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According to Ralph: Campers

by Ralph Strangis / Dallas Stars

It is my 25th year with the franchise. I say seasons usually, but that’s not entirely accurate for a guy who measures his career in work stoppages (4) and franchise relocations (just the 1).

And every fall we have what we continue to call “Training Camp”, although the modern version scarcely resembles what it was back when I still had hair. In those days players used camp to get in shape, or at least get in better shape. Coaches, who themselves needed it even more twenty years earlier and still heeded what they practiced when it was their turn in the bigs, held marathon practice sessions and a multitude of scrimmages.

And it was in the scrimmages where a young buck would try to get noticed by dropping the gloves and proving himself against the team’s current belt holder. Stories become legends over time and through the retelling, but the current version I go with is seeing Basil MacRae fight the same young guy 4 times in a single scrimmage. Can’t remember who the up and comer was, don’t think it was Churla.

Old guy used to give a plucky kid a whack over the head or an elbow to the mouth just to let him know what’s what. A Bill Guerin incident somewhere in the Rockies comes to mind… Coulda been the altitude.

And yeah – we’d go to places like Breckenridge and Vail and even more recently Prince Edward Island, and we’d watch these annual scrums and torch passing-offs and then meander around quaint villages and have fellowship (yes, I said fellowship) with coworkers and players and coaches and emerge a collective traveling group ready for the season’s challenges.

Only thing the same these days is the veterans try and get through it, and the young guys try to impress. But no fights, no two-a-days, no extended stays, and not too many elbows to the mouth.

But if you look close, one or two things a year usually jump out. Last year, it took about one line rush to see Benn and Seguin were born to play together. These past few days in Fort Worth, it was the young defensemen who caught the eye. Honka is the eye-candy and will be fun track this year but not here, and Klingberg is the kind of player who makes every scout say “yep – he’s mine…” And a collection of big and sturdy and already battle-tested young blueliners fill a hole that was empty for way too long.

And now – pre-season in earnest; 6 games over a little under a fortnight (got that from Enberg) where the coaches will tinker and see what combinations they like, and … the veterans will try and get through it, and the young guys will try to impress.

But keep an eye on it – because you never know what might catch your eye.

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