The Dallas Stars skated on Thursday morning in preparation for the big opening night game against the mighty Chicago Blackhawks, and the big news of the day was that Erik Cole would be the healthy scratch on Thursday night.
Cole was expected to start the season on the second line with Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, but after showing up late for practice on Monday has seen his demotion carry over to the first game of the season. In his place will be Patrick Eaves, who was signed in the summer and has skated well in the preseason,with Colton Sceviour getting into the fourth line.
"Eaves has definitely earned the ice time," said Ruff after the skate. "I think Erik Cole has had a great preseason as well, he's had some great opportunities. I've told him, I think pulling him out hurts us as a team but at the same time I have a team to run. Everyone has to expect there are rules, you have to be places...It's over with, we're moving on. He'll get back in the lineup and I expect the Erik Cole that was doing well in camp."
This was clearly a message not just to Cole but to the team as well. The mantra for the Stars the past year has been "everybody ropes, everybody rides" and no matter what the circumstances might have been -- Cole broke team rules and is now paying that price.
Here were the line combinations this morning:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Valeri Nichushkin
Patrick Eaves - Jason Spezza - Alex Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff - Vern Fiddler - Colton Sceviour
For defense, it looks like Jamie Oleksiak will watch the first game of the season from the press box.
Alex Goligosk - Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn - Brenden Dillon
Patrick Nemeth - Kevin Connauton
Kari Lehtonen will start in goal.
For Chicago, Brad Richards will start on the third line with Andrew Shaw drawing second line center duties.
Sharp - Toews - Hossa
Saad - Shaw - Kane
Bickell - Richards - Smith
Morin - Kruger - Carcillo
Keith - Seabrook
Hjalmarsson - van Riemsdyk
Rundblad - Oduya.
Corey Crawford in net.
The Stars will be playing in front of a raucous and sold out crowd tonight, that might just have a smattering of Blackhawks fans, but the team is focused on building off the momentum from last season but also focused on what a fresh start for a new season can bring.
"I think obviously it's a fresh start because we've got some new bodies in here," said Shawn Horcoff, when asked about building off last season. "Obvious we want to continue the type of play we enjoyed at the end of last season, there was a really good feeling in here the last couple of months going into the playoffs. It was a tough way to lose, giving up those goals in game six and then losing in OT, it was a tough way to go out. I think we learned a lot from it and because of that, I think guys are even hungrier this year."
The Stars, along with the fans and media, have put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed this year and it all starts with one of the best teams in the NHL. It's a ton of pressure on a team that seemingly came out of nowhere last season and while the additions of Spezza Hemsky made headlines, this is essentially the same team as last year -- and that carries with it a lot from last season's success, and failures.
"I think, as a team, we have some unfinished business," said Brenden Dillon. "We have heightened our expectations for ourselves this year. We made the playoffs last year but even then we weren't really happy with that, we think we could have gotten more. This year, I think we're much more hungrier."
That hunger will be tested tonight against the Blackhawks and unlike last season, which opened against the Florida Panthers, the Stars will look to hit the ice at full speed and use a fast start to provide the path to more success this season. The Stars know a slow start can be tough to overcome in the West, especially in the Central Division.
"Last year there were new coaches, new systems new players and I think it took us a couple of months to really get comfortable with where we were at and really get going," said Horcoff. "Hopefully this year it's not going to be that long. We know if we want to be a playoff team, if we want to be a home-ice team, if we want to give this division a run for their money then we're going to have to play a full 82-games and be successful right off the bat."
"There's no easy games, if you get off to a tough start then you really have to play some great hockey to make up for it. We know that we can, we did it last year but it's sure nice to play that great hockey and move up in the standings and not just fight to get into the playoffs."
In Chicago, the Stars face a deep and talented team that was close to the Stanley Cup this past summer and won it all last season. The Blackhawks are one of the premier teams in the NHL and the Stars are now competing directly with them in the Central division, a test that the Stars are ready for and say is good to have this early in the season.
"It's always a good test," said Horcoff. "In my mind they're probably one of the top two teams in the league right now. After losing last year, they're going to be hungry again -- for us, if we want to be successful and if we want to get deeper in the playoffs then you have to go through teams like this."