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Stars' Oduya, Sharp ready to face Blackhawks

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- When the Dallas Stars host the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, FS-SW+), it will be the first time Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya and forward Patrick Sharp face the Blackhawks since changing teams in the summer.

Oduya, a member of Chicago's Stanley Cup championship teams in 2013 and 2015, signed with Dallas as a free agent last summer.

Sharp, who played for the Blackhawks' title teams in 2010, 2013 and 2015, came to the Stars in a July trade that sent defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt to Chicago for Sharp and defenseman Stephen Johns, who is with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.

Patrick Sharp
Patrick Sharp
Left Wing - DAL
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 25
SOG: 98 | +/-: 1
The two veterans have already experienced facing a former team for the first time earlier in their respective careers, so it's natural they're downplaying that aspect of this Central Division game.

"We want to have a good finish here before the small little break [for Christmas], a lot of division games coming up," said Oduya, who has four goals and 12 points in 34 games with the Stars. "Obviously, they're a good team. I have a lot of friends on that team, but that makes me want to beat them even more."

Sharp has 11 goals and 25 points in 34 games for Dallas, including an assist Monday in a 6-3 win at the Minnesota Wild. Sharp has played up and down the lineup, delivering results on the first, second and third lines for the Stars, who have the NHL's second-best record at 25-7-2, tying them with the Washington Capitals for most points in the League with 52 (Washington has one fewer loss).

But he's approaching his first regular-season game against the Blackhawks, who he spent 10 seasons with, similar to how he's approached every game in his successful career.

"I honestly think it is just another game. It'll be a little different because it's the first time I've played against my former team, but being in the Central Division, you look way down the line," Sharp said. "We're going to play these guys quite a bit, so any thoughts or feelings or emotions I have about playing my friends and my former teammates are going to be gone quickly because we're going to see each other quite a bit down the stretch."

Sharp knows when Dallas travels to play Chicago at United Center on Feb. 11 it will be a different story.

"I think going to Chicago will be different. You'll see so many more people than just the players. You'll see a lot of people in the organization, you'll see fans that you recognize, you'll see people that work with United Center. It's a whole different animal," Sharp said.

During the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Stars coach Lindy Ruff got to know Sharp when Ruff was an assistant coach for Canada during its gold medal-winning run, so Ruff is not surprised by how Sharp has played since coming to Dallas, someone who has provided strong veteran leadership in the room and moved around the lineup with no questions asked.

Ruff never previously coached Oduya. He said he likes how the defenseman has performed on his second pair, usually skating alongside Jason Demers.

"I'm a little surprised by the incredible intensity Johnny brings. There's an intensity to him. It's a vocal intensity. I love his intensity. It's surprised me," Ruff said. "Sometimes you'll look at a player and say, 'Well, he looks like a quiet player,' but the intensity he brings to that defense core has been awesome."

Dallas played Chicago on Oct. 3 at United Center in the final preseason game for each team. Oduya and Sharp see that experience as beneficial in giving them a taste of what facing their former teammates for the first time in the regular season on Tuesday will be like.

"Now I think I feel more a part of this team than I did at that time. Now that time has passed, you make new friends and things like that," Oduya said. "Of course, I guess that the feeling is going to be a little bit different [on Tuesday]. I think it makes it a lot easier. I don't really try to think of the past too much. I try to move forward. It's a big game for both teams, especially for us. I think getting a win is huge and that's what we're looking for."

Sharp concurs with Oduya and remembers some advice he received during the preseason from new Dallas teammate Jason Spezza, who went through a similar experience in 2014 after being traded from the Ottawa Senators, where he played his first 11 NHL seasons, to Dallas that summer.

"[Spezza] told me that that [playing Chicago in preseason] was going to help quite a bit, getting it out of the way. I was thinking about it ever since the trade, what it's going to be like to play against the Hawks and go back there and see those guys," Sharp said. "To get it out of the way that first week of preseason was pretty big. I haven't really thought about what it would be like since that game, so it was nice to do that."

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