The Dallas Stars open the 2010-11 regular season on the road at New Jersey Friday night (6 pm start, FSSW) and like hockey fans everywhere, the players are excited and ready to go.
After one final practice Thursday at Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, the Stars will board their private plane and fly out to Newark Thursday afternoon, spending the night in New Jersey and going through the usual game-day routine on Friday.
Following two consecutive years out of the playoffs, and with a number of high-profile publications predicting the Stars to miss out once again this season, the club’s hunger level and desire to prove the so-called experts wrong is sky high.
“The attitude’s great right now, we’re all excited,” said captain Brenden Morrow
of the mood in the dressing room. “Pre-season’s over and we’re a couple of days away from that first one, so it’s a good feeling in here right now. We’re not picked very high and people use motivation in different ways, everyone uses bulletin board stuff.”
“The best teams are always the teams that have something to prove and we’ve got something to prove,” added coach Marc Crawford, who begins his second year in Dallas with 507 career regular season victories, ranking 13th on the NHL’s all-time list, 26 wins behind former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock in 12th. “We’ve got to have humility in our play and the humility allows you to really bear down on the details. We’ve got to protect the puck, we’ve got to own the puck, when we make our chip-ins and dump-ins, we’ve got to make smart ones. That’s a detail thing, coming in on the play and making an educated play when you’re confronted is important.”
From a newcomer’s perspective, winger Adam Burish
sees a team that is fully prepared and eager to get started, and that has him pumped up as well.
“The start of the season is always fun, it’s always exciting, everybody’s at zeroes, but coming to a new team, new guys, I’m probably as excited as I’ve ever been right now,” said Burish, who signed with Dallas as a free agent in July, just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago. “It’s a new challenge, it seems like the energy and the life in the room with these guys is awesome. This is a hungry bunch, guys are excited to get started, guys are excited that everyone’s kind of written us off, so it should be a fun start of the season.”
With another contest Saturday night across the New York metropolitan area against the Islanders, the Stars open the season with back-to-back contests, which could be viewed as a positive way to help promote further team bonding.
“It’s actually kind of nice to start on the road,” said gritty winger Brandon Segal. “The guys get closer together and get to know each other before the season starts. Obviously, we’re going to have two tough games over there in New Jersey and New York, but the guys have worked really hard in the summer and in training camp. We’re ready to go.”
“You start with all the guys together, you feel like you’re really starting the season,” added veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas
. “You get together the first night before the game, go get a good dinner and morning skate there on the road - there’s no distractions or anything like that. I think it’s good. It’s a fresh start for us, a new beginning and I think everybody’s really excited and anxious to start the season.”
Opening with two on the road provides the squad an opportunity to immediately wipe away any lingering bad memories of last year’s road record. One of the key factors that contributed to a playoff-less 2009-10 was the fact that the Stars were just 14-20-7 in enemy rinks, ranking 11th in the Western Conference and 22nd in the NHL.
“I think for us, it’s one of the challenges we’ve got this year, to be better on the road,” acknowledged Crawford. “To be better on the road, we have to be a team that is tougher to play against. It’s really respecting the puck and playing a game where we do not allow the other team to get easy chances going the other way. You’re not always going to get the match-ups you want, so it’s very important to play to your strengths, and our strengths have got to be that we’re going to be a team that’s very deliberate in how we play.”
Whether or not they have Morrow in the lineup is still not set in stone. After missing several days of practice this week with a lower body injury, the captain fully expects to play, even if he doesn’t get on the ice again with his teammates until Friday’s morning skate.
“We’re still very confident with the prognosis that he’ll be able to play Friday,” Crawford said. “If we don’t have him, somebody else will get a shot to take that spot, but we’re going with the presumption that Brenden will be there.”
“The main thing is to be 100 percent by Friday, but I’d like to get in another practice before that pre-game skate,” Morrow said. “I’ve been through (the injury) before, and I know what to expect, so I don’t really have a concern.”
If the players can channel their excitement into controlled intensity on the ice Friday night, they should be fine, because the club feels it is very important to jump out to a strong start.
“Every game’s important,” Morrow said. “You can’t overlook the first month of the season, so we’re really focusing on that first game. We play two and have almost a week off again (before the home opener on Oct. 14), so we’re just making sure we’re 100 percent prepared for that first game.”
It all gets underway Friday. Finally!