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Finally Feeling At Home

by Olivia Kiespert / Dallas Stars

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After a rough first year-and-a-half in Dallas, Dallas Stars’ center Brad Richards finally feels at home with his new city and team. This seems silly to say considering he recorded a team record-tying  five assists in his Dallas Stars debut, but Richards admits that the transition wasn’t as easy as he had expected.

“The last two years have been tough,” he said. “Coming over here, I was really engrained in the community and my team in Tampa. The transition didn’t go as smoothly as I probably thought. Last year, with the injuries to Brenden, Zubov and myself, was a year to forget.”

Richards attempted to become a more integral part of the team last season but was sidelined for 25 of the last 26 games of the season with back to back injuries to his wrist and hand. Using the long offseason to repair all of his injuries and take time away from the game gave Richards a new mindset coming in to this season.

“This feels like home now. I always knew this was a great organization, and every day that goes by it gets better,” he said. “I love what Joe Nieuwendyk and Marc Crawford have brought. It’s working out really well. I came in with a good attitude this year and put a lot of work into it. You never know how it’s going to go, but right now it’s good. There’s 70 games left though, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

So far this season, Richards has been nearly unstoppable offensively. He is currently tied for fifth in the league in assists (10) and is tied for seventh in points (15) in just 10 games. He credits his linemates, Loui Eriksson and James Neal, with helping him to be so productive offensively.

“I think Loui and I have had chemistry since I got here,” Richards said. “I really enjoyed playing with Loui and we struggled to find a consistent left winger with all of the injuries last year. I think coming into camp this year and having Nealer, who is coming into his second year and learned a lot last year, be very enthusiastic and have a lot of energy has been great. The three of us work well together. So far, so good.”

New Head Coach Marc Crawford has taken notice of Richard’s play and is pleased with how he has adapted to the Stars’ new system.

“He’s fitting in extremely well,” Crawford said. “Brad is a very, very smart player, and he understands that when you play with an offensive slant to your game, you’ve got to also be responsible. I think he’s got the type of presence that is really very beneficial to both Loui Eriksson and especially to James Neal because they listen to him. He gives the right types of advice on positioning and response when you’re playing. I think that’s comforting for a line if they’ve got a general, and Brad is definitely that type of player. He not only knows what he should be doing, but he also understands what the other guys should be doing. He’s very good at making them aware and making them accountable for doing it.”

As the veteran of his line, Richards enjoys helping his young wingers come into their own in a very tough and competitive league. With eight seasons behind him, Richards knows what it takes for a player to establish himself and maintain a spot in the NHL.

“[Eriksson and Neal] are very willing to learn and want to get better,” he said. “They’re not satisfied with anything they’ve done. They know that this league is not a forgiving league if you don’t stay on top of things. I try to give them what I want out there to help me and to help our line. The biggest thing is we want to be out there as much as possible. We want to be put in key situations. We have to do all of the right things to have the coach put his confidence in us.”

The line is off to a blazing start, combining for 17 goals and 40 points this season. With so much scoring coming from one line, the trio is receiving more notice and attention from opposing teams. Luckily for the Stars, Richards is used to and relishes in this added pressure as he has played on top lines throughout his career.

“It’s something you deal with all the time, and it’s a challenge every day,” he said. “You want that respect, and you want to be able to battle through it. That’s what makes you a better player, and that’s something that we’re looking forward to doing every night. That’s something that comes with a fast start. It’s a tough league; you’re going to play against good players. But we’ve got to keep mentally focused, prepared. It can go the other way as easily as it’s going this way.”

For Crawford, having teams focus in on Richards’ line is no problem for the team.

“If [the Richards line] is going to get the top defensive pair, that means Ribeiro’s line is not going to get as good of a defensive pair to play against. Modano, when he comes back, is a guy who gets a lot of notoriety. People have to pay special attention to him and his line. The strength of our team is the depth of our forward positioning. We are not just a team that’s going to score with one line. Part of your strength as a line is that maybe you are going to take a lot of attention away from other people, and they’re going to be given a much better opportunity to play offensively.”

Although overtimes and shootouts have gotten the best of the Stars in the early season, the Stars finally broke through for their victory in extra time on Wednesday against Toronto. Before then, the Stars were 0-4 with three shootout losses and one defeat in overtime. With so many close games in the first few weeks of the season, it’s hard to always maintain a positive outlook, but Richards says it’s just part of the game.

“The only bad thing about it was that it happened so quickly, three in four nights,” he said. “Now, there have been two over the last eight nights. When you go through the whole year and you’re done at 82 games, we’re fully confident that all of that will equal out.”

During the pre-season, Richards said over and over that there were no excuses for the team’s slow start and performance in the 2008-09 season, and that a quick start this year was essential. Despite the heartbreaking losses, the Stars have managed to earn points in 10 of their first 12 games, and Richards is extremely encouraged by the team’s performance.

“It’s a start, and that’s what you want,” he said. “Now we’ve got to build off that. We’ve got to keep that momentum going. It’s always hard to play when you’re below or around .500; it seems like you’re always clawing back. It was good to get ahead of the game a little bit, but now we’ve got to build on it. The enthusiasm this season has kind of passed for the whole league. This is where the good teams start to move ahead of the pack and separate themselves from the enthusiastic teams that might start to struggle. We went to be a team that builds on what we started with.”

As for that sore groin problem that kept Richards out of two games earlier this season, don’t expect it to sideline Richards again. He insists he’s learned his lesson and is being proactive in preventing further strain.

“It’s a maintenance thing that every day you have to stay on top of it,” he said. “The coaching staff and training staff are being patient with me, and we’re all on the same page trying to get ahead of it so we can put it behind me eventually. It’s one of those things where you try and get all of the doctors’ opinions and try to make sure you’re not doing anything worse to it. If you’re not, you just go day-to-day and see how it feels that day. As long as you watch it, it’s one of those injuries that won’t keep you out of games.”

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