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Durability Has Been One Calling Card for Stars’ Trio This Season

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars
Various factors can help determine whether or not a player remains durable throughout an 82-game NHL regular season, things like conditioning, getting enough rest, proper nutrition but luck is also involved. More often than not, a player can pick up small injuries here and there that in some cases can keep them off the ice for a game, two games or even longer.

So, when any NHL head coach has a player or two, or three in the Stars’ case, who can answer the bell every single night and not miss a single game, it’s a nice thing to have. Stars’ first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan has that luxury in 2011 All-Star winger Loui Eriksson, center Vernon Fiddler and leading goal scorer Michael Ryder.

Heading into Tuesday’s Pacific Division clash with the Sharks at American Airlines Center, each member of this trio has been on the ice for all 79 games to date and Eriksson, Fiddler and Ryder are clearly in line to skate in all 82 this season, definitely a big deal for each of them.

But it’s not like playing every game in a regular season is anything new for Eriksson, who has 70 points (26-44-7) and is plus-17 this season. The affable Swede has hit the ice for all 82 contests twice before, in 2008-09 and again the following season, in 2009-10, so should he be able to replicate that feat this year, it would complete the trifecta.

So, what does he attribute his durability to? Well it’s not surprising to hear him mention that there is definitely luck involved.

“Probably a little bit of luck too but I always try to stay healthy. It’s been like that almost every year,” Eriksson said. “I haven’t been hurt that much. I think last year I was sick for two games. I don’t know what it is, but I think everyone wants to play every game. So far it’s been good and hopefully it continues that way.”

While not missing a single game is nothing new for Eriksson, that’s not the case for third-line centerman Fiddler. Should he be able to play in all 82 this season, then that would be the first time in his career he’s been able to do so. His career high for games played in a season is 79, which was set with Nashville in 2007-08. “Fidds” did skate in 78 the following year for the Predators, but he admits this is uncharted territory for him.

“It’s one of those things, you hope everybody plays all 82 games and has a healthy year. But you need some luck. You’ve got to take care of your body and like I said before, it’s just one of those things where you need a little bit of luck,” Fiddler said. “Sometimes injuries just happen. They catch up to you and you play hard. It’s definitely not happened to everybody. I’m just happy to be able to contribute every night.”

Like Fiddler, Ryder is new to the Stars this season and no one can doubt the impact the winger from Newfoundland has had on his new club. “Ryds” leads the Stars with 35 goals, which just happens to be a new career high and besides his 62 points (35-27-62), he also sports a robust plus/minus rating of plus-20.

However, when it comes to durability, skating in all 82 is also nothing new for him. He’s already accomplished that feat two other times in his career, once with Montreal during the 2006-07 season and again with the Bruins in 2009-10. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he’s also skated in 81 games on two other occasions in his NHL career.

So, if he’s somewhat blasé about being so durable, it’s mainly because that’s the way he’s been for much if not all of his time in the league. “I’ve always been like that most of my career. I don’t know, I don’t do too much to like before games get warmed up or whatever. So I have no idea, maybe just the way I am or whatever,” Ryder said. “You get banged up, bruises and that but I’ve been lucky enough to stay away from those thus far.”

To illustrate just how fleeting durability can truly be in today’s NHL consider the four Stars who held the distinction of not missing a single game last season. That group included defenseman Trevor Daley, captain Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro. None of those four players will repeat that feat this season although Daley has skated in 76 games to date and Ribeiro leads the Stars with 44 assists despite missing seven games due to injury.

And even though this is Gulutzan’s first year in the NHL coaching ranks, he’s been behind the bench long enough to realize what a premium durability can be at no matter the level of competition.

“Certainly durability is a real good thing in a hockey player but those guys, not only they’re durable but they play in the hard areas,” he said. “You look where Loui scores his goals. You look what Fiddler does for a living and Ryder is a guy that likes to play along the walls and in front of the net. They’re not playing quiet zones out there to get by either, so it’s even better. Yeah, those three guys, it’s good to have players like that who are durable, knock on wood.”

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