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An Elite Care Bear

By Justin Felisko, 04/02/24, 6:30PM MDT


A 20-hour drive and prostate cancer was not going to stop Gary “Bear” Millsaps from supporting the Dallas Stars Elite at the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship.

HENDERSON, Nev. – Gary “Bear” Millsaps was sitting outside the America First Center on Tuesday morning watching players on the Dallas Stars Elite Youth Tier I 16U Team slowly load their hockey bags into the team’s U-Haul truck.

The Stars were all smiles following a 6-4 victory over the Sioux Falls Power on the first day of the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier I 16U National Championship in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Millsaps, who has been a youth hockey volunteer in Dallas for 25 years and is the Stars Elite’s trainer/equipment manager, was even more thankful to be sitting in the Las Vegas sunshine.

It was only less than three months ago that Millsaps was unsure if he would even be able to attend nationals if the Stars were to qualify after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“My doctor really didn’t want me to come, but I said, ‘I have to go,’” the 67-year-old said. “He goes, ‘OK, well before you go, we have to do a couple double treatments of radiation.’

“It was very, very important to me to be here.”

Millsaps then paused before looking at JP Hurlbert and some of the other Dallas players getting ready to head to lunch.

“These guys give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Millsaps said. “It is enjoyable. This is my life and my dedication. I really love to do it. It makes me sad that I am not able to do as much as I can because the radiation is kicking my butt. However, I told the boys I will be there for you and drive the equipment van.”

Hurlbert had two goals in Tuesday’s victory over Sioux Falls and previous led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games earlier this winter.

Eric Silverman, head coach of the Dallas Stars Elite, said the team was extremely hopeful Millsaps would be able to attend nationals in Vegas.

Millsaps presence alone means the world to them.

Silverman also was not surprised to hear that Millsaps underwent double radiation treatments last Thursday and Friday so that he could be cleared by his doctor to go to nationals. Millsaps also drove 20 hours from Dallas to Vegas.

“He has been around Dallas youth hockey since way back in the day,” Silverman said. “He is our biggest cheerleader and biggest fan. Early this season we found out, and obviously his life changed. He has days where he can’t be at the rink, but normally he is at the rink all day. He does laundry for the boys. Fills water bottles. Helps with equipment. We call him our trainer, but he does whatever guys need.

“He has almost dedicated his whole life to the program and taking care of the boys. They are his family. Obviously, we always say the kids don’t know how good they have it. This is not normal in youth hockey. Our kids get to the rink and their laundry is waiting for them, the waters are done. There are snacks. It is a really cool thing.”

Millsaps is a fixture at the Children's Health StarCenter Valley Ranch in Irvine, Texas, and throughout Dallas youth hockey.

Volunteering has left a lasting impact on his life, Millsaps explained.

“It feels good to be useful and helpful,” he said. “Volunteering is something that will put joy in your heart. It does something to you.”

It wasn’t uncommon for Millsaps last year to make homemade meals for his teams, including his specialty meatball subs.

And how good are those subs?

Well, whenever alumni Seth and Caleb Jones come back to Dallas to train in the offseason, it is a given that Millsaps will be there to help with their laundry and make meatball subs.

“I don’t care if you are Mr. Multimillion-dollar NHL guy, they are still one of my boys and I am going to take care of them,” Millsaps said. “Caleb gets excited and asks if I will make them meatball subs. I say, ‘Absolutely.’ That is a tradition. That is my specialty.”

Carter Murphy, a current player on the Dallas Stars Elite 16U squad, said Millsaps gives him and his teammates all-star treatment.

“We love the guy, and he has been around a bit,” Murphy said. “Getting here was important to him because he definitely cares about the boys. He gives us a more professional and junior look to hockey.”

Millsaps first became involved as a volunteer scorekeeper at an adult hockey game in the late 1990s before getting involved with the Dallas Storm Tier II program in ’99.

That was also the year in which Millsaps earned his nickname – “Bear.” According to Millsaps, everyone on the 1999 Storm team had to have a nickname and the players decided Millsaps could be called Gare Bear the Care Bear because of his caring personality.

The name eventually became shortened to Bear, and it has stuck with Millsaps for the last 25 years.

“I don’t even think 10% of people know my actual name,” Millsaps said with a laugh. “I am just Bear.”

There is also another bear inside the Stars locker room this week – a green teddy bear with a shamrock on it.

For as long as Millsaps can remember, every team he has volunteered with has had a lucky stuffed animal bear that the players can stick tap or pass around the room before a game.

“It’s a goofy little tradition, but I love traditions and stuff like that,” Millsaps said after a group of players made sure to take a photo with Millsaps and the green bear outside America First Center.

The Stars next take on the Chicago Mission Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. ET ( as they hope to continue to march toward a national title.  

And how sweet would that title be?

“Oh, it would be totally amazing,” Millsaps concluded.

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