When Scottie Upshall's season ended before it even started last fall because of major knee surgery, he promised himself he would be back on the ice giving it another go at some point.
That's why even a few exhibition games for the NHL veteran have been a blast this fall. Upshall, 35, is on a professional tryout (PTO) contract with the Stars and had a great game Thursday at Colorado. He scored a goal, registered six hits and had four shots on goal. In a game where a young Stars lineup struggled, Upshall was a leader.
"You've got to love his passion for the game," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery.
[MIKE HEIKA: Why the Stars' roster battle is not limited to only forwards]
The passion is real, and it's the reason he's still fighting for a spot in the NHL. After hip, ankle and sports hernia injuries slowed Upshall down from 2011-2014, he went on a PTO with the St. Louis Blues in 2015 and earned a contract. He played so well that he earned another contract the next season, and looked to be in good shape.
However, St. Louis opted not to re-sign him in 2017, so he went on a PTO with Vancouver that camp. After Vancouver released him and the Blues suffered several injury issues, Upshall was back on a PTO in St. Louis and signed another one-year deal.
That diligence gave Upshall 206 games over three seasons with the Blues, all earned on a one-year deal. Once again, though, he was set free and had to go try another PTO, this one with the Edmonton Oilers in 2018. Before Upshall even got started, he had to have major knee surgery that kept him off the ice for all of last season.
Video: DAL@COL: Upshall tallies after racing down loose puck
"It's been a long road, a lot of grueling hours rehabbing, working out, watching hockey," Upshall said. "I've been on these PTOs before, and you know what's at stake. You play every game like it's your last."
Upshall appears to be doing that. He is skating hard, he is trying to create puck possession, and he's trying to lead a large group of young players. While Montgomery is letting veterans rest during the road stretch of Dallas' preseason schedule, Upshall is being tested.
"Having an opportunity with these guys, you've got to take advantage of it," he said after the Colorado win. "Playing in a game like this with a young team, you've got to be a leader and show what it's like to play hard hockey."
Upshall knows about hard hockey. The Alberta native had a nice junior career with Kamloops and then has pushed his way through a 16-year pro career that has included six NHL teams. He has 285 points (138 goals, 147 assists) in 759 games.
Montgomery said he likes everything that Upshall offers.
"I love his communication, his presence on the bench, he manages games really well," Montgomery said.
Video: Veteran Upshall excited to be playing with Stars
And as examples go, just knowing Upshall's story can be motivating for Stars players.
"I think it should only help," Montgomery said. "I think for a lot of players that do have contracts right now, it's a reminder of how quickly you can be on that side. Sports is what have you done for me lately, and for veteran players I think it's a good reminder."
For Upshall, it's not that bad of a place. The fact that he has had to work so hard to come back from him knee surgery, and that he feels so good about where he is right now, is almost reward enough. And while Thursday's exhibition affair in Denver was invigorating, there is still the drive to be on the ice for another NHL regular season game, be it in Dallas or someplace else.
"For me, I've had a great career, but it's still a dream to be here playing hard hockey, and I'd just like the opportunity," he said, indicating he'd love that opportunity to come with the Stars.
"I'm very familiar with the group," Upshall said. "I think the group is ready to rock and roll. They've got a really driven coaching staff that wants to win, the goaltending is Vezina talent, and quite frankly, watching playoff hockey last year really lit the fire inside me to come back and try to win.
"The opportunity is here now. This is the team I want to make."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.