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In laying Stars' foundation, communication key with Jim Montgomery

The new head coach got players on board with his program early, including making a summer trip to Europe

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

BOISE, Idaho -- Stars coach Jim Montgomery is big on communication. That's been evident the first two days of training camp in Boise, Idaho with players noting that he has been crystal clear in explaining how he wants his team to play.

"That's good feedback," Montgomery said with a smile. "It's good to hear that the players think I have good clarity"

And his positivity and passion in laying out his plan both on and off the ice has been creating some excitement among the players.

"He's pumped," said defenseman Esa Lindell, "and we're pumped to go."

 

[TRAINING CAMP CENTRAL: Click here for the latest news and information from Boise, Idaho]

 

Montgomery got the communication process and excitement ramping up among players well before training camp. The new Dallas coach started reaching out to players just after being hired in early May to let them know where he was coming from and get a feel for the players.

"The thing that keeps coming back is they are hungry," Montgomery said. "There is fire in their belly and they want to accomplish really good things and they want to be in the playoffs. They not only want to make the playoffs, but have success. That's exciting -- that they're hungry and they are excited for a new plan."

Among the ways Montgomery established a rapport with players was by hitting the road, more specifically heading to the airport and making his way overseas for face-to-face meetings with some of his key players spending the summer in Europe.

Video: Mic'd Up: Jim Montgomery's first NHL training camp

"That was a big surprise when he texted," said Lindell. "It meant a lot to come all the way there."

"That shows how much he cares and how excited he is," said defenseman John Klingberg. "We are excited as well."

Among the stops for Montgomery was Stockholm, Sweden and a chat with forward Mattias Janmark.

"That was nice," Janmark said. "It was a good start to be able to talk before you get over here. It was a nice gesture by him and be able to talk about things."

Janmark had done some reading on Montgomery shortly after the hiring and got a good picture of where the Stars could be heading under a new coach who was preaching puck possession and an aggressive style of play. Then came the face-to-face meeting.

"The kind of the picture I had just got stronger," Janmark said. "As soon as I looked it up a little and heard some stuff, that's the picture I had and it got stronger when he came over."

Montgomery also met with Klingberg in Sweden, taking a train from Stockholm to Sweden to spend time the Dallas defenseman.

Video: Jim Montgomery likes what he sees on Day 2 of camp

"We had lunch for three and a half hours. Really good meeting," Klingberg said. "Just sitting down for a three-and-a-half hour lunch, that's a long lunch. But it just felt like time was flying. We were talking about things, person-wise, hockey-wise, how the team is, how he is. It's good stuff for sure."

And there were stops in Finland to meet with defenseman Miro Heiskanen one day and then Lindell and defenseman Julius Honka the next day.

"We went to dinner and kind of went through what he expects from us and we got to know each other better. It was good," said Honka.

"It was a nice dinner that we had, two or three hours," said Lindell. "We talked about expectations, last year and what we learned, how our season went, all that hockey stuff. And family, all kind of stuff."

Lindell said he appreciated that Montgomery was interested in getting to know the players as people, not just as hockey players.

And then there is the hockey part -- a more aggressive style, which has the players excited as well.

"I love the way he thinks the game," said Klingberg. "It's pretty modern. We can see there is so much speed and skill in the game these days. I think we learned a lot last year from [former coach Ken Hitchcock] playing defense, so if we can bring in that and play better with the puck and create more chances we are going to be a tough team to beat."

Video: Josh Bogorad sits down with Blake Comeau

 

Defensemen talk changes: 'I like his system'

Part of the more aggressive style under coach Jim Montgomery involves the defensemen both when the Stars have the puck and when they are trying to get it back.

"I think they want us more aggressive through the neutral zone, so when the rush is coming down on us they want us jumping players more, staying up, having a really tight gap," said defenseman Marc Methot. "Every team preaches gap, certainly in this case he wants us being more aggressive through the neutral zone."

When the Stars have the puck, the defensemen will be aggressive at times as well.

"We are way more active," said defensemen Esa Lindell. "He wants us to be more part of the game, part of the rush and get the extra man there."

Video: Razor talks offseason, engagement with Devin Shore

Saturday's practice sessions involved some compete drills and 1-on-1 battles. One thing that stood out was how much more the defensemen used their sticks while defending.

"Nowadays you can't touch them, so you have to make sure you are using that stick as much as possible," Methot said. "With (assistant coach) Rick Bowness, he was preaching a lot in our little D huddles that body position, stick position, having an active stick are really important because you are not going to be able to keep up with a guy when he is constantly turning. Those are things we are going to have to keep working on."

There is a lot to work on and more to absorb, but Methot likes what he sees of how the defense and the team will play under Montgomery.

"I like his system," said Methot. "I like that we are going to be a lot more aggressive and at the same time a lot of layers of support through the neutral zone. Having a guy like that is exactly what this team needs right now and it's looking good."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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