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Gritty Stars played with injuries down the stretch

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

While the Dallas Stars were decimated by injuries in February and lost some key contributors to various ailments during the stretch run in March, it turns out that several players who remained in the lineup also had to battle through pain as the club made its last-ditch push for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

Several players need off-season surgeries to fix nagging ailments, further demonstrating just how much they fought through the injuries over the last month or so. In fact, looking down the Stars roster, just five players suited up for every game, and practically all of them overcame some medical hindrance as the season wound down.

Perhaps the most impressive member of the group is abrasive forward Steve Ott, who was still sporting a swollen cheek, cuts and a nice shiner under his left eye from an errant puck that hit him April 8 in Colorado. Ott, who led the club and finished seventh overall in the NHL with 252 hits this season, will need to have a relatively minor procedure done on his ankle, but was still considering an offer from Team Canada to play in the World Championships.

“All year, one of my ankles has been bothering me, I know I’m going to have to get that fixed,” said Ott, who topped Dallas and ranked sixth in the league with 183 penalty minutes, before the team dispersed for the summer on Tuesday. “I just have some bone spurs that have to be taken out from other surgeries, this will be number four on that ankle. It’s something I have to clean up, but other than that, it didn’t bother me skating. I have a couple other nagging little injuries, but nothing too bad to even think about missing a game or worry about.”

Captain Brenden Morrow noted that he had to turn down an offer from Team Canada due to some nagging injuries that he would not reveal.

“I’m not going to make it this year, just a lot of bumps and bruises that need some time to heal,” said Morrow, who played 82 for just the third time in his 11 NHL seasons and recorded 225 hits. “Just little things that add up, nothing serious. I’d like to get feeling healthy again soon and get back in the gym.”

Defenseman Trevor Daley, who suited up for 82 games for just the second time in seven years, downplayed an elbow injury he was dealing with, one that may or may not require surgery.

“It’s fine, I’ll just take some time off and see how I feel after,” downplayed Daley, who reached career-highs with eight goals and 27 points while also ranking third on the Stars with 124 blocked shots. “I’ll take a few weeks and then re-evaluate it. It’s not really bothering me, it’s not bad.”

Offensive center Mike Ribeiro also played all 82 games this season, and while he didn’t report any nagging injuries, he did express his thoughts on why he hates to sit out for anything.

“I don’t know, I guess I’m just that big and that strong,” joked the 6-foot, 179-pound Ribeiro of his durability this year. “I just don’t like to miss games. Once you miss even two or three games, when you come back, the game’s so much faster and you take a step back. I’m trying to play every game, even if I don’t feel good. You saw with guys that missed games this year, it took them five or six games to get back to shape or back to the same speed.  I’m just trying to get out of the way of those big boys, play smarter than them and just stay healthy.” 

The other player to play every night was blueliner Alex Goligoski, who actually ended up playing 83 games this season due to his mid-season trade from Pittsburgh, with 23 coming in a Stars uniform.

Additionally, gritty defenseman Stephane Robidas skated in 81 games, missing just one due to a league suspension early in the season. He indicated that he might also need to go under the knife to repair a nagging problem.

“I had a hip bugging me, not the one I had last year, but it’s been bugging me a little bit,” said Robidas, who totaled 216 hits, good for third on the team and 16th in the NHL while also finishing second on the squad with 135 blocked shots this season. “Nothing too major. We’ll see, I have to do an MRI and see if there’s really a need for anything specific.”

For grinding players like Ott, Morrow and Robidas to make it out on the ice each night says a lot about each player’s commitment, physical condition and ability to fight through pain. At one point, Morrow spent about month with a full face shield after a puck broke his nose and he actually seemed to play better. Ott had a shield on for the last game and a half after getting hit in the cheek with the puck, while Robidas has skated with the full face cage so many times the past few years, he almost looks strange without it.

“I guess you can say it’s the reason I played all 82 this year, which was really exciting and fun for myself,” Ott joked about his battered face. “Me and Brenden kind of joked about it the other day, it’s nice to be able to compete in all of them and you end up looking like this if you’re in the majority of them. I’d rather look like this than miss some games, that’s for sure.”

Other players who overcame injuries to suit up late in the year included gutsy winger Adam Burish, who missed 11 straight games down the stretch before returning for the final three. He had been classified as having a ‘lower body injury,’ but Tuesday revealed he had actually fractured his fibula and didn’t feel very well upon his return, but he battled through the unpleasantness to help his team.

“The last game was probably the best I felt, but it wasn’t good,” admitted Burish, who finished the year with 70 blocked shots, ranking 11th among NHL forwards despite missing 19 of the final 30 games.  “It felt like almost every time you turn one way or you stop and start, you just have no power, your leg feels kind of dead, but for awhile, it was really painful. I could hardly walk, and I’m limping around and guys on the bench were saying, ‘Just get out of here.’

“It was painful, the last month was tough. I was in the hyperbaric chamber every day, I was eating pills left and right, just trying to do whatever I could, I was getting shots every game, taking pills to just try and practice, and I guess slowly, it came together a little bit. I was able to play the last couple of games, but it didn’t feel great.”

Second-year forward Jamie Benn, who sparkled over the season’s last two months, also dealt with some injuries down the stretch. Benn, who compiled nine goals and 22 points over the last 20 games, was in the process of consulting with the medical staff and General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk before deciding whether or not he was healthy enough to skate for Team Canada in the World Championships.

“I think I’ll just think about it for the next couple of days here,” Benn said. “I’ll sit down and have a talk with Joe and see how the trainers feel about some stuff and then I’ll make my decision.”

So while many observers point to the debilitating rash of injuries the Stars sustained in February, which precipitated a 1-8-1 tailspin after the All-Star break, as a key reason the club wound up missing the playoffs, it could have been much worse if some of these key players had succumbed to the ailments they were battling through at the same time.

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