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Texas Heat Gives Stars Advantage

May 21, 1998

DALLAS (AP) _ Sure, the Detroit Red Wings are faster than the Dallas Stars. But their blazing skates may be wasted during the Western Conference finals games played on the soft, sometimes slushy ice at Reunion Arena.

The ice at 18-year-old Reunion has been an occasional problem this postseason, and the forecast for Sunday’s series opener isn’t very good.

Near-record temperatures in the mid-90s, oppressive humidity and a high dew point also are conspiring against keeping the inch-thick surface near its optimum temperature of 17 to 20 degrees.

``We’re pretty good during the week,″ said Dave Westby, Reunion Arena’s operation manager and ice guru. ``It’s once you open the doors and it’s 90 degrees, 60 percent humidity, 65 degree dew point and there’s all those bodies (a sellout crowd of 16,928) _ that’s when there’s problems.″

The Stars have hired the same company the Florida Panthers used during their Stanley Cup run two years ago to bring in a machine that sucks the humidity out of the air.

``We’re going to run this thing 24 hours, probably,″ Westby said Thursday. ``We don’t know if we need to, but we also don’t know if it’s going to be enough.″

Although the Stars were off all week after closing out their second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers, the ice had to be cut out and replaced in three spots to paint new logos beneath the surface. A fourth patch job may still have to be added, Westby said.

``You’ve got chunks that could become more chippy because they don’t have any skating into them,″ Westby said. ``But the NHL told us to do it, so we’re doing it.″

There’s little time to get the ice broken in because Eric Clapton is performing at Reunion on Friday night. The surface will be covered then, but beer, soda and other garbage are sure to leak through, forcing Westby and staff to do more touch-up work around early Saturday so the Red Wings can practice that afternoon.

``That will be the first test,″ Westby said.

So far this postseason, home-ice advantage hasn’t meant much as visitors have won half the 66 playoff games. Detroit knows all about that, winning all three of its second-round games in St. Louis, but losing two of three at home to the Blues.

Dallas has been one of the exceptions, going 5-1 at home while eliminating San Jose and Edmonton. Stars center Mike Modano said the team benefits from knowing the quirks of its home ice.

``It’s an old arena and they don’t have the ability to keep it cold as some other arenas,″ Modano said. ``It gets chippy and soft as the game goes on, but that’s something we’ve gotten used to.″

The ice problems are essentially an extra defender for Dallas, already a defensive-oriented team. That may be especially handy against Detroit, which features line after line of fast-skating forwards.

``The ability to make cross-ice passes after about eight or 12 minutes is tough,″ Modano said. ``The puck bounces and you don’t know where it’s going to go. ... Teams make a lot of turnovers trying to make plays that you can’t do early in the period.″

Cynics, and most Red Wings fans, may accuse the Stars are trying to keep the ice soft. It’s like baseball teams growing the infield grass high when they didn’t have very good fielders or watering down the basepaths to slow opposing runners.

But Westby, whose salary is paid by the arena and not the team, said that’s not the case.

``We try to present from the get-go as good an ice surface as we can, no matter whether it benefits one team or not,″ he said.

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