Stars for 2011-12 counting on grit, depth

Posted Thursday, Oct. 06, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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DALLAS -- Glen Gulutzan made a name for himself in the minors by coaching overachieving hockey teams. As a first-year NHL coach with the Stars, he's hoping that trait sticks.

"We have to play together as a group," Gulutzan said. "We want to be a hard-working, hard-to-play-against team. We have to utilize the depth on this team. We have to use all four lines and everybody has to contribute. We have to win by committee here."

Gully, as he's often called, spent the last two years coaching the Stars' AHL affiliate. He's helped develop several future NHL players, including defenseman Adam Pardy and left winger Jamie Benn, both on the current Stars roster.

Gulutzan isn't yet sure what he has in these Stars, but the players are buying into the system of their youthful-looking 40-year-old coach.

"Our team identity is already being set in stone," left wing Steve Ott said. "We're a very structured team that doesn't have any passengers. Every single guy is going to play in our structure, do the right things that make a team win and, in all that, we have the essence of a tough team that's very competitive."

The Stars should be deeper, bigger, stronger and faster, especially defensively with Alex Goligoski, Sheldon Souray and Pardy -- all acquired since last season's trade deadline. Balance and depth are keywords being bandied around the room.

The squad should play smarter -- that's the hope, anyway.

"We know what to do," center Mike Ribeiro said. "It's automatic; there's less thinking and we think we have four lines that can go."

The Stars did lose marquee player Brad Richards, who signed a mega-deal with the New York Rangers in the off-season. Richards served as the power-play quarterback, a role that's likely going to spread among several players this season.

This isn't a team built to rack up goals. Expect plenty of grinding and low-scoring games.

"We know who we are," Gulutzan said. "We can't get into those big [scoring] games. We've got to keep things tight and play a structured game, and make sure that we're giving ourselves a chance to win every night by playing solid two-way hockey."

Gulutzan follows a trend of young coaches who came up through up through the minors. Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have enjoyed success by breaking in Dan Bylsma and Guy Boucher, respectively, in recent years.

Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk brought in a number of players during the off-season to improve depth and fill specific roles, players such as left wing Vernon Fiddler, and right wingers Radek Dvorak and Michael Ryder. For Nieuwendyk's moves to pay off, it has to start with Gully.

"He's probably our biggest acquisition," Nieuwendyk said. "He's a real smart and sharp guy, and the guys really enjoy his teaching methods and his structure."

Getting the Stars to overachieve is essential to climbing the ladder in the deep Western Conference. The Stars missed the playoffs for the third year in row, despite finishing with a solid 95 points during their 14th consecutive winning season.

Squeezing out a few more points could be the ticket back to the postseason.

"Our goal is to continue to get points every single game," Ott said. "When you work on points, that gets you into the playoffs and once you get in that's where the real dance is.

"Obviously, everybody wants to win the Stanley Cup; you dream about it your whole career, but for us we haven't made the playoffs the last three years and that's where the game is."

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