It is the 21st time I’ll be sitting in a frigid arena (probably on bumpy aluminum seats) to watch the young and hopeful strive to impress, the journeymen attempt to display that what was there a few months ago is still there now, and the superstars shake off the rust and work to emerge unscathed.
NHL Training Camp has evolved since I first arrived on the beat. Used to be longer, more intense, and way more fights between teammates. Now it’s three or four days of hard practices and scrimmages, a scrap or two, and a chance to see if there are glaring holes or, in the case of last season and Jamie Benn
, a guy you just have to find room for. Then we’ll start playing a few pre-season games, and off we go.
But for the Dallas Stars - this year is different.
I’m serious, this year has a brightness about it.
I’m in no position to judge what the outcome will be, but make no mistake, this year is different.
Let’s begin with the airplane and where it’s headed and who’s on it and who isn’t. We’re flying the Dallas Mavericks 757 (and will be using their aircraft all season) and headed east – two time zones away to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We’ll be spending three days in Canada’s smallest province and birthplace of Steve Ott
and Brad Richards.
We all went to a different place at Love Field than usual, parked our cars in a different spot, walked through a different security checkpoint, strolled to a new seat on a new plane with a new crew. The significance of this cannot be understated. It just feels new and fresh, upbeat and lively. Sometimes you can get into a rut, you know? Park your car at the same spot, walk down the same hall, see the same people, sit at the same desk…. Not that you don’t like those people – but there is something exhilarating about change and a fresh look and a new destination.
And for the first time for me in 21 years, no Mike Modano on the airplane. I wrote a piece earlier this summer where I basically said I thought it was time for him. I couldn’t imagine a better way to go out than how it ended for him last season, and the team has young players pushing for ice time. And I really didn’t think Mick Jagger would ever want to stand in the back row with the stones and play the tambourine and sing backup… But he’s going to give it a try with the Wings – and I’m sure like all of us here right now – he’s charged up about this blanketing of newness. Of course I want only the best for him – and can’t wait to see him in the home opener on October 14.
And there’s no Marty Turco. One of the game’s best guys had a curious run with the Stars. You could point to a shortage of depth on the blueline the last couple of seasons – but he had a very good team in front of him and in the prime of his career and struggled when the team needed him the most. Now he’s gone and he’s probably as wide-eyed as the rest of us, but not on his way to PEI…
And so a new group, with a younger leadership corps, head off to a town that’s never hosted an NHL training camp. Prince Edward Island is located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence west of Cape Breton Island, north of the Nova Scotia peninsula and east of New Brunswick. Or – it’s a time zone east of Maine, and maybe two or three more airplane movies from London… yup, the one in England.
That was handy for a time because Great Britain gained the island from France under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and the moniker “Prince Edward Island” was later bestowed in honor of Queen Victoria’s father.
In 1864 PEI hosted the Charlottetown Conference, which is regarded as the first meeting in leading to the Articles of Confederation and the creation of Canada in 1867. PEI joined the confederation on July 1, 1873.
So there is history here, and with an airplane with quite a number of good Canadian boys, there is a special feeling about this place. For the rest of us, Charlottetown will be brand new, like the rest of what’s happening here.
Joe Nieuwendyk has had to make some difficult decisions and under circumstances that are severely limiting. But he’s made them and he’s made them with this in mind; if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, don’t be surprised to keep getting the same result.
The Dallas Stars are starting fresh and it’s on purpose. Joe knows what he wants and works like a dog to do what he can to help pull this thing out of the ditch.
When you’re in the ditch, it takes time to get out. It also takes everybody around you giving you a hand, grabbing onto the rope with you, and pulling hard. Hard to get out on the first or second pull, but you keep trying because that’s what you do. And you’re thankful for everyone who will get in there with you.
And sometimes, looking at something in new way, sitting in a new airplane seat, or holding training camp on a hockey-mad little island might be just the thing to get you started. And before you know it – you start to leave the ditch and you’re on your way again.