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Original Issue

1 Dallas Stars

There is no clinically proven hair of the dog or other magic
potion for the dread Stanley Cup hangover, that bloated feeling
of success and complacency that afflicts so many champions. But
last summer Stars coach Ken Hitchcock did some empirical
research on a cure. Hitchcock interviewed four other coaches or
managers who had won championships--two in the NHL, one in major
league baseball and one in the NBA--to help him better
understand the potential pitfalls of The Season After. Hitchcock
says the four (he declines to name them) agreed on the single
biggest issue: details. "They all told me that you can't lose
the fight with details," Hitchcock says. "The details have to be
in place, on and off the ice. You let the little things slide,
maybe the last thing that will be affected is your play. But
once that happens, it never leaves. You stop having that focal
point, you're gone."

To that end the Stars will have their time at the rink strictly
budgeted, their off days structured and their mental mistakes
closely scrutinized. Next June they will also be lifting the
Stanley Cup again, a triumph that will be forged by a mature
team and a consumed coach. After squeezing every last drop from
the 1998-99 champions, who at times looked like they were aging
faster than a portrait in the attic, Hitchcock and general
manager Bob Gainey have made the Stars quicker and more skilled
by doing some tinkering. Free agents Pat Verbeek and Dave Reid
and the retired Craig Ludwig--average age: 36--are gone,
replaced by younger forwards such as 28-year-old Pavel Patera,
who played for Vsetin in the Czech Republic last season,
25-year-old Juha Lind, who played for Jokerit in Finland in
'98-99, and 26-year-old defenseman Jamie Pushor, who got his
name on the Cup in 1997 with the Red Wings. The Stars are not
abandoning dump-and-chase hockey, but as the league-wide
pendulum starts swinging slowly back to offense, they will blend
in a slicker, puck-control style.

"We'll miss those guys we won with," says Stars center Mike
Modano, "but we'll be quicker on the third and fourth lines,
which creates a little havoc. But on any team a certain number
of guys will carry it. Those seven or eight guys are still here."

Modano, a three-time All-Star, is foremost among them. He says
that if he and wingers Brett Hull and Jere Lehtinen play at
least 75 games together, he could score 50 goals and 100 points
even though the line is often used in a checking role. Joe
Nieuwendyk, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, gives
Dallas a one-two punch at center matched only by Colorado's Joe
Sakic and Peter Forsberg; Nieuwendyk also should average more
than a point a game, benefiting from the maturation of right
wing Jamie Langenbrunner. Now in his fourth full season, the
24-year-old Langenbrunner is a strong, aggressive skater who
creates turnovers and is learning to find seams on the ice that
are the provenance of goal scorers. After getting just 12 goals
in 75 regular-season games in 1998-99, Langenbrunner responded
with 10 goals in 23 playoff matches. "He's always been a worker,
but now he has added that control game," Hitchcock says. "I
think that he's ready to take off."

In goal, Dallas is grounded. Ed Belfour, a clenched fist of a
man, filled in the one blank space in his otherwise gaudy resume
with the Stanley Cup and reported to training camp more relaxed,
preparing for Friday's regular season opener against the
Penguins with almost a sense of detachment. Belfour doesn't have
Roman Turek behind him anymore--Turek was traded to St. Louis,
where he will be the No. 1 netminder--but in front of him
Belfour still has a standout defensive team that allowed the
fewest goals in the NHL last season.

At last count 15 Dallas players had tattoos of the Stanley Cup
somewhere on their bodies, but they are not the real marks of a
champion. The Stars can repeat because they have reconditioned
their team and sweated all the small stuff that might fall under
the rubric of "distractions," staying ahead of the curve and the
loaded Red Wings. If Hitchcock's science is right, a second Cup
will be in the details. --Michael Farber

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Look for Langenbrunner, who had 10 playoff goals in '99, to light it up this season.


Brett Hull scored the game-winning goal in 11 of the 60 games
in which he played last season. That was the highest percentage
(18.3%) of game-winners by any player who suited up for at least
10 games in 1998-99.


Category SI Ranking Skinny

Offense 6 Potent and balanced, led by Modano
Defense 2 No team blocks more shots; unit smothers down low
Goaltending 5 Belfour proved that he's Cup-worthy
Special Teams 3 Pointmen Zubov and Sydor make strong power play go
Coaching 3 Hitchcock a master at pushing the right buttons