In the final minute of Thursday’s 5-2 win by the Dallas Stars over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center, Antoine Roussel scored his fifth goal of the season for Dallas, flipping in an empty netter, to cap the night’s scoring.
But besides the fact that the French-born winger already has found the back of the net five times, which ranks him fourth on the Stars, it was the way that Roussel, a 23-year-old forward who hit the ice 103 times for Providence and Chicago of the American Hockey League over the last two seasons, that sums up exactly what he has meant to Glen Gulutzan’s club.
In the final moments of that big win over the Kings on their home ice, he could very well have just skated out the string and put it on cruise control with the victory already assured for his team. But when linemate Derek Roy fired the puck toward the Kings net and it struck the end boards behind the goal before deflecting to near the right post, Roussel didn’t let up. He skated toward the Kings net and was duly rewarded as he flipped that carom into the top of the goal, making it 5-2 and giving him his fifth tally of the season.
Roussel’s penchant for doing such little things that have been key to the Stars’ success thus far, whether it’s finishing a check, digging a puck out of a corner or just being an overall nuisance to the opposition has earned him much revere not just among his teammates but also among Dallas hockey fans and for good reason.
His teammates clearly love what No. 60 has brought not just to the pond but to the room so far this year. But there might not be a bigger fan of “Rousse” than the man behind the Dallas bench.
“Rousse has done everything he can for this team,” Gulutzan said after Sunday’s 4-1 win over St. Louis. “Here’s a kid that’s come in and the reason he’s had success is he does everything right. He works extremely hard and he’s fearless.”
And it hasn’t mattered which line the second-year NHL head coach has put him on, whether it’s been on the fourth line, which is where he skated earlier in the year or on the second line, where he currently skates alongside Derek Roy and Erik Cole, the results have been similar for this hard-working Frenchman.
“Well, it’s been interesting so far. I play with two great players. Erik [Cole] and [Derek] Roy have been really good to me so far. I hope it’s going to go the same way [in the future],” Roussel said.
But the hidden genius in this somewhat unknown Stars commodity is that he epitomizes what Gulutzan has been preaching almost from the day he was hired to replace Marc Crawford in summer 2011, that each player no matter his skill level has to understand their place on the team and do those little things integral to the entire club experiencing success.
The cumulative effect of every player exercising such incredible attention to detail would lead to more often than not, wins on the ice and No. 60 is definitely someone who understands exactly what his role is with the Stars.
“Well, I like to go to the net and create some space for the boys who can really create like Roy. If I can give them more space and more time, it’s good,” Roussel said.
Admittedly, he isn’t a big talker when it comes to addressing the media but when asked where he thinks his strong determination and seemingly tireless work ethic comes from, he did throw credit in a familiar direction.
“I don’t know [where it comes from],” Roussel said. “Maybe from my parents or my coaches all through my career so far, at juniors or the lower levels, they had a big impact on me. All of them [my coaches and my parents] have had a big impact on me.”
Since joining the Stars, he has not only earned the respect of his new teammates, many of whom he had previously skated with down in Cedar Park with the Texas Stars, but he’s also become closest with Eric Nystrom and Derek Roy.
But even though he and his teammates are riding high heading into Saturday’s game at Phoenix, he knows that even after beating the Kings on their own pond on Thursday, they truly have to take it one day at a time, especially in this current 48-game season.
“Sometimes after a loss you’ve got to wipe it away and focus on the next day. You cannot think too much about the bad,” Roussel said. “That’s the way we’re thinking here and how we’re going to think as the season goes along. We’re just going to focus on the next day.”