The Stanley Cup champion’s No. 56 will forever live among the rafters of the American Airlines Center.
By Matthew DeFranks, 9:03 PM on Jan 28, 2022 CST
Give Sergei Zubov another day to find the words.
In the moments after the Stars retired his No. 56 on Friday night, Zubov was left speechless by the spectacle, silent by the celebration.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow [how I feel],” Zubov said during a news conference following his jersey retirement. “Let me share it with my family, with my friends, and I’m just proud to be a small part of this team and this city.”
Zubov retired as the Stars’ greatest all-time defenseman, a member of the 1999 Stanley Cup championship team and the franchise’s leader in games played, goals, assists, points, plus-minus, power-play goals, game-winning goals, shots on goal and time on ice among blue liners.
He became the sixth player in franchise history to have his number retired, joining Bill Masterton (No. 19), Bill Goldsworthy (No. 8), Neal Broten (No. 7), Mike Modano (No. 9) and Jere Lehtinen (No. 26).
Zubov’s number choice was a happy accident, he explained. He first started wearing No. 56 in Pittsburgh, after a midseason switch from No. 3. As No. 3, Zubov broke a finger twice and that forced him to miss almost 20 games.
“I realized that I better change something,” Zubov said.
So he found No. 56.
The Stars honored Zubov before playing the Capitals on Friday night, a festival surrounding No. 56′s brilliance.
The franchise rehashed the trade with the Penguins that sent Kevin Hatcher away for Zubov. Zubov spoke about how Dallas became home.
“Time went by and I realized that the team came a long way to become superior,” Zubov said. “But that moment, we really enjoyed playing together and just spending time together. We all became one big family, and that was a big part of the success. I’m glad that it happened with me. Truly enjoyed it.”
Many members of the 1999 team were back in Dallas, greeted by fans during the pregame “Victory Green carpet walk.” Fans rained “Eddie! Eddie!” chants on Ed Belfour. Modano and former play-by-play broadcaster Ralph Strangis drew large cheers when they exited a Lexus on Nowitzki Way. People in Derian Hatcher and Craig Ludwig jerseys got to show them off to them.
Zubov said his tough-to-describe emotions began welling up earlier this week when he began to see many former teammates.
“Great time and great moment to spend with people who really made this team, made this city and organization special,” Zubov said. “All of those guys, some of them I didn’t see for so many years. It was just a nice moment to enjoy.”
Inside American Airlines Center, flashing bracelets lit the arena and highlight montages of Zubov’s deft, understated, subtle, patient plays filled the video boards. Strangis, former Stars general manager Bob Gainey and former Rangers teammate Kevin Lowe honored Zubov with recorded statements.
Then Zubov approached the lectern, to a low-frequency “Zuuuuub” from the AAC crowd.
For the next 11 minutes, the Hockey Hall of Famer thanked a host of people.
He thanked his goalies, Belfour and Marty Turco, for cleaning up his mistakes. He thanked former assistant coach Rick Wilson for turning him into a complete defenseman. He thanked former general manager Doug Armstrong for allowing him to remain in Dallas as long as he wanted. He thanked his wife, Irina, for being his voice of reason. He continued down the extensive list of Stars players, staffers and management.
He thanked Stars fans, who rarely got to see Zubov’s personality in interviews while he was playing. He said their support on Friday meant “probably everything.”
“I appreciate the moment, I appreciate the fans,” Zubov said.
At 7:09 p.m., his number began its ascent into the heights of American Airlines Center. It will stay there forever, just as the Stars will stay with Zubov.
“Twenty-six years ago, the city of Dallas welcomed me,” Zubov closed his speech. “Today, I say thank you to this team, to this city and to you fans for being such a good part of my life.
“I will forever be proud to call myself a Dallas Star.”