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Stu Barnes returns to Dallas and aims to strengthen Stars' power play

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

Sometimes to find out where you belong you have to be somewhere else.

And so it is that longtime Dallas Stars player, coach and broadcaster Stu Barnes is once again in the fold.

After spending the past couple of years spending time with his family, including helping coach his son's prep school hockey team, the veteran forward has joined head coach Ken Hitchcock's staff for what looms as a critical season in Dallas.

Hitchcock, who is returning to Dallas for a second go-round behind the Stars bench, knew Barnes and vice-versa, having traveled parallel tracks through the Western Hockey League and later in the NHL. Now their paths aren't just crisscrossing, but conjoining.

"I thought the world of him," Hitchcock said.

When a person leaves the game one of two things happen, Hitchcock explained.

Either they're happy to be rid of the stress of being involved with a pro hockey team or they long to return to the team environment.

"When Stu stepped away he found out how much he missed being part of a staff," Hitchcock said.

Being part of a coaching staff isn't so very different than being part of a team as a player.

"Once that's ingrained in you, that's the fuel," Hitchcock said. "He really missed working for a team, whether it's a team of players or a team of coaches. I think he missed it a lot. He wanted to get back in really badly."

Barnes played for the Stars from 2002-08 when he retired from the NHL having played in 1,136 regular season games and another 116 playoff games, including runs to the Stanley Cup Final with Florida in 1996 and Buffalo in 1999.

He spent parts of four seasons as a coach with the Stars working with three different head coaches, Dave Tippett, Marc Crawford, and Glen Gulutzan before leaving the team and working with his son Jack's prep school team. He also did some broadcast work and assisted in hockey operations with the Stars.

"I wanted to just take a step back for a couple of years and be around my kids, and then as they got older I wanted to get back involved," Barnes said during an interview during draft weekend in Chicago.

"I knew what a great league it was and how special it is to be involved and I think when you step away and you look at it, you really realize what a good bunch of people it is that are involved in the league and good friendships you develop," he added. "It's a difficult league to be successful in but part of the fun and the challenge is to be part of that."

Barnes's son was drafted by the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League. Barnes played for the Americans as a junior and later bought the team with former junior teammate and longtime NHL netminder Olaf Kolzig.

Barnes kept his name in the mix hoping for a door to open somewhere but he was ecstatic when that door opened in his adopted home of Dallas, especially with son Jack set to play junior with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League and daughter Riley set to graduate from college in Texas.

"All of a sudden this popped up. And of course getting a chance to do the job again, and then being able to do it in Dallas, which is a place my family and I lived for 12, 14 years. Love the city, love the franchise, so I was really excited for the whole thing to come about," added Barnes, 46.

"I think as a player you're just a million miles an hour just trying to stay in it," he said. "You know the clock's ticking and you know it's such a good league and you have no choice but just to have pedal to the metal, and I think when it comes to an end, I think a lot of guys think about getting involved in coaching as I did," he said.

Having worked with different head coaches gave Barnes a view into different approaches and how different coaches view the job.

"Kind of got some different ideas of how different guys do it," he said. "One of the things that struck me the most was how much coaches are continually learning and adapting and growing."

Barnes will be tasked with helping to keep a Stars power play that slumped last season to 20th in the NHL after being the fourth-ranked power play unit in 2015-16.

"We've had one real good session on it now," Hitchcock said.

Over the next couple of weeks Barnes will work with longtime Dallas assistant Curt Fraser who will be moving into a broader game-planning role with the team and then the group will revisit the power play plans in August to make sure everyone is up to speed with how Hitchcock wants the unit, led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, to perform.

"Some things have changed in the National Hockey League from when Stu was running the power play but not a lot has," Hitchcock said.

Along with the systems part of his duties, Barnes is also going to be counted on to be a link to the players in the room.

He isn't too far removed from being a player and he has relationships with some of the players who may benefit from his own experiences playing with Winnipeg, the team that selected him fourth overall in the 1989 draft, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Dallas.

"I think for me it's having played for as long as I did, it'll be kind of relationships with the guys, make sure to try to bring what I've learned over the years playing and coaching for that matter and just trying to be a kind of a piece of the puzzle," Barnes said. "I look at it as being able to be involved with the organization and a great coach like Hitch, the opportunity to learn and to see, I mean he's done everything and been there and done that and is very good at it. As a learning experience for a young coach it's pretty exciting."

All that much better when you find that kind of opportunity in a place called home.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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