The jotting of line combinations at a morning skate. Shooting the breeze with coaches and players. The camaraderie with his crew and broadcast partner.
Dave Strader has mostly missed the gameday routine while battling a rare form of bile duct cancer for 8½ months.
But Saturday when Dallas plays host to Tampa Bay, the longtime NHL play-by-play man will return to the home TV booth at American Airlines Center to call the first of five straight Stars games on Fox Sports Southwest.
Strader, 61, cannot wait.
He has lost a bunch of weight and some strength, but by phone from Dallas, Strader said, “Mentally, I feel good, and physically I think I feel well enough and have the stamina to get in there and do a few games in a row. I asked the doctor if I can take a break from treatment, and he said, ‘This is as important as any treatment you can get if you feel well enough to go back and do what you love to do.’
“I’ve missed it a ton.”
Most hockey fans know Strader well. He has worked for Detroit, Florida, Arizona and for years was seen on ESPN and NBC.
Last February, Strader wasn’t feeling right. A battery of tests didn’t reveal anything major. But in May, he had severe abdominal pain during a plane flight to St. Louis for a playoff game.
After Game 7, Strader underwent more tests in Dallas, then drove home to Glens Falls, N.Y. After more tests, he was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma June 3. The cancer had moved into his abdominal wall, meaning Strader couldn’t undergo an extensive surgery that would have removed much of the tumor and half his liver.
Doctors removed his gall bladder instead, and he has been receiving treatment since with several setbacks, including cardiac arrest.
Strader went to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York late last year because they do some advanced things with genetic testing. Any day, he’s hoping to get word that he has been matched up with an immunotherapy drug that’s more targeted to the area of his cancer.
“The problem with this cancer is there’s not a whole lot of testing done specific to it because there’s not very many cases. I’ve read numbers from as few as 2,000 to maybe as many as 8,000 cases because sometimes it’s misdiagnosed,” Strader said. “So we’re trying to find something that can help me fight this thing off.”
Strader and his wife, Colleen, had only been in Dallas a year.
“I connected with the fans really well knowing it wasn’t an easy situation really taking over for the only voice [Ralph Strangis] that they have known for 20 years,” Strader said. “Being reunited with [Stars President] Jim Lites, who originally brought me to the NHL from Glens Falls with Detroit in ’85 to working with Razor [analyst and former goalie Daryl Reaugh, who took over play-by-play duties from Stader], everything was unbelievable.
“But to see how quickly things can change in one’s life and really not have any fair warning, if there is such a thing, has been tough.”
When Strader was too sick to attend their Hockey Fights Cancer Night in October, one of his three sons, Trevor, a singer and actor chasing his Broadway dream in Manhattan, sang the national anthem for the Stars.
The past months have been hard on Colleen, his wife of 40 years and high school sweetheart.
“You know how it is for the caregiver. It’s often tougher on them,” Strader said. “I can’t imagine where I’d be at this point without her being along.”
The prognosis isn’t good.
“Part of me having a positive attitude is not getting too bogged down in the numbers because the numbers aren’t pretty,” Strader said. “Right now, I’m fighting it. For me, it’s just about pushing the horizon back a day at a time hoping to get good news from Sloan Kettering so I can buy a couple of years and maybe there is a cure around the corner.”
Originally, Strader wondered if he should keep his diagnosis private. But he was inspired by the late Craig Sager and Stuart Scott, who publicly fought cancer.
“It was a rallying point for other people that may say, ‘I have that disease, and look, he has it, too,’” Strader said. “If I inspire one person to battle through this and not get bogged down listening to doom and gloom, it’s all worth it.”