Add suiting up for NHL playoff games in his home state for the first time in his career to an eventful few years for Calgary Flames forward Blake Coleman.
The 30-year-old winger from Plano, Texas may wear enemy colours at American Airlines Center in Dallas during the Flames’ first-round series against the Stars, but the moment was nonetheless special for him.
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cup rings with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Coleman signed a six-year contract with Calgary last summer.
He became the first born-and-raised Texan to win a Stanley Cup in 2020, when the Lightning beat the Stars in six games in Edmonton’s playoff bubble.
New York Rangers defenceman Brian Leetch (1994) was born in Corpus Christi, but Leetch’s formative hockey years were spent in Connecticut.
No spectators were allowed in the Edmonton bubble because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coleman played the Cup final in a quiet Rogers Place.
So a full house featuring a lot of familiar faces in Saturday’s Game 3 and Monday’s Game 4 in Dallas was an enjoyable prospect for Coleman. Plano is less than an hour’s drive northeast of Dallas.
“I grew up coming to playoff games here,” Coleman said Saturday at American Airlines Center before Game 3 of the series knotted 1-1.
“I did get to play Dallas in the Stanley Cup final, but under completely different circumstances.
“I’ll have a lot of support in the building. I’m sure it’ll be scattered red jerseys around here. I think it’s going to be a fun atmosphere to play in.”
Coleman was two years old when the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993. The team played out of Reunion Arena for the first 10 years of his life.
Coleman and his grandmother Marie Hoffman shared a love of hockey.
“My late grandma was the one who got me started in hockey, and we shared that bond going to Stars games, obviously back at Reunion Arena at the time, but just became really passionate about it,” the winger said.
“To be in Texas at that time, somebody had to introduce you to the game. Somebody had to be willing to drive 45 minutes to practice and go to 6 a.m. skates before school and things like that.
“My mom and my grandma, the sacrifices they made are certainly the reason that I had the opportunity to be where I am.”
Coleman was among the first crop of young Texans influenced by the appearance of an NHL franchise in their state, inspired by star players Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk, and electrified by a Stanley Cup win in 1999.
“It was still early, you know, the football coaches thought it was still bizarre,” Coleman said. “The fan base really grew quickly here. The amount of ice rinks grew quickly. People really took it on and enjoyed the game of hockey here and I was no different.
“Winning the Cup in ’99 really kind of brought hockey to the front and centre here.”
Current Vancouver Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers and brothers Seth and Caleb Jones, both Chicago Blackhawks defencemen, were also born in Texas within years of the Stars’ arrival.
“Thankfully, we had a lot of competitive players start playing around my age, and some of which played in the NHL as well.” Coleman said.
When Coleman’s Lightning faced the Stars in the 2020 Cup final, he said he was “hearing from anybody and everybody I ever played with or met at a hockey rink.”
Upon his arrival in Dallas, Coleman recruited wife Jordan, a former college football sideline TV reporter and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, to field calls and messages.
“I made my wife my executive assistant for the week and keep all the distractions out the door,” he said.