Dallas Stars leave the Steve behind
BRECKENRIDGE – Stephen C. West Ice Arena employees figured it was too good to last. The Dallas Stars recently let them know, indeed it was.
The Stars won’t be returning to the Steve this fall after two years conducting a preseason camp at the arena. This September, the team is heading back to Vail, where it conducted camps in the late 1990s.
“It’s not a huge surprise to us,” said Breckenridge assistant ice arena manager Kevin Zygulski. “We’re definitely disappointed, but we kind of had the feeling that they were going to try to get back over (to Vail) if they could.”
The Stars originally came to Breckenridge in 2001 because Vail’s Dobson Arena was undergoing construction. Last season, the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens booked Dobson in September, so the team again returned to the Steve. This year, the Stars booked Dobson shortly after their season ended in the second round of the playoffs.
“We made plans to go back to Vail this year and mix it up a bit,” said Stars Director of Communications Rob Scichili. “(The players) really did like the facility in Vail, and that was their first preference.”
Vail’s nearly 1,500-foot lower elevation was probably a factor in the decision. A few of the players had altitude-sickness problems last year, and one player, David Oliver, ended up in the hospital in Denver.
“I asked why they weren’t coming back,” Zygulski said, “if there was something we didn’t do for them, and they were like, “no, you guys were great, but the guys just can’t handle the elevation.'”
Zygulski also theorized that Vail has more to offer the players off the ice.
“The coaches really liked the set-up,” he said. “I think the players were looking for maybe just a little more nightlife and a ritzy type of environment.”
Still, Scichili said the team would consider returning to Breckenridge in the future. In the meantime, Zygulski and ice arena manager Jenise Jensen will market the Steve to other NHL teams.
“The concern we have is, if Dallas is saying the reason we’re not coming back here is the elevation, then that word is going to get around pretty quickly, and other teams will probably look for lower elevation training, too,” Zygulski said.
It was a memorable two-year run in Breckenridge: The team’s drills and scrimmages were open to the public; locals would take their lunch breaks and come to the arena to watch some of the best hockey players in the world; last year, local referees got the opportunity to work a few of the team’s scrimmages; the players employed Breck’s fly-fishing and biking guides and interacted with people on the street.
“We’re all disappointed, that’s for sure, because it was a fun week,” Zygulski said. “They were a very easy team to work with. There was a lot of respect from the players, coaches and team personnel.”
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