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Fresh Start

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

When the Dallas Stars hired Lindy Ruff as head coach in June, there was speculation that James Patrick coming to Dallas was not far behind. On Wednesday that speculation became reality as the Stars announced that Patrick would be joining Ruff’s staff as an assistant coach.

“I went through a long list of candidates, some with head coaching experience, and I ended up going back to James, who I am very comfortable with,” said Ruff. “I like that he played defense and he’ll be working with the defense. I think he’ll be able to skate with them; he’s in that good of shape. I think from a development standpoint, he’ll be really good with our defensemen.”

And Patrick is excited about working with Ruff.

“I certainly love working with him,” Patrick said. “I have a ton of respect for him as a person and a as coach. I am really excited that it was able to work out this way. I know he had a lot of options and I am really excited that he wanted to stay with me.”

Patrick and Ruff have a history. They were teammates with the New York Rangers in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Patrick was a defenseman in Buffalo when Ruff was head coach. And Patrick has spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach under Ruff in Buffalo. Ruff was let go by the Sabres during last season, and Patrick was dismissed after the season.

“I think for both of us it is an exciting fresh start,” said Patrick. “Being a coach in this business you’re fortunate to stay in one place only for so long. I never would have expected to be in Buffalo for so long, coming there as a player and being there for over 14 years. It’s a fresh start and it’s going to be exciting.“

Patrick played 21 seasons in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres. It was the final years in Buffalo when the seeds of his coaching relationship with Ruff may have been planted. He was a veteran defenseman mentoring younger blue liners such as Brian Campbell, Jay McKee, Rhett Warrener, Dmitri Kalinin and Henrik Tallinder.

“My relationship with Lindy started then because for me, it was a good fit to be a good mentor to the younger D,” Patrick said. “As far as how we worked together, it almost started there and it’s just continued. I’ve learned so much from him as far as coaching. You certainly don’t know it all when you are a player. I’ve learned so much more. He’s a great teacher. I have so much respect for him as an all-around coach. He’s been able to change with the times, he makes great adjustments during games, during points of the season. He can have tough love, but he can also be very sympathetic and forgiving to players and staff when they are going through certain things.”

Ruff and Patrick will be joined behind the Dallas bench this season by Curt Fraser, who will be in his second season as assistant coach with the Stars. Ruff has already determined how the three will split the various responsibilities.

“Curt will be working with the power play and hand-in-hand with me on the forwards,” Ruff said. “James will be handling the defense and a lot of the penalty killing for the team. We’ll share some of that responsibility. I like to have a little bit of input with that seeing that I am standing down at the end of the bench with the forwards, they’re coming off the ice, and he’s at the other end with the defense. He’ll be the voice of it, but I’ll be involved to a certain extent.”

Patrick has started the process of evaluating the Stars’ group of defensemen, watching some game videos and checking out some clips on YouTube.

“My first impressions are they are very mobile,” he said. “They’re a veteran defense with Stephane Robidas, Sergei Gonchar, Trevor Daley and even Alex Goligoski is not a young defenseman anymore. Daley, Robidas and Gonchar are experienced guys who have been around a long time, know how to play the game and have very good mobility. Brenden Dillon, I know is the young one and there is so much excitement about him. I heard how well he played last year. When I look at the D as a whole, they have really good mobility, they all play with pretty good gap and they all move the puck, which I think is so important.”

The transition to Dallas after 14 years in Buffalo will be a big one for Patrick, but he said having Ruff along for the ride should make things go smoothly. Throw in all the changes the Stars have made this offseason, and it just adds to the anticipation about that fresh start.

“It’s a new challenge, working with different players and a new group of guys. It’s going to be fun. I know in talking to Lindy he is super pumped about the challenge,” Patrick said. “There’s a lot of excitement about the team. They’ve put a big a stamp on their team as any team has. When you bring in (Tyler) Seguin, (Shawn) Horcoff and (Rich) Peverley, three guys who can play the middle, it should improve our faceoffs. Just right there that can have a huge impact on the team. There’s a buzz around the league about the moves Dallas made. To be part of it is definitely exciting.”

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