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Ribeiro expected to excel with increased role in 2011-12

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

His importance to the Dallas Stars’ fortunes may have increased significantly since last year, but center Mike Ribeiro welcomes the challenge and feels confident he will have plenty of help.

Following the departure of former leading scorer Brad Richards, who joined the New York Rangers as a free agent in July, the 31-year-old Ribeiro, entering his sixth season in Dallas, once again assumes the role of top offensive center.

It’s a responsibility he’s familiar with, having led the Stars in scoring for three straight seasons from 2007-09. After Richards eclipsed him as the club’s most productive center, it took Ribeiro some time to adapt to a relatively diminished role, but last season, he rebounded with a big year, totaling 19 goals and 71 points. And even if the up-and-coming Jamie Benn eventually surpasses him as the top center during the course of the season, Ribeiro will be happy with whatever he’s asked to do.

“That’s what you want, you want that,” said Ribeiro, who topped 50 assists and 70 points for the third time in five seasons in Dallas, of the additional pressure of being the go-to guy. “It’s a little bit harder. I think last year I adjusted pretty good and didn’t really care about first or second, and it will be the same this year. We’ve got Bennie, I think that he is ready to take a big step and we’ll see how we go. It’s a team. Some nights it might be Bennie’s line that will be the top line and other nights it will be me. But I am ready to be the first one and play against those top D’s and those checking lines. But I won’t mind if it’s Bennie’s line or Tommy Wandell’s line. It’s more we just have to stay focused on what we have to do as a team and win some games.”

Considering the outstanding chemistry he’s developed over the years with left winger Brenden Morrow, who led the Stars with a career-high 33 goals last season, it’s likely Ribeiro will remain the key set-up man, both at even-strength and on the power play, for the foreseeable future. He points out that lining up next to the gritty locker room leader has rubbed off on his own approach to the game.

“He’s a guy who always shows up no matter what,” Ribeiro said of Morrow. “Bruises or not, he’s going to compete and that’s what you need from your captain and I’m just trying to follow him, work hard and trying to make sure everyone’s ready.”

Beyond his captain’s presence, though, the 6-foot, 179-pound Ribeiro is excited about some of the Stars’ free agent signings this summer, particularly the acquisition of Michael Ryder, an old linemate of his from his days in Montreal, who helped Boston win the Stanley Cup last spring.

“He’s a guy that can shoot the puck,” said Ribeiro, who skated alongside Ryder with the Canadiens in 2003-04 and ’05-06. “Most of the seasons that he has played he has scored 20, 25, 30 goals a year. He’s going to take that 25 goals that James Neal used to bring us, but he’s a right-hand shot and it’s a little bit different. He’s pretty fast, too. He’s an awkward skater, but once he gets going, he is pretty fast. He’s a skilled guy and he’s been coached by some really good coaches, so he knows how to play the game and that’s important, too.”

Ribeiro acknowledged that the two had some pretty strong chemistry of their own back then, most notably in 2003-04, when Ribeiro totaled 20 goals and 65 points while Ryder collected 25 goals and 63 points.

“I think it’s going to be good for us,” said Ribeiro, a Montreal native who spent parts of six seasons with his hometown Canadiens before his trade to Dallas in exchange for Janne Niinimaa in 2006. “We played on the same line in Montreal for a few years, so we know each other. We had a good year there just before the lockout. And he just won the Cup. Hopefully he comes here in good shape and ready to go. We have a pretty good group to welcome people in, so I am sure he’ll be comfortable here, knowing a few guys.”

Ribeiro is also eager to see the performance of another former teammate from his days in Montreal, defenseman Sheldon Souray, especially on the power play.

“It’s definitely going to help - snipers from the blue line, you don’t have a lot of those,” said Ribeiro of Souray, his teammate in Montreal virtually the entire time he was there. “He’s a guy that can shoot from the blue line and score. Not just his shot, but his size, too, will help. He’s a guy that can play physical and get dirty. But his shot can help us, especially on the power play. He’s a guy who can score and we’ve needed that from the blue line.”

Of course, another big change this coming season concerns the coaching staff, with new head coach Glen Gulutzan taking over from Marc Crawford.

“We’ll keep the basics, but I am sure Gully is going to want his input and show us some new stuff,” said Ribeiro, who was originally Montreal’s second-round selection (45th overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. “I’ve learned from every coach I’ve had and hopefully I’ll learn again this year. New coaches, they have different approaches and different stuff you can learn. It will be nice to see what we can do with that.”

Ribeiro remained in Dallas for just about the entire off-season, so as more players have returned to the area and begun skating alongside him at the club’s practice facility at the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter, his enthusiasm for starting a new year has been gradually increasing.

“I’ve been here for most of the summer, it’s nice to have other guys here and be able to work out and skate with them,” said Ribeiro, who averaged 19:57 of ice time per game last season, ranking third among Stars forwards. “I was here all summer, I came in most of the time alone and so it’s nice to have guys coming in now, seeing them and skate with them.”

Combine that with the excitement that accompanies the fresh start of a new coach and seven new players coming in, and Ribeiro is eager to get the 2011-12 season underway. With the start of training camp on Sept. 16 barely a week away, Ribeiro is ready to go.

“I think everyone got excited come the first of July when we got new teammates and stuff,” admitted Ribeiro. “Especially, you’re off for three months before that, so to hear what we did and get some key guys in this room was exciting then and now, it’s getting closer and all the team together, it’s just fun. You want that and it’s been another long summer and we need to get back at it. It will be nice to see the mix we can have, I’m sure we’ll try a few things, and we’ll see what the lines will be. I am just anxious for training camp.”

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