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Polak's positive influence felt throughout Stars' lineup

Once expected to be Dallas' seventh defenseman, the 33-year-old has been instrumental to its success

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- Roman Polak believes in the power of positive thought.

In fact, the burly defenseman is convinced that having a strong mental outlook can actually overcome physical ailments and carry your body to new levels.

"The mind is a powerful weapon," Polak said. "I think it can really help keep you from getting sick, for recovering from injury, lots of things."

Polak knows first-hand what a positive outlook can do. He broke his leg in the 2017 playoffs when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition to a grueling recovery to get back into playing shape, he had to earn a spot back in the lineup.

For that, he was selected the Maple Leafs nominee last season for the Masterton Trophy, given to the player who exhibits perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. It was a proud moment for Polak, more so for the acknowledgment of what he accomplished and not for the award.

"It feels good to be recognized for what I did, but I don't need an award for it," Polak told reporters in Toronto last season. "I tried to come back -- I didn't know if I could or not -- but I didn't do it for me."

That proved to be a good strategy, as the Maple Leafs allowed Polak to become a free agent last summer, and the Stars signed him to a one-year deal for $1.3 million. And just like that, he was in "prove it" mode again.

Polak came to the Stars as a potential seventh defenseman, but was quickly elevated when both Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches) and Marc Methot (knee) were sidelined with injuries. The two big blueliners (Johns is 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Methot is 6-4, 230) left a gaping need in the Stars defense, and Polak stepped right in.

The 33-year-old has played 87 games now (playoffs included) while averaging 19 minutes a game. That's a heavy load, so to speak.

Video: DAL@NSH, Gm1: Polak blocks Arvidsson's shot

"He's just a hockey player," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "He's a competitor. Whatever minutes we need to use him, he's giving us everything he has, whether we're giving him 22 minutes or 16."

Asked if Polak has been instrumental to the penalty kill, Montgomery quipped: "He's been instrumental to the penalty kill, he's been instrumental to the dressing room. We've talked about the positive impact he's had on the ice and off the ice. He's someone we couldn't imagine playing without."

And that's nice to hear for Polak.

He said that he learned the power of positive thinking back in the Czech Republic and has used it throughout his career, particularly in recovering from the broken leg. Now, he said likes the fact that he's typically happy and that makes other people happy.

"I really don't even think about it anymore," he said. "It's important to have fun. It takes the pressure off, sure, but I don't even look at it that way. I look at it that you need to have fun in life. This is a fun job, so we should be having fun."

Polak helps a young Stars team handle the pressure of the playoffs and also helps an intriguing assortment of players bond together. He often will be seen smiling or laughing after a scrum.

When he and Vladimir Tarasenko exchanged barbs after a penalty in Game 1, Polak said he had fun in the moment.

"I know them, so it's all good," he said. "I think it's just a part of the game and it brings out the best in me. I like talking out there."

Polak was drafted by the Blues in 2004 and spent eight seasons with the organization, so he knows a lot of the current players. He then played with the Maple Leafs, the Sharks and the Maple Leafs again before signing with the Stars.


Now, he is fully ensconced in Victory Green.

"He's one of those teammates who will really go out and lay it on the line for you," Stars captain Jamie Benn said earlier in the year. "He has a big voice in this room. I'm not sure that anyone in this room thought we would be getting out of him what we are getting out of him, but it's working out for us."

In more ways than one.

After losing Johns and Methot, the Stars went out and acquired Jamie Oleksiak (6-6, 255) to offer more size on defense, but he got hurt in the Nashville series. Now, Polak (6-2, 240) has been tasked with stopping Blues power forward Pat Maroon (6-3, 225).

"I think Roman is the one defenseman we have who can battle Pat Maroon and have a size matchup. They've been a really good line, they've carried play, and it's something we're very conscious of," Stars defenseman Ben Lovejoy said of a key matchup in the second-round playoff series.

"I've been very impressed with him since I've been here. I didn't know much about him as a player. He's an asset to this team, he brings an element that very few guys can."

Well, that and a lot of positivity.

"It works for me," Polak said. "This is a hard time of year and you do need to take it seriously, and I know that. But I just feel better and I think I play better if I'm loose and joking around."

In fact, a positive mind can make Roman Polak a powerful weapon -- and the Stars can use that right now.

For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.

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.

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