Two years after a run to the Stanley Cup final, the Stars returned to the place where it began
EDMONTON, Alberta — One day before the Stars took the Rogers Place ice for the first time in 19 months, the memories came rushing back for five members of the Stars contingent that spent 66 days in the Edmonton bubble.
That’s when the JW Marriott served as a canvas for a reminiscent evening, one spent rehashing the Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 and the unique two-month stay in one hotel. The Stars were part visitors, part tour guides this week, which came the day before the team lost 5-2 to the Oilers.
No team spent more time in the JW Marriott than the Stars did during the 2020 playoffs. Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay spent the first half of their postseason run in Toronto. The Stars bounced Vegas in the Western Conference Final. No other Western Conference team won two rounds.
When the Stars went back to Edmonton this week, they did not stay in the JW Marriott. Instead, they stayed at the Sandman Signature Hotel, which is owned by Stars owner Tom Gaglardi. While the Sandman Signature was used during the bubble, it was reserved for the No. 7 through No. 12 seeds in the West. As one of the top four teams in the 2019-20 West, the Stars earned their way to the JW
“It’s like running into an ex-girlfriend,” Stars assistant video coach Matt Rodell said.
The JW is across the street from Rogers Place, a location connected by Edmonton’s second-floor pedway that meanders through downtown. Its black-paneled walls are accented by dark brown wood; its white chairs in the lobby served as a makeshift cafeteria for the NHLers.
The lobby of the JW two years ago was an area of cliques. In the back corner, that’s where the Stars sat. Closer to the bar and the 16 televisions that formed one picture, that’s where the Lightning sat. The NHL Players Association had their area, too, closer to the main entrance.
Outside, through revolving glass doors, there was the courtyard. Or, how it was known back then, the prison yard.
The Stars were like children who went back to their childhood home after it was sold to a new family: Oh, look at what they did to the living room. Hmm, I wonder why they did that to the kitchen. Remember when we had your birthday party outside there?
Oh, remember when one Stars communication staffer celebrated his 40th birthday over there on the patio with a couple bottles of wine? Look at that building that they finally finished constructing. Video coach Kelly Forbes’ hotel room overlooked the courtyard, and he used to look out his window to gauge the line at the Tim Horton’s trailer.
(Everything at the Tim Horton’s trailer was free, which led to two things. One, telling other people that “This coffee is one me.” Two, all the donuts being gone early in the morning as people hoarded pastries.)
Now, on a mid-April evening, snow occupied where the Timmy’s truck used to be.
The main attraction on Tuesday night was Braven — the restaurant inside the lobby of the JW frequented by the Stars — particularly the Braven burger. During the bubble, one Stars executive ate more than two dozen Braven burgers across his two months in Edmonton.
The burger was a hefty one, with a patty that probably weighed somewhere between four and eight ounces. It came with the usual accoutrements, plus bacon and shoe-string fries. When the burgers arrived, so did the recall about how one executive would steal fries as soon as someone else’s plate hit the table.
During the bubble, this was home cooking. Now, it’s a comfort food.
But the area where the Stars spent many hours was upstairs, in Wayne Gretzky Ballroom C.
That was the team lounge, where the Stars held team meetings, and hosted ping-pong matches and served food. On one side of the room were the Stars. Separated by a retractable wall that bisected the ballroom, the Golden Knights were on the other side — complete with movie nights that sometimes infringed on Stars meetings.
The decor remained the same — the decorative metal poles that hung from the ceiling that resembled chandeliers without the lights, the gold circular tables, the black chairs. Forbes saw if he remembered how to lower the projector screen from the ceiling. I did.
“This is probably what it was like when Al Capone went back to Alcatraz,” director of team services Jason Rademan said.
From there, it was an easy walk to Rogers Place through the blue and gray-carpeted walkway that looked over 104 Avenue Northwest. What used to be the COVID-19 testing site (that also included a golf simulator) was no more. On game day, the atrium was filled by the Oilers’ brass band. After the game, 50 Cent blared from the nearby bar.
The Stars used the NHL visitor’s dressing room on Wednesday night, which was the same room they used when they beat Colorado in the second round, fueled by Joel Kiviranta’s Game 7 hat trick.
Because of the league’s division-only schedule last year, the Stars didn’t visit Edmonton in the 2020-21 season. Simply because of a scheduling quirk, the Stars didn’t visit Edmonton until the second-to-last road game of the season.
But the memories of a 66-day stay still come back.
“Haven’t been back here since, which is fine, but a lot of good memories here,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “We went to the Finals. Those nine weeks, it all worked out. Other than winning the last game.”