From the fast-paced drills during their first full practice to the spirited, up-and-back, non-stop action during the intra-squad scrimmage, the Stars employed a more speed-oriented style that emphasized the defensemen jumping into the offensive rushes more.
Crawford noted that the coaching staff had incorporated many aspects of his system on Sunday and he was pleased with the way the players put those new tenets to use in the scrimmage.
“I was really appreciative of the effort that we got on the first full day,” Crawford said. “Any time you change people at the top, with Joe Nieuwendyk coming in (as GM) and obviously, a new coaching staff coming in, you expect them to be attentive and they were. We’re trying to give them a little bit of a framework of how we’re going to play. We introduced a couple of the elements of our game plan today, which is our desire to have really good direct plays coming out of our zone, and really try and be a direct-attacking team or a clean-exiting team.
“Obviously, when you’re getting into the scrimmage, you’re looking for the talent, and we put them through a lot in a very short period of time here, and I thought that for the first day, it was a pretty good execution of the scrimmage, so I’m very pleased with that.”
Crawford was particularly happy with the way the Stars implemented his forechecking elements into the simulated game - which the White team won 2-1 on goals by Sergei Korostin and Brad Richards.
The coach also pointed out that in addition to teaching his new system, scrimmages in training camp are also a time for players to impress the coaches and possibly win a job or increase their ice time.
“There’s an evaluation going on,” Crawford said, “and if you get right down to it, everybody’s trying to enhance their position in the team and that’s what we’re evaluating. And the final part of it is we’re trying to get them to utilize our framework in the scrimmages. We know it’s going to be a little scrambly at the start, but I thought there were some great forechecking reads throughout the day. At least that showed that they were attentive, so that was a great sign for me.”
For their part, the players were excited to get going and put in a full day of hard work.
“It’s always nice to get the first scrimmage going,” said left winger Loui Eriksson
, who led the Stars with 36 goals last year and finished second in points with 63. “It’s always fun to get on the ice and start playing hockey, so it was a good game today and I think there’s a lot of good players here now. Everyone’s competing for a spot, so it should be a good camp.”
“It’s real exciting,” added defenseman Matt Niskanen, who at 22 is about to enter his third NHL season. “I think everyone’s kind of chomping at the bit to get going again. There’s a lot of new faces around, from coaches to management and young players and some new veterans. Everyone’s excited to get going. Our first full day went well.”
The smooth-skating Niskanen, who led Stars defensemen last year with a career-high 35 points, doesn’t think it will take much adjustment to learn the club’s more offensively-aggressive system - one that figures to utilize his strengths.
“Essentially the game’s played the same, but there’s going to be some changes to how we play and how they like to do things in certain situations,” Niskanen acknowledged. “It’s just a matter of continuing to learn and try to adapt. Definitely, (more offense) is something that I think I can bring. It’s a part of my game that I think can be very beneficial to the team if I’m active in the offense, in the attack and making good plays with the puck. If the team strategy is geared towards that, then that’s definitely a good thing, I just have to take advantage of the opportunities.”
For fellow blueliner Stephane Robidas
, who was second to Niskanen among D-men with 26 points in 2008-09, a faster-paced, more offensive role is something he relishes.
“That’s something that I look forward to,” Robidas said. “That’s something that they really want to encourage, one defenseman always joining the rush and I think everybody’s pretty excited about that. We’ve got guys that can do it. You look at guys like Trevor (Daley) and Nisky, and I think myself, we can do it. It’s not a matter of being all over the place, it’s just a matter of being smart and always be ready, be on your toes. It’s not that complicated. He’s not trying to change everything, a few little tweaks here and there, but hockey remains the same. You need a good work ethic, you need to be able to put the work in and I think that’s the main focus.”
Even the forwards are excited about a higher-tempo style that puts more emphasis on an aggressive forecheck - particularly center Brad Richards, who played in a similar system in Tampa Bay before joining Dallas in Feb. 2007.
“I’ve been in the league nine years and most of the time I’ve played that type of system, so I feel at home, I love it,” said Richards, who scored the game-winning goal in the scrimmage off a penalty shot against Stars goalie prospect Richard Bachman
. “I think it’s how the game should be played, no disrespect to the coaches that coach that way - it’s all about winning and who your personnel is - but I think with guys like Niskanen and Daley, Robi, who can jump up and play with speed, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.” Injuries already popping up
It was only the second day of training camp, but already there are a couple of injuries for the Stars’ medical staff to deal with.
While none appear to be serious, it was disappointing not to have all hands on deck.
First, veteran right winger Jere Lehtinen missed Sunday’s activities with a leg muscle problem, and will be out for a few more days.
“It’s unfortunate that Jere Lehtinen wasn’t able to go today, he’s going to be out the first five days of camp,” Crawford reported Sunday. “We found that out late last night. He’s frustrated about it because he wanted to be on the ice, but I told him, ‘If there’s ever a good time for you to be out, it’s right now.’ He’s involved in the other aspects of our camp. I think he’s got a pulled groin. If not, it might be a hip flexor. It came up (Saturday) after the testing - he was sore, going to try it, and it didn’t go good.”
Another player who hasn’t been able to participate in any of the on-ice festivities is recent first-round draft pick Scott Glennie
, who pulled his groin muscle last week in the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
“We’ve got him following Jere around,” Crawford said of Glennie, the eighth overall selection in June, who will be going back to his junior team (Brandon of the WHL) this season. “He watched the scrimmage with him and they’re working out together and they’ve been in the videos together, so we’ve got a good example for him right now to watch.”
And while he did skate in the practice, center Toby Petersen
did not play in the scrimmage, as he is still dealing with lingering issues from the broken foot he suffered at the end of last season.
“Petersen didn’t go in the scrimmage, he’s been walking around in the boot, so that was the plan, we didn’t want him to over-stress his foot,” Crawford said. “But he’ll be back tomorrow morning. I think as he goes along, the plan is, if he starts to get more comfortable, we’ll give him a little more each day.”