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Excitement Palpable As Stars Continue Training Camp

It’s not just in what is said, it’s in how it’s said.

Dallas Stars v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There is a palpable excitement around the Dallas Stars these days.

It shows in the non-verbal ways. Players smiling after completing 80-minute on-ice sessions — and then completing a full workout. Grins that come out when asked about the system new head coach Jim Montgomery is implementing. Playful comments towards media members in the hallway, such as Radek Faksa dunking on Sean Shapiro of The Athletic’s fashion game.

It’s also vocalized, too.

Nearly all of the players the media has spoken with at training camp have talked about how exciting this brand of hockey is going to be. Many identified ways in which the system suits their own personal game as well as those of the team as a whole.

Take Jason Spezza, for instance. He had one of his best seasons in Dallas under the run-and-gun style Lindy Ruff put in place for the 2015-2016 season. When he was tasked with slowing the game down to suit Ken Hitchcock’s style, he struggled to produce. That’s because he prefers to play the puck possession style that is more common in today’s NHL.

“I’m excited. It definitely suits the way I want to play the game. For me, it’s exciting and when he’s talking I understand completely how he wants to play, I can see where it fits into my game, and I feel like it should translate well. It’s definitely ignited a little bit of excitement in me.”

It’s not only what Montgomery is preaching to the players that has them excited to play for him, either.

A lot of it started with how he went out of his way to get to know them this summer, even traveling to Europe to visit guys like Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Julius Honka, and Miro Heiskanen. Or how he got to know Jamie Benn by sending him a drink when he walked into a steakhouse and saw his new captain was there.

Now, it’s about how he’s been with the team since training camp started.

“I thought he’s been great. He’s been really assertive. He does a really good job of explaining the drills so that he’s clear. His concepts, I thought, the video work before practice and on-ice sessions and then you can see what we’re working on. There’s still going to be a learning curve, but he definitely tries to make it so you understand going into the drills and the drills aren’t just teaching moments.”

About those drills. Today, Montgomery ran some that were intended to build on the forecheck and neutral zone forecheck the team worked on yesterday. He had some quick whistles, much moreso than yesterday.

“What I like is he stops a drill every time that he doesn’t like it so there’s no real gray area,” Spezza said. “If he didn’t like it he stops it and he tells you and you move forward next time. There was a lot of correcting mistakes but it was done in a constructive way and in a way where every time it happened he stopped it and explained it.”

When told that the players seem excited to be playing and they know his expectations and what he wants from them, Montgomery said he appreciated that kind of feedback and he was glad the players think he has good clarity. He noted that the players want to play — regular NHLers were given the chance to bow out of the scrimmage tomorrow, but he said not a one indicated they didn’t want to play.

He even got a smile out of Julius Honka.

“You know what, I saw a smile on his face for the first time today. I was really happy, he’s always guarded around me, and I felt like someone - I don’t know how - he was smiling around the coaches. I think he’s starting to see his feet are going to be something that can really help us with the way we want to play defensively and offensively.”