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Positive attitude paying off for rejuvenated Ribeiro

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

If the first two games of the 2010-11 season are any indication, Dallas Stars center Mike Ribeiro is clearly benefitting from a new, more positive approach he adopted during the long off-season. 

Ribeiro, after a difficult up-and-down year last season that ended with the club out of the playoffs for a second straight spring, has a new, more positive outlook and it is already paying off with results.

With three beautiful assists in the Stars’ first two games - both road victories - not to mention the shootout game-winning goal Saturday night on Long Island, Ribeiro seems to have recaptured the puck wizardry that helped him lead the club in scoring three straight seasons from 2006-09.

Almost as significant is that Ribeiro has re-established his outstanding chemistry with captain Brenden Morrow, who has scored three times this year already - all off of nifty Ribeiro set-ups. The addition of gritty winger Adam Burish to the line has also proven to be a good fit.

“I thought they did show chemistry, they’re playing as well as they did all of last year, if not better than they did last year,” coach Marc Crawford said of the dynamic duo. “And Adam Burish drives the net extremely well and for Ribeiro and for Morrow, creates seams for them. And Ribby, I can’t say enough about when he finds seams, how good he is. He and Brenden have obviously played together for a long time, and for Brenden, I think it allows him to find seams more, if he knows somebody’s going to be a net presence, if he knows somebody’s going hard to the net.”  

“I feel real good right now, and Brenden too,” said Ribeiro, who slipped from 78 points in 2008-09 to 53 last year. “I had a good training camp and Burish is a guy with speed that’s going to help me. We’re not too fast, but he’s a guy that’s pretty quick and can create those turnovers for us. We’re just ready. It was a long summer and when you don’t make the playoffs for two years, you really want to have a good start.”

Burish, who signed as a free agent on July 1, just weeks after helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, offered high praise for both of his new linemates.

“Ribeiro, I’ve told some of my friends and my old teammates, that this guy might be one of the best players I’ve ever played with,” said Burish, who registered a +1 plus/minus rating in each of the first two regular season contests. “He’s that good. He’s that good a passer, he’s that skilled.  He just sees the game differently than everyone else. And then you’ve got Brenden Morrow, who is one of the best leaders in the game, a gold medalist (with Team Canada in last year’s Olympics), and a do-it-all kind of guy. There’s nothing he doesn’t do well.  I’m just trying to fit in with those guys, working to get them pucks, working to create space for those guys. I’m excited about it, I think they’re excited about it, I think it could be a good fit for us.”

So far so good. But as much as Ribeiro has dazzled with his exceptional passing ability, by all accounts the biggest growth in him this season has come off the ice and in the dressing room.

Starting with a deeper commitment to work during the off-season, Ribeiro wanted to ensure he was in outstanding shape physically coming into training camp. He remained in Dallas most of the summer and undertook a more strenuous fitness regimen with Stars strength and conditioning coach J.J. McQueen.

“I got better prepared, I guess, physically and mentally,” Ribeiro said of his off-season. “I take care of my body better, I get my rest that I need. I trained with J.J., and came (to the Stars practice facility at the Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco) in the mornings and worked out hard. My workouts changed a little bit compared to other years. I guess for six months, you have to find a way to stay in shape. I had my rest after the season, but I wanted to come in and have a good attitude and stay positive no matter what comes during the season.”

And that is perhaps the most significant alteration for Ribeiro, maintaining a more positive attitude.

“It’s a long season and you’re going to have those highs and you’re going to have those lows, but when things don’t go well, I want to try to stay positive and not bring the negativity around the team or around myself,” Ribeiro said. “It’s just a different approach - we’re all anxious and everyone wants to make the playoffs. I want to stay positive no matter what and be a team player and try to take that negative energy and transfer it into positive energy, and just be prepared to play.” 

Ribeiro’s new mindset is having even more of an impact because, as a 30-year-old veteran who’s beginning his fifth season in Dallas, his teammates have noticed the new approach and feel compelled to emulate it. And with the departure of three long-time leaders in the dressing room, having Ribeiro step up into that type of role is important to the club’s success.

“I think from a leadership side, he’s really accepted it and worked hard in the off-season,” Morrow said. “He’s learned a lot. He’s always had the skill, no one’s ever questioned his competitiveness or compete level, desire or hunger to win. I see a big change in his summer routine of training and preparing for the season like he’s never done before and I think a lot of guys recognize that and respect it.” 

“He’s been terrific - he’s played with energy, he’s played with passion, and I don’t think anyone’s ever questioned his abilities with the puck,” Crawford added. “We need him to show the leadership that he’s shown in those areas that don’t get a lot of credit - how you recover, how you backcheck, how you pursue the puck, how you make a decent decision, how you play within the team confines. 

“They’re a little bit more subtle than the great pass that’s easy to dissect, and you look at his ability to do those things, those will still be the things that set him apart, but where we’re seeing a huge improvement in him is on the subtleties of the game, which are more team-orientated. And that really helps. When you get your team’s best players doing that, for the rest of your guys, it’s such an easy buy-in for them. They’re seeing a guy with tremendous skill digging in and playing the right way.”

Another player that fits that description, veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas, has also taken note of Ribeiro’s off-season dedication and how it has paid off for him. 

“I think he looks really good, he trained hard all summer,” said Robidas, who scored a goal in Saturday’s win over the Islanders. “We all want to redeem ourselves, we all know it wasn’t good enough last year. We didn’t make the playoffs and I think we’re all proud hockey players and we want to win and be part of the playoffs.”

That drive to erase the memory of the past two years has helped propel the Stars to a 2-0-0 record out of the gate, with Ribeiro and his line playing a significant role.

“Last year was last year and it was an adjustment for everyone - coaches, GM, players, everyone,” Ribeiro said. “It’s a new season and you have to look forward.”

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