Stars ready to kick off Nill and Ruff eras in style

FRISCO, Texas — Nobody affiliated with the Dallas Stars wants to talk about the fact that this is a franchise that hasn’t been to the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2008 and keeping the past in the rearview mirror is definitely the right call for an organization that has a new general manager in Jim Nill, a new head coach in Lindy Ruff as well as new players like Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff and Tyler Seguin.

So, not to sound cliché but Thursday night’s season opener between the Stars and the visiting Florida Panthers truly is a fresh start for a franchise that won the 1999 Stanley Cup championship. Besides all the changes listed above, the game with the Panthers will also mark the official debut of the Stars’ new jerseys, yet another aspect of what is a new era for everyone affiliated with the franchise.

Dallas will also have a new captain in Jamie Benn, who is now the unquestioned face of the franchise and No. 14 who will skate on the Stars’ top line alongside Seguin and veteran Erik Cole is ready to get this thing rolling.

“It’s an exciting time for the Stars. It’s going to be fun to go out there in new jerseys tomorrow night in front of all our fans in kind of a fresh start for the Dallas Stars,” Benn said on Wednesday after practice.

Like Benn, Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski is a holdover from the previous eras of both Marc Crawford and Glen Gulutzan and the man who wears No. 33 and will be paired with Gonchar shares his teammate’s sentiment that preseason is now over and it’s time to start playing games that really matter, the very thing every member of the roster and coaching staff has been preparing for all summer.

“Yeah, I think everyone’s real excited. It seems like preseason’s kind of dragged on a little here in the last week because preseason games got over and we had to wait a little bit to get to tomorrow. But everyone’s excited,” Goligoski said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for everyone in here. We’ve got new guys coming in and the guys coming back. I think everyone’s just ready to go.”

Thursday night will also mark the debut for Ruff behind the Dallas bench and the career hockey man admits that anticipation and even anxiety of right before the start of another season is a feeling that he never gets tired of experiencing.

“Emotionally I’m psyched. I can’t wait. I’m disappointed that we have one more night to go, that we wouldn’t be going tonight. It’s fun,” Ruff said. “You have that anxiety to get it going. You practice for four days. The players want to play and the coaches want to see the players play.”

The game with Florida will mark Cole’s first opening night as a member of the Stars. He is of course the veteran forward who came over in a trade with Montreal in the early stages of last season for Michael Ryder and even though this will be his first opening night in Big D, it is something he has experienced countless times in his career and as he looks around at the rest of the room, he admits he likes the group Nill and Co. have assembled around him for what he promises will be an interesting season of Dallas Stars hockey.

“I really like our group and think we’ve got a good mix of veteran players and younger players, great goaltending and veteran coaches,” Cole said. “I think we’ve got something here that’s going to surprise a lot of people. I think if we can just figure a way to bring it all together, then we’re going to be a very effective team.”

When addressing the media after practice on Wednesday, Ruff said he felt good about how prepared he and his players were for Thursday’s opener with the Panthers. But even with that being said, he admitted he can’t wait for the puck to drop on his first season as the Stars’ head coach because he wants to see how all of their preparations and planning play out once the games start to count.

“Well, it’s not just another game. It’s the start of something really new, something really exciting. I don’t look at it as it’s just another game. It’s a group of guys that a lot of different guys have put together and a lot of guys that have really gotten along good together as a team and I’m excited to see that develop,” Ruff said. “For me, it’s not just another game. It’s another start and a new beginning for a lot of us.”