With training camp a little more than three weeks away, some Dallas Stars players are starting to trickle back into town. Among the early arrivals is center Jason Spezza.
“The last few weeks of the summer I am always antsy to get back with the guys,” Spezza said. “I am happy to be in town, trying to get settled and getting ready to go for camp.”
Spezza described his summer as “pretty uneventful.” He spent most of it in the Toronto area, relaxing and focusing on family.
“I’ve got the kids, so I like to spend a lot of time at home, stay low-key and spend time with them,” he said. “Enjoy the time away from the game a little bit.”
Another game caught his attention during the summer. That was baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays, who are pushing to make Major League Baseball’s postseason for the first time since they won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993.
“I have watched a lot of games on TV this year,” Spezza said. “We went to one last week before we came with the kids, and it’s an exciting time for Toronto. The city is buzzing. I haven’t seen it like this in years. We went to the game the other day; it was 50,000 people, and not a single person wasn’t wearing a Blue Jays hat or t-shirt. The city is buzzing.”
Of course, there’s a lot of buzz around the Stars these days after another productive offseason for GM Jim Nill, who traded for forward Patrick Sharp and goaltender Antti Niemi and signed defenseman Johnny Oduya.
“It’s been another positive offseason for the team. It shows the continued push and continued belief that we can have a good team from Mr. Gaglardi and Jim,” Spezza said. “They are continuing to tweak things and bring in pieces to give us a better chance to have a good club.”
Spezza said the winning experience of the new arrivals will be a big boost for the Stars. Sharp has won three Stanley Cups in six years with Chicago. Oduya has been a part of the last two Cup runs with the Blackhawks. Niemi won a Cup with Chicago in 2010.
“You are bringing in great pedigree. You are not only bringing in great players; you are bringing in great players that have won and won together,” he said. “They’ll have their different outlook on things and what they found that was successful for them in Chicago they can implement things in our dressing room. We have a pretty open team to learn and get better. When you add three guys that have won, it is huge for the locker room.”
Everything looks good on paper. But it looked good on paper heading into last season, and the Stars missed the playoffs. The hope is that lessons learned last season will pay dividends this season.
“How hard a league it is and how you can’t afford to have slow starts or long droughts,” Spezza said. “I think we got into too many stretches where we lost five or more games two or three times, and you really can’t recover from those. We played good hockey in the second half of the year, but it was too little too late. You hope you learn your lessons and become a more consistent team night in and night out.”
Some experience Stars players gained overseas this offseason could pay dividends as well. Spezza and Dallas forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin won gold with Canada at the 2015 World Championship in Czech Republic in May. The Canadian team, which was put together by Nill, went 10-0 at the tournament and outscored its opposition, 66-15. Spezza was the top scorer at the tournament, registering 14 points (six goals, eight assists). Seguin was the top goal scorer with nine. Eakin chipped in with six points (four goals, two assists).
“It was great, a great month and it ended with a gold medal, which is why you go over there. You sacrifice a month of your time off to go there,” Spezza said. “Jim did a great job of putting the team together; Todd [McLellan] did a great job of coaching. We just came together as a group; everybody had roles, and we executed. When you win the way we won and the way we played, it was fun to be a part of.
“I think it is just a great experience when you can go there with your teammates. We know what we did well over there. Everybody had different roles and played in different positions. I think it was a great experience for our three guys because we all contributed in different ways.”
Spezza is one of a small group of players back in town starting to skate on their own in preparation for training camp, which gets underway next month in Cedar Park. The comfort level is higher than one year ago when Spezza was still settling in after being acquired from Ottawa where he had spent his entire NHL career. And Spezza expects that comfort level to pay off as well.
“It’s a totally different feel for me this time around,” said Spezza. “Last year I came in eyes wide open, everything was new. I felt like a rookie again. This year I feel the onus to be more of a leader. I feel more comfortable with the responsibility and with the city, everything feels more at home for me. I feel more settled, and I expect better things out of me this year.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.