After helping lead Canada to a gold medal at the Olympics on Sunday, Lindy Ruff was back in Frisco and running the Dallas Stars through a practice on Tuesday. This was the fifth practice for the Stars since their Olympic break ended last week, and Ruff liked what he saw on his first day back.
“I was excited to get back. I thought our guys were fabulous out there today,” Ruff said. “Obviously, our assistant coaches, Curt [Fraser] and James [Patrick], did a heck of a job with them because our guys were flying. They were good in the drills. It’s going to be important that we are ready for that first game.”
The Stars play their first post-break game Thursday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes t at American Airlines Center. The Stars bench boss likes where his team stands coming out of the break. They are healthy, except for defenseman Stephane Robidas, who is still recovering from a broken leg. And they hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We control our own destiny. The other teams have to hope for us to do something bad for them to get in. It’s a great place to be,” said Ruff. “We know how we need to play. We’re not going to change anything. We played real good hockey down the stretch before the break, and we know that we’re going to need to play the same.”
Ruff returned to the Stars after spending the past two-and-a-half weeks in Sochi, Russia, where he served as associate coach with Team Canada, which won the gold medal in Men’s hockey. It was the second straight gold medal for Canada and Ruff has been part of both as an associate coach.
“I’ve been lucky to be in the right place at the right time and have two great teams play that well under the gun,” said Ruff. “Maybe that only happens twice in a lifetime.”
Ruff was in Sochi with three Dallas players. Captain Jamie Benn won a gold medal with Canada. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen won a bronze medal with Finland. And rookie forward Valeri Nichushkin played for the host team, Russia. Ruff said all three should benefit from the experience.
“It’s a once in a lifetime – and maybe some guys will make it more than once in a lifetime –but the opportunity to be a part of something like that only comes along now and then for those players,” Ruff said. “For Val, at 18, to be part of that, it was a great event. It was a great experience. You can take a lot out of it from a lot of different situations. The winning and losing, if you end up with a silver or a bronze or even just the experience, you’ve got to embrace the whole atmosphere of that tournament and being around the people you are around.”
Of course, Ruff got a close and detailed look at Benn with Team Canada. He said the Stars captain made the most of his opportunities with Canada and had an outstanding tournament. Benn scored two goals, both game-winners, including the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory over the United States in the semifinals. He was a key penalty killer for the Canadians, too.
“I thought what you saw was a guy that was cast in a little different role than he is here. He flourished in that role,” said Ruff. “He was given different opportunities that were greater. He played well on the special teams side that he normally doesn’t play on. He was on our lead pair in penalty killing. I thought he played extremely well when he played with [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry. I thought his tournament was, in my mind, an A+.”
Ruff gave high marks to the overall experience in Sochi. There were some concerns about Sochi prior to the games, but Ruff had nothing but praise for what he experienced there.
“The whole setup there was fabulous,” Ruff said. “From being a little apprehensive going over, I would say you would be hard pressed to duplicate the set up they had, where the venues were that close. I thought all the venues were excellent, where we stayed was excellent. I don’t know if you could do a better job than what Russia did hosting the Olympics.”
*Jamie Benn was at the Stars practice facility on Tuesday, but he did not practice. He is expected to practice Wednesday.
*Kari Lehtonen did not practice Tuesday, but he went on the ice after practice and worked with goaltending coach Mike Valley, Texas Stars goaltender Jack Campbell and a couple other players.
*Campbell is in Frisco working out as he recovers from a knee injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Dec. 18. Campbell said he is close to returning.
*With Benn not practicing, injured defenseman Stephane Robidas skated on a line with Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin, who returned to practice on Monday. Other forward lines in practice were: Erik Cole-Cody Eakin-Rich Peverley; Antoine Roussel-Vernon Fiddler-Ryan Garbutt; Ray Whitney-Shawn Horcoff-Alex Chiasson.
*Defense pairs were mixed, but the main combinations appeared to be: Alex Goligoski-Trevor Daley; Jordie Benn-Brenden Dillon; Kevin Connauton/Aaron Rome-Sergei Gonchar.
Benn, Lehtonen medals on display Thursday
Jamie Benn’s gold medal and Kari Lehtonen’s bronze medal will be on display on the north side of the American Airlines Center concourse (near section 113) from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30pm prior to the Stars-Hurricanes game on Thursday, Feb. 27. Fans can stand alongside the display and take a photograph. Fans will need to bring their own camera.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.