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Unsung Petersen looking forward to the season

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

He may not be one of the first 10 names that Dallas Stars fans think of when considering which players on the team are likely to have a significant impact this coming season, but make no mistake, center Toby Petersen fills a very valuable role.

For the versatile utility forward who can be deployed in many different roles and perform them well, it was a disappointingly long summer after the Stars failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second straight year. 

“The extra time for the body, helps you heal up a little bit, but no one here is going to tell you they’re happy to have extra time to heal up,” maintained the Minneapolis native and Colorado College product. “We’d all rather be in the playoffs, experiencing the playoffs, reaching deep to see what it takes to advance deep into the playoffs. It’s been disappointing to not have that opportunity, but we have to look at the positives. We’re in the situation we’re in, we just got to move forward and find our way back into the playoffs.”

Coming off a strong season in which he compiled a career-high nine goals and 15 points in 78 games, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Petersen stuck to his usual off-season conditioning routine under the watchful eye of Stars fitness guru/strength and conditioning coach J.J. McQueen, and feels refreshed and ready to get back to work.

“I was here all summer,” Petersen reported. “I spent a month in Minnesota, the last couple of weeks, but that was just to get some extra ice. The routine’s pretty much the same as it’s been -  I’ve been working with J.J. here at the arena most of the time, so it’s been a good summer.”

Petersen also begins the new season armed with a new two-year contract extension signed back  on April 5, worth $1.55 million ($750,000 this season, $800,000 in 2011-12).

Toby Petersen’s character and work ethic are the type of attributes we want in our players,” said Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “He is a very versatile forward that can play throughout your lineup. He is a good example of the type of professional we want on the Dallas Stars hockey club.”

It’s a fitting reward for a guy who has re-established himself as an NHL regular with the Stars pretty much from the moment he was recalled from AHL Iowa in March 2008. After playing the entire 2001-02 season with Pittsburgh, Petersen ended up back in the minors for the next four years, but he kept battling, clawed his way back and has found a home in Dallas.

“I love it here, my family loves it here, we’re thrilled to be a part of this organization,” said Petersen, who was originally selected in the ninth round (244th overall) by Pittsburgh in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. “It’s a great confidence boost for me, just knowing that they wanted me bad enough to sign me is a great thing. It’s not going to change the way I play, I’m going to keep going out there and doing the same thing. I’m assuming they don’t want me to change anything because I’m here.”

Petersen agrees that his ability to fill any number of roles with equal effectiveness is one of the main reasons why he has fit in so well with the Stars.

“I think obviously my versatility helps,” acknowledged Petersen, who recorded a +3 plus/minus rating last season, which tied for third-best on the squad, while also dishing out 93 hits and blocking 43 shots. “It seems like a lot of teams are looking for guys who can fill in with injuries being such a big part of the game for every team. It seems like a guy that can chip in in many different areas is a really good guy.”

Petersen possesses great speed to be dangerous on the forecheck, the skill to contribute offensively when needed, the defensive acumen to provide solid penalty killing or a shut-down checking presence, which he did impressively in 2008 Western Conference Finals against Detroit’s dynamic duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and the intestinal fortitude to dive in front of an opponent’s shot or make a big hit when necessary.

His teammates have certainly recognized Petersen’s chameleon-like ability to excel wherever the club needs him.

“I think Petey is a do-it-all player, he can jump into any situation, play right wing, center, left wing,” said occasional linemate Steve Ott. “Defensive responsibility, he’s very accountable, and I think that makes him easy to put out there and easy to play. You always see him blocking shots, sacrificing himself and for a guy that can play fourth line, first line, all over, we need guys like that and Petey’s been instrumental in that.”

Reminiscent of former Star Stu Barnes, who retired in 2008 and is now an assistant coach, it’s clear that Petersen’s multitude of skills has earned him the confidence of Barnes and the rest of the coaching staff, who feel comfortable putting him out on the ice in any situation. 

“He’s a good player because he works and he’s also a good player because he’s smart,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “Positionally, he’s terrific. That combination, of being smart and working hard, is pretty powerful and he’s got a little skill to go with it, too. He’s versatile, can play center, can play the wing, either wing, can kill penalties for us, so there’s a lot that he can do and we’re really appreciative of the commitment that he’s shown.” 

“He is a very Stu Barnes-esque player, very similar - a glue guy that makes guys better around him when they’re on his line,” Ott added. “There’s not too many guys that can play every situation, and he’s one of those guys with great hands, great vision, and he sacrifices himself, so it’s easy to play a guy like that.” 

With the regular season less than two weeks away, beginning Oct. 8th in New Jersey, Petersen believes the Stars have what it takes to get back to the playoffs this year - they just need to re-establish their collective confidence. 

“Confidence comes from winning and when you’re not winning, you’ve got to find a way to get the confidence,” Petersen said. “We missed the playoffs two years in a row. We have to get the swagger back in our step. We need to find the confidence and just be determined. We need to go into the season with one goal on our minds. We all need to pull together to get to the playoffs. That’s the main thing.”

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