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Stars know 'grueling schedule' awaits after four weather postponements

While eager to resume play, safety of North Texas community and fellow teammates takes precedence for Dallas players

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

It has been an intriguing run for the Dallas Stars.

Players dealt with home damage from a tornado in October of 2019. The team suddenly fired coach Jim Montgomery in December of that same year. The league shut down as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The NHL returned to play in a playoff bubble in Edmonton in August of 2020. The Stars made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to Tampa Bay in six games in late September. The league started a shortened 2020-21 season in January 2021, and the Stars had their first four games postponed because of a COVID outbreak on the team.

Dallas got back on track, playing 12 games, only to have four games postponed this week because of the winter storm and power outages throughout Texas.

 

[MORE COVERAGE: Four games postponed due to ongoing power outages, winter storm; will be rescheduled]

 

The Stars returned to the practice ice Thursday with the plan to resume the schedule Monday at the Florida Panthers. Dallas is scheduled to play five games in Florida (three against the Panthers and two against the Lightning), and that does seem to indicate there could be some normalcy awaiting. But the fact the Stars now are eight games behind other teams in the Central Division definitely creates just a little bit more adversity for this team.

"We know what's ahead, obviously, a grueling schedule," captain Jamie Benn said. "But we'll manage our days pretty well here. We're really all just looking forward to our next game."

Both Benn and coach Rick Bowness said they believe the NHL made the right call. The City of Dallas is battling to get electricity to homes that don't have it, and the fact the American Airlines Center went dark for all activities could possibly help.

"The guys want to play, they want to get on a roll. But more importantly, it's the safety and well-being of the people of the State of Texas that's far more important than us playing a game," Bowness said. "Hopefully, the people that are suffering in the cold, that'll disappear over the next couple of days. Get the people that are having a very difficult time right now, both staying warm and feeding their families, which breaks my heart, that's the most important thing right now."

The Stars saw some problems first-hand, as Benn and defenseman Esa Lindell opened their houses to teammates who had lost electricity. Center Tyler Seguin, who is rehabbing in Ontario after offseason hip surgery, also opened his house to teammates.

"That's what we do," said Benn, who took in goalie Ben Bishop when his house was damaged by the 2019 tornado and also set up a backyard training camp during the 2020 stoppage in play. "We're trying to take care of each other and help each other out, because there's guys on our team that also don't have power."

Bowness said the Stars have responded well to adversity in the past, and that the travails have pushed the team closer together.

"Their hearts are in the right place," Bowness said. "It's a good group, the chemistry is great, the culture is great. This adversity we're facing … we'll deal with it, we'll overcome it, much like we have every other adversity that we have faced. We're a close family here, and that's going to get us through these tough times."

And as big as the issues are off the ice, there still is the responsibility to win games and make the playoffs. Dallas is in a 1-3-4 slump and in need of some wins. Bowness said he felt a real level of intensity before Monday's game against Nashville was postponed at the last minute.

"I know we were really pumped up to play Nashville on Monday night," Bowness said. "I felt it in the room. The guys were in a great frame of mind and we were ready to play. It was a major disappointment, but you deal with it."

Now, they will practice in Frisco, leave for Florida on Sunday, and hope to find that urgency again. The Panthers are 10-2-2 and the Lightning are 10-3-1, so that's a daunting task for the 5-3-4 Stars.

But this team can only play one game at a time and manage the schedule as well as possible. Bowness said he's aware that trying to fit those four postponed games in before the end of the regular season May 10 is going to create challenges, but they have to be managed.

"To play 44 games in the condensed schedule that they're asking us to play, that is a huge burden," Bowness said. "We can't deal with it all at once, all we can do is deal with it day to day and do what's right for the team."

The Stars are currently missing Roope Hintz, who is listed as day to day with a lower-body injury, and Alexander Radulov, who is on IR with a lower-body injury. They also are missing Seguin and Bishop (offseason knee injury) and might not have them back until late March or early April.

Bowness said he does not want to push players to come back too quickly from injury, and simply has to be patient and smart.

"That's the situation that terrifies us, that there are so many games and the guys are going to get tired and get injured out there," said Bowness, who added that the coaching staff might have to give some games off, the way they do in the NBA.

"If we see guys are clearly tired, yes," Bowness said. "Would we give them the night off from games? We'd absolutely have to, because if you don't, then you run the risk of them getting injured - and we won't do that to our players."

That said, they have shown in the past, they can handle adversity.

"We're a big family here," Bowness said, "and the guys are taking care of each other."

 

Stars at Panthers

Monday, 6 p.m. CT

BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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