The Olympics are still going on, but the Olympic break is over for the Dallas Stars. Players were back on the ice Wednesday afternoon in Frisco for their first post-break practice.
“It was great,” said defenseman Trevor Daley. “The boys are here pretty early and pretty excited to get back at it.”
Said forward Antoine Roussel, “[The break] was nice, but after a couple of days I was missing practices. It was fun to get back to work.”
The team hadn’t been on the ice together since February 8, when they defeated Phoenix in their final game before the break to climb into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I think one week was a perfect amount. Nine days got to be a little bit long,” said goaltender Dan Ellis. “A couple of us tried to come in here to skate and get out there, but you are not allowed. It’s that time of the season where you are itching to get back into it. Once you get up to a certain level during the season, your conditioning, your focus, it is tough to take that break.”
The Stars tried to make the most of the break, focusing on rest, relaxation and family.
“Went to Lake Tahoe, hit the slopes a little bit and lived to tell,” said Ellis, who has family in the Lake Tahoe area.
“Relaxing and went to see some family,” said Roussel. “I went to Montreal for a couple days and then down south to the beaches and tried to get some tanning, but I got red the first day.”
“Cabo. A little sun with the family,” said Daley. “And then the Great Wolf Lodge for a couple days. It was a family break.”
“Went to the Bahamas for a few days and my son had a hockey tournament in Boston,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas.
Robidas, who is working his way back from a broken leg, continued to work out. All the Stars were expected to work out during the break after taking the first few days to get some rest and relaxation.
“You don’t want to get out of shape and I don’t think our guys have,” said Stars assistant coach James Patrick. “We talked about it before we went on the break. [Head coach] Lindy [Ruff] addressed the team. Everyone knows what is at stake.”
Everybody was back for Wednesday’s practice except for the team’s four Olympic participants – forwards Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin, goaltender Kari Lehtonen and Ruff.
Patrick and fellow assistant coach Curt Fraser are running the practices. Wednesday’s session was about getting back into the swing of things.
“Today was more just a lot of flow. Just work on getting their legs and hands back,” said Patrick. “You don’t want anyone to pull anything or get hurt. It was a pretty good pace, but it wasn’t over the top. Tomorrow we’ll pick it up a notch and by day three hopefully we’re up to full speed.”
Prior to the break, Ruff, Patrick and Fraser mapped out a plan for the practices leading up to the Stars returning to action on February 27, when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
“By day three we’ll start one system drill every day, get going more on our D zone coverage,” said Patrick. “By day three we want to make sure we are on the same page defensively. When we started playing a little better, that was one of the things we went back to. By day three or four we’ll start working in some special teams, too.”
By next week, the Stars want to be in game mode as they get ready to take on the Hurricanes.
“You have to be ready to play,” said Patrick. “Our last three days of practices have to be game-like intensity, a lot of game like situations. Even without saying it or talking about it, the players know that as well. But it will be addressed before.”
The Stars went into the break on a 6-1-2 run that helped them move into a playoff position. The hope is they can pick up where they left off when play resumes next week. And the players say the practice sessions that started Wednesday are key.
“We’ve just to make sure that we are one of those teams that are well prepared and focused,” said Ellis. “We’ve got a lot of big games down the stretch, a lot of games over the next month-and-a-half. It’s finding that same chemistry we had beforehand and pushing through to the very end.”
“It starts today to get back to that mindset, to get back to where we were,” said Daley. “It’s going to be a quick stretch. It’s going to be a sprint to the end, and everybody is going to be hunkered down and playing good hockey because it is playoff time now.”
Notes: Robidas update
*Defenseman Stephane Robidas practiced on Wednesday and wasn’t wearing the red no-contact jersey, but he said don’t read too much into that. Robidas, who is recovering from a broken leg, isn’t ready to set a possible time table on a return yet.
“I don’t want to set a goal,” Robidas said. “I saw what (Tampa Bay’s Steven] Stamkos went through. He set a goal to come back in late January and play in the Olympics, and it didn’t happen. It’s devastating when you put a lot of pressure on yourself to do this or do that. He did the right thing. You’ve got to listen to your body at one point, and that’s where I am right now. Listen to the trainers, strength coach and the doctors and what they say. I’ll go from there.”
*Robidas skated as a forward in Wednesday’s practice. The last time he played forward? The 2005-06 season when he skated as a right wing on a line with Antti Miettinen and Niko Kapanen.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.