at my signed jersey, I am still just freaking out, giddy with excitement and am overwhelmed with how awesome Joe Nieuwendyk is.  So to Joe Nieuwendyk, Ralph Strangis, Mike Heika, Mark Stepneski, the Dallas Stars and especially D’Ann and Myra – thank you so much for making this birthday my best birthday ever.

Now I’m going to go put my jersey on and do the happy dance in my hotel room one last time before the jersey gets framed.

Happy birthday to me!

UPDATE — I remembered something else Joe said that struck me as funny.  He said hopefully the weather will warm up soon.  All I could think was he’s been living in Dallas too long if he thinks this is cold.  I thought the weather here was great!  But it was sweet he wanted the weather to be better for my vacation.

  1. Shawn says:

    I’m a miserable guy, and I had no choice but to smile at today’s events for you. You’ve waited so long to meet the guy and you did and weren’t disappointed. Look at it this way, there may be another chance sometime down the road where you can say what you want to him.

    I’m glad it was a good birthday for you. A great birthday for a great person.

  2. Myra says:

    What a great day! I’m so happy for you! I knew they were all good people but even I was surprised how great everyone was to us.

    Happy Birthday!

  3. Leighanne says:

    What an awesome story! I’m so glad a dream came true for you. I know what you mean about being speechless. I met Jason and Grant from Ghosthunters about a year ago and I got mad at myself for not knowing what to say to them. Andy and I just told them we watch their show all of the time….dorks!

    Happy Birthday!

  4. […] Stars loss to the Kings that Thursday (more on this later), the trip was tons of fun and Kris even got to get her Joe Nieuwendyk jersey signed after years of being a huge fan. At the beginning of the season this year, the Dallas Stars burst out of the […]

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