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Checking Line Already Having Big Impact for Stars

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

In some ways, the Dallas Stars are literally changing right before everyone’s eyes. Of course, it is less than 10 games into the Glen Gulutzan era and even after a homestand where the Stars came away with a trio of wins the club remains a work in progress.

But one of Gulutzan’s most oft-repeated mantras back when he was hired in June and in the countless practices and meetings ever since was that he wanted the 2011-12 team to be much harder to play against than recent Stars teams had been.

Well, thus far, even with the small sample size, the Stars have been exactly that and no group epitomizes that mentality more than Dallas’ checking line featuring the likes of Radek DvorakVernon Fiddler and Adam Burish or Eric Nystrom.

This third line not only features guys who epitomize the word gritty and who also embody exactly what role players should be in today’s National Hockey League, but they are also a unit that plain and simple opposing lines hate playing against. And that’s never a bad thing for any coach, whether he’s in his first NHL season or not, to have at his disposal.

“It’ll be a little chaotic to play against those guys. They have energy and they get in your face,” Gulutzan said. “[Dvorak] brings some speed there as well and they’re good defensive players. It’s a line that you’re like oh man, is it these guys all night? That’s good for us and we haven’t had that here for a while. We’ve kind of got that now with that line. They provide us with the ability to play three lines. They can check and get under skins. It’s nice. It maybe takes some pressure off of [Ott] too.”

In previous seasons, the Stars’ resident fly in the ointment was none other than hard-nosed centerman Steve Ott, who has made a considerable name for himself in NHL circles by getting under the skin of opponents. However, one reason Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwenyk added the likes of Dvorak and Fiddler during the off-season was because he wanted to see Ott assume a bigger role offensively. It’s a role he has openly embraced.

Like the rest of the roster, he has enjoyed watching the third line make life rough on the opposition thus far in 2011.

“All four guys are extremely competitive, veteran present players that have a strong defensive background. And when you kind of put them all together, they’ll continue to get better. They’re playing against top, top guys in the league and it’s not easy,” Ott said. “All of them have good skill as well, so sometimes your best defense is hanging onto the puck and you don’t have to defend as much. Those guys are more than capable of sacrificing, blocking shots, making the right play at the lines. All those little things add up to being a hard to play against line.”

The Dallas fan favorite also sees that group as the epitome of what a true checking line should be.

“With Burish, he’s going to go hard to the net every single time. He’s going to have the scrums around him because he is competitive and hard to play against. Same with Fiddler, guys don’t like to play against guys that compete at a very high, high level and challenge you,” Ott said. “Those guys are in your face and challenging. It becomes annoying plus they talk a lot. You add those elements in and for sure, if I was on that line, I would try to do similar things they are doing. It takes a little stress off other guys because they are so good at what they do.”

Burish is the longest-tenured Star of this hard-working group, now being in his second season in Big D. And even though he has two new linemates he agrees the three of them are poised to do some great things this season.

“Yeah, it feels good [to be part of this group]. Playing with Fiddler and Dvorak, they make it easy. We’re kind of all similar players. We all just want to fly. We want to skate. We want to get to pucks. We want to kind of be pests out there where they want to get these guys off me,” Burish said. “Get away from me. They’re always around the puck. They’re always on the forecheck. They’re fun to play with.”

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