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Playoffs latest stop on Souray's path back to NHL

by Corey Masisak

DETROIT -- Corey Perry still remembers the first time he saw a Sheldon Souray slap shot coming in his direction during Anaheim Ducks training camp.

Souray had just joined the Ducks as a free agent from the Dallas Stars, and Perry is one of the guys expected to be in front of the net for Anaheim, so he knew it was going to happen at some point during a practice.

"It didn't feel good," Perry said Monday at Joe Louis Arena, before shaking his head and laughing. "Thank God I just got turned a little bit and it hit me in the rear end. It is not a lot of fun when you do get hit.

"It is scary. It is hard. He can shoot the puck. That's probably one of the hardest ones in the League, and he shoots to score. When you're standing there, you know he's going to put it by you. You just try to get out of the way."

Souray has been a valuable addition for the Ducks this season. One year after returning to the NHL with the Dallas Stars, he signed with Anaheim and was one of the team's top defensemen during the regular season.

He ended up being scratched in Game 3 with a healthy Luca Sbisa ready to return, but Toni Lydman's head injury during that contest has created an opening for Souray and he was back skating with Francois Beauchemin on the team's top pairing during Anaheim's morning skate Monday.

"It is not fun, especially at this time of year," Souray said. "It is what it is, right? It's not fun. Anyone would tell you that. You'd rather be playing, especially this time of year. … It's just all about the team, and the team played really well last night. Really well. I'm really proud and happy for the guys. They deserved that win. Whoever is in at any time, it is their responsibility to help out the team."

Souray has had an interesting path back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He hadn't been a participant since 2006 when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

After singing a mega-contract (five years, $27 million) with the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 2007, Souray missed large chunks of two of his first three seasons because of injuries.

When the Oilers went with a full-blown youth movement, Souray was no longer part of their plans and, unable to trade his contract, he was sent to the American Hockey League. Instead of sending him to their own AHL affiliate, Souray was loaned to the Hershey Bears, the affiliate of the Washington Capitals.

"It's funny because it was definitely not an ideal experience or something that I thought would happen. Things happen and you learn to deal with them, but it wasn't a bad experience I had there," Souray said. "I made some friends and it is still the second-best league in the world. I was around a lot of hungry hockey players, a lot of guys who were eager to get to this level. It was fun to get away from the glamour and the pressure of everything and just get down to guys who just want to play hockey. That was refreshing."

He spent the 2010-11 season riding the bus with the Bears. At the time, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods were behind the bench for the Capitals. Both had been the head coach of the Bears, and both still had strong ties to Hershey and the community there.

Though he wasn't Washington's property, the Bears coaching staff provided reports on him just like the other players, and they were very always positive. Another player might have sulked about the demotion, but Souray did not. He missed time with a broken hand that came from a fight while standing up for a teammate, but he helped the Bears make the playoffs and had a productive year.

"I was still playing hockey and still getting paid," Souray said. "I still felt like I had a lot left in the tank. I felt like if I had been sent down to the minors because I couldn't play hockey anymore, I would have been like, 'Man, this (stinks). This is not the way I wanted to go out.' That wasn't my situation, and so I always felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel -- just go and be a good soldier and be a good teammate and things will work out. Thankfully, it did."

Boudreau downplayed any role he had in the Ducks signing Souray, but the Anaheim coaching staff had a good read on a veteran player who had been asked to do what most high-priced veterans are not because of their connections in Hershey.

"That was all Bob [Murray]," Boudreau said of Anaheim's general manager. "I think he made a great choice in signing him -- another under-the-radar Anaheim-type signing that has worked out well for us."

Souray was back in the NHL last season with the Stars, and he got off to a great offensive start in Dallas. He ended up with six goals and 21 points in 65 games, and he showed the big shot, the physical play -- attributes that had made him a star in Montreal -- were still there.

"[Souray's] been unbelievable for us -- not just on the ice, but off the ice. You can just tell he's a veteran guy and young guys like me and Cam just try to see how he prepares himself for games and stuff like that. It is pretty impressive. He's not the youngest guy, but he can still play 22, 23 minutes every night. You have to be prepared to do that on a nightly basis"
-- Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa

The Ducks missed the playoffs last season, and part of Murray's offseason to-do list included improving the depth on the blue line. Anaheim added Souray and fellow veteran Bryan Allen, and along with the continued maturation of Sbisa and Cam Fowler and a great season from Beauchemin, the defense corps went from a weakness to a strength.

"He's been unbelievable for us -- not just on the ice, but off the ice," Sbisa said. "You can just tell he's a veteran guy and young guys like me and Cam just try to see how he prepares himself for games and stuff like that. It is pretty impressive. He's not the youngest guy, but he can still play 22, 23 minutes every night. You have to be prepared to do that on a nightly basis.

"I didn't know him before he came here, didn't even talk to him once. All I heard was good things. Saku [Koivu] played with him in Montreal and [Andrew Cogliano] played with him in Edmonton, and only good things came up from them. He's been a great addition to our team."

Added Perry: "He's definitely fit in. He's a leader in this dressing room. When it comes to game time, he's one of the guys who is talking, getting everyone going. You can see that he wants it, too. This is his chance to make an impression and it is his chance to hopefully win a Stanley Cup. That's why we play this game, to win championships, and to help guys do it who haven't won before."

After Souray signed a one-year contract with the Stars to have a chance to play in the NHL again and prove he belongs, the Ducks inked him to a three-year, $11 million pact. It has worked out great for both parties -- the Ducks added a veteran defenseman who can log minutes and have a big impact on the power play, and Souray is now able to be closer to his kids, who live in Southern California.

"I had a great opportunity in Dallas that I was real thankful to the Stars organization and Joe Nieuwendyk for. They gave me a chance to come back and prove that I could still play at this level," Souray said. "I'm thankful for that opportunity, and for this opportunity to come to this organization where it fulfills my professional life but also my personal life. It has really been … I probably cherish that more than anything. It has been a fun year. Not one day has it felt like I was going to work."


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