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After strong camp, Robidas ready for new season

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas, the club’s de facto number one defenseman who is an unusual blend of grit and skill, has been through numerous NHL training camps over the course of his 14-year professional career.

But he feels like the one the Stars just completed, leading into Friday night’s regular season opener in New Jersey, was a special one and has gotten the club prepared for the 2010-11 season. 

On the brink of a new year that he hopes will see the Stars snap their two-year playoff-less streak, the 33-year-old native of Sherbrooke, Quebec spoke on a number of subjects, including the team’s experience holding the first four days of camp in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island - a significant departure from past seasons when the Stars held camp at their regular practice facility at the Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco. 

What was the experience like, having the first few days of camp in PEI?

I think it was great. It was good to get all the guys together and hang out and it’s a big difference. If we did it here in Dallas - we all love to be here in Dallas, but guys with families and kids, it’s different. You go somewhere else, we all hang out, we’re all at the same hotel - we got a chance to hang out all together, go to dinner after and sometimes just go out for a beer, watch football on Sunday and just have all the guys together for some team bonding. We had some really good practices, working on a few things, and it was just good to start the season on that note, so you really feel like you’re in training camp mode, you don’t feel like it’s just another day at the office. That was good.

Did you get to do much sight-seeing in PEI? I hear there’s beautiful scenery.

I didn’t do much because it was a pretty busy schedule. We were up early, like 6:30 every morning, but that was good. It’s training camp and it just makes you enjoy all that time, so it was good. 

What was the feeling upon camp returning to Dallas?

You get to hang out with some of the guys that you don’t get to hang out with as much sometimes. You get to meet some of the younger guys. It’s still a lot of guys at training camp, but it’s still different. We had practice, we work out afterwards. To me, everybody’s really excited about this year coming up and I think there’s a lot of positives that’s going to come out of that training camp.

Which younger players have caught your eye during camp?

There’s a lot of good, young players. Actually, we have a lot of good, young players already on our team, so that’s really good. I think those guys seem to be in pretty good shape, and to be in pretty good focus, and that’s good, because we need those guys to keep improving. We all need to keep improving. The last two years, we all know we missed the playoffs, so we all got to give a little more and I think everybody’s ready to give a little more. I think there are some good, young players, too, like (defenseman Philip) Larsen, and the Swiss guy (Severin) Blindenbacher - even though he’s not really young (27), it’s his first time overseas. We got younger guys like (winger Tomas) Vincour, I think there’s a lot of good, young players.

This year, it seems like the pre-season schedule hasn’t been as busy as in past years.  Does that have any affect one way or the other on the guys?

I think for us as a player, that’s not something that I really focus on, the schedule. I love playing games, I love to be part of the game. I just love to go to practice every day and just get back in that routine. That’s what I’ve been missing so much this summer, where you get up in the morning and you don’t really know what’s going on. I love hanging out with my family, don’t get me wrong, it was good, it was perfect, but I love, once the regular season starts, and in training camp, you just go to the rink every day. That’s what I like to do. That’s my life. 

In the pre-season, the focus isn’t on winning so much as it is working on system changes and evaluating players in new situations, right?

To me, personally, it doesn’t matter if I’m playing Wii or if I’m playing ping pong - when I play anything, I want to win, it doesn’t matter.  But I understand that you can’t win everything and in pre-season, it’s time to try different stuff. For us, it’s time to focus on our system and try to work on all the little details. I think the coaches are really prepared, they’ve done a lot of video this summer. The guys said it was very detailed, what we went over. We went over the forecheck, the neutral zone, a couple of adjustments that we want to make and the pre-season games, that’s what they’re there for - to make sure we’re all on the same page, we all know where to go. We got to make sure we execute and we want to make sure we get in those habits, that’s the main thing for us. So far in training camp, I think the working habits have been really good, guys are working hard. We got to play with a fast-paced game, be hard to play against and the only way to do that is by working hard.

With it being the second year of coach Marc Crawford’s system, how much more comfortable is the team with it?

Yeah, we’re comfortable with it, but to me personally, there’s no excuse - first year, second year, third year - it’s just a matter of knowing what you’re trying to accomplish as a team and wanting to do it. You can have the best coach in the world and if the team is not executing the system and not willing to work at it, it’s not going to work. It doesn’t matter which system. You can have the best system in the world and the best coach, but if the players don’t respond to it, it’s not going to work. That’s why I think it’s so important for us to make sure we execute that system - it’s really making sure we’re all pulling in the same direction.

How much of an impact do you think the AHL Texas Stars’ run to the Finals last year will have on some of those younger players who experienced it?

Obviously, I think it’s big, it’s huge. Going far in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what level you’re playing, in the playoffs, especially the American League - it’s right below the NHL, and I’ve played in the minors for three years, it’s a tough league to play in. I’ve been to the playoffs, we went to the semi-final that one year (1999 with AHL Fredericton), and it’s tough.  It’s a grind - it’s not the Stanley Cup, but it’s tough. They finished the Calder Cup a couple of days after the Stanley Cup this year, so it’s a long season. It’s a grind, a lot of travel, bus rides, time changes, you name it. It’s a lot harder, their life than our life (in the NHL). They improved a lot last season by going that far, I don’t think anybody really saw them going that far beforehand, if you looked at their lineup and where they finished in the standings and everything, but to me, I didn’t watch all the games, but from what I heard, they just played well as a team and they just played together. And that shows that anything can happen in the playoffs, that’s all you got to do. Just look at Philly, they almost missed the playoffs last year (making it only after beating the New York Rangers in a shootout in the final game), and they end up going to the Final. They could have won the Stanley Cup, they were close. So it doesn’t matter if you finish first or last, it’s just a matter of making sure you get in the playoffs, and that’s what you want to gear towards. The goal is the win the Stanley Cup, but first you got to get in there and after that, anything can happen. 

Last season, penalty killing was a trouble area for the Stars, but that has looked good in the pre-season (Dallas killed off 31-of-34 opposition power plays in the six games). What are your thoughts on how the PK unit has looked?

When things don’t go well, everybody knows we were 27th in the league and that’s not good enough, so it’s one of the areas that we’ve been focusing on in training camp. It’s just pre-season, but I think we’re heading in the right direction. There’s a lot of positives, we just got to keep building on that and building confidence in our system, that we can kill penalties.
Overall, it’s been a pretty positive pre-season. How much does that matter going into the season?

Sometimes you need momentum like that to build the confidence. You got to be pleased with the effort and the way we’ve been playing. Obviously, there’s always going to be a few little things we need to adjust, but overall, we’ve been pleased with the effort and the way we’ve been playing.

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