Yes, several members of the Dallas Stars have returned to the area and have begun skating again at the Dr Pepper StarCenter in Frisco, preparing for the start of training camp on Sept. 16.
One of those players is goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who last season capably served as starting netminder Kari Lehtonen
’s backup, and ‘the other Razor’ was happy to be back on the ice again.
“So far, it’s obviously real early in the fall-slash-late in the summer, so it’s all about just getting comfortable in the gear again and then going through the basics,” said Raycroft, who’s been skating and facing shots for about two weeks now. “I feel better every day and we got a few weeks until camp when it really counts, so it’s kind of nice to work into it slowly.”
“He’s been great, he’s been back for about two weeks now,” added Stars goaltender coach Mike Valley, who has also been around. “It’s obviously their choice when they want to come back before the season, and he’s got the hard hat on and he’s come back here with a great attitude.”
After the Stars missed the playoffs last spring for the third straight season, it’s been a pretty long summer and Raycroft feels the fresh energy and enthusiasm that accompanies the anticipation of a new season.
“It’s exciting - obviously, this is a fun time of year,” said Raycroft, who enters the second season of the two-year free agent contract he signed with Dallas in July 2010. “Everyone’s gotten away from the game for a few months and you get that excitement to come to the rink and hang out with the guys. It’s a fun time of year.”
Raycroft also appears to be re-energized by a fun and relaxing summer spent primarily in the Boston/Cape Cod area, chasing after his two-year-old son Mason.
“It was good, it was quiet,” said Raycroft, who was selected by Boston in the fourth round (135th overall) of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and spent the first five years of his career there. “I just hung out with the little guy a lot and took lots of family time, so it was enjoyable. We’ve had a few busy summers in a row, and this summer, it was good to just sit back and relax a bit. It was nice.”
Raycroft seemed to fit in well with the Stars in 2010-11, beating out Brent Krahn for the backup job in training camp and going on to post an 8-5-0 record in 19 appearances while registering a 2.83 goals-against average and a solid .910 save percentage, along with two shutouts.
“As a backup goaltender, you’re put in difficult situations - that’s just the reality of the position,” Valley noted. “But for him just to continue what he was doing early on, going into those hard games and giving your team a chance to win every night. It’s tough, because there’s times where you are going to be sitting on the bench for a while, and if it was easy, then a lot of people could be doing what he’s doing, but it isn’t. It’s just competing and battling and staying sharp and doing the little things, which he was, and making sure that he can continue that momentum when he goes into games.”
Unfortunately, Raycroft had a couple of sub-par outings in a row just past the season’s midway point and with the Stars in the midst of a mad scramble for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot that ultimately fell just short, Lehtonen wound up starting 23 straight games. One would think that even with those games being so crucially important, having the backup come in to give the number guy a little more rest would have been preferable.
“Obviously, it was the situation more than anything last season,” Raycroft said regarding his light workload in the second half, in which he started just three of the final 39 contests, surrendering 14 goals in those games. “Coming down the last few months, it was so close and obviously Lehts played great all season, so I think it was that more than anything. I don’t think I played one bad game all season, so I don’t know what else I could have done in that way, other than having a 10-point cushion on the division lead. Then I probably would have gotten more games.”
“It’s easy to say that he had two tough games there, but that can happen to anybody as well, so it’s often about the opportunities you’re getting,” Valley remarked. “He had some really good points last year and then he struggled at times, and he’s coming back with the attitude that he wants to play more. He wants to show that he can play more. He wants to make sure he’s doing everything he can to contribute, and his mindset has been fantastic and work ethic has been equally as good.”
And while this coming season figures to be somewhat similar to last, with the Stars likely to be battling for a playoff spot down the stretch again, Raycroft noted that the arrival of new head coach Glen Gulutzan, who was promoted from the AHL Texas Stars to replace Marc Crawford in Dallas, could translate into more ice time for him.
“There’s been a lot of change, and different ideas in the coaching room,” Raycroft pointed out. “I don’t know how that’s going to go, but you just work hard and be ready to play. I obviously met Glen last year at camp and he’s obviously got a great track record and he’s a young guy that will bring a lot of energy, so I’m sure it will be fun to play for him.”
The winner of the 2003-04 Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year while with Boston, when he recorded personal bests with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage, Raycroft continues to work on refining the details of his game.
“It’s just repetition and feeling comfortable, but there’s nothing real specific,” said Raycroft, who last served as a club’s starter in 2006-07 when he played a career-high 72 games for Toronto and recorded 37 victories. “I’m 31 now, so it’s more about doing things properly and getting precise, rather than overhauling your game. I do what I do and I just got to get better at doing those things.”
Just having that vast cache of experience, both as a starter and a backup, to draw upon is part of what makes Raycroft such a valuable complement to Lehtonen in the crease.
“He’s such a veteran,” Valley said. “He’s been around the league for 10 years now and he knows what he has to do. He knows the challenges of being that number two guy and he knows the expectations that organizations have on that number two guy, and we’re very confident that he can do that. Both him and Lehtonen, they get along great, they work extremely hard, they’re out here pushing each other already. It’s just a really cool dynamic that we have here. It’s a great tandem.”
Overall, Raycroft is excited to get going in 2011-12, believing the Stars’ seven free agent signings this summer will help improve the squad’s depth and help lead them back to the post-season.
“I just think as a group, we got deeper and I think we got stronger on the back end and up front,” said Raycroft, who has just one 25-minute relief appearance of playoff experience since starting all seven games in a Bruins first-round loss in 2004. “I think they’ll be good additions and just as important, from what I’ve heard and what I know, they’re all good guys and will fit in the room well. We should have a good, tight group.”