Dallas Stars: Younger Players Embracing Opportunity In Training Camp

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 21: Thomas Harley poses for a portrait after being selected eighteenth overall by the Dallas Stars during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 21: Thomas Harley poses for a portrait after being selected eighteenth overall by the Dallas Stars during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) /

As the NHL pushing towards a Return To Play, the Dallas Stars are trying to prepare with two weeks of training camp. But while the veterans are focused on getting back to game speed, the “black aces” on the camp roster have a different perception.

Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson never thought they would spend their birthdays at a Dallas Stars training camp in Frisco. After all, having a birthday in the middle of July has always meant celebrating during the thick of the offseason for hockey players.

This year, however, both will spend their big day (Dellandrea turns 20 on July 21, while Robertson turns 21 on July 22) on the ice at Comerica Center with Stars players and coaches.

“My birthday is coming up in a couple days right now and I thought about how I’ve never celebrated a birthday during hockey season,” Robertson said on a Zoom call on Monday morning. “I can kind of cross this one off the list because it might not ever happen again. It’s kind of something different.”

“It’s weird,” Dellandrea added on Monday. “I normally associate my birthday with being home with family at the cottage. I’ve never really been anywhere else before that. It’s weird being here, but it’s an incredible opportunity.

“It’s been really special to be down here competing and being back on the ice with the Stars as they get ready for their playoff run. I’m just trying to make the most of it down here and enjoy every minute. It’ll be a cool change.”

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It’s a change that they, along with other Stars players and prospects, are getting used to after completing their first week of training camp.

When the Dallas Stars began Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return To Play Plan on July 13, the clock began ticking. They had 13 days to effectively condition players, run through various drills and scrimmages, reinforce what the team did well while also refining and fixing what they didn’t do well prior to the pause, try to rebuild chemistry, and attempt to get the team in as close to game ready shape as possible by the time they boarded a plane for Edmonton (the Western Conference hub city) on July 26.

Eight of those 13 days have now passed. And while the Stars have spent the time incorporating new skills, concepts, and strategies into their game plan, there is more to be done.

The NHL roster locks are trying to rev back up to game speed. The coaches are constantly assessing drills and scrimmages to see what needs more work and where they can fine tune things even further.

And then there’s the small group of prospects, or “black aces”, that are trying to not only push the veterans to be at their best, but also prepare themselves for a potential spot in the lineup should they be called upon in a chaotic and unpredictable 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That’s where guys like Dellandrea, Robertson, and Thomas Harley enter the fold.

“We brought them in to push the guys that were here and to show what they can do,” Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. “If they can help us win games, they’re going to play. All of those guys in that second group are here to push our guys. If they can help us, then they’ll play. It’s as simple as that.”

All three were selected by the Dallas Stars in the past three drafts. All three were picked early on, with Dellandrea (2018) and Harley (2019) going in the first round and Robertson (2017) being picked early in round two. All three seem to have prominent roles in the Stars’ future.

"“Unfortunately, during these times, COVID comes out of nowhere. They talk about it a lot. We’re maintaining our health and everything, but it does happen. We want to be ready and I’m always trying to prepare myself to go into that. I’m trying to keep this pro mentality of taking care of myself, working really hard on and off the ice, and looking forward to what’s happening.” — Jason Robertson"

That’s why they’re in Frisco for the pre-postseason training camp.

But what has life been like for these prospects since arriving back in North Texas for camp? After all, they just endured a four-month pause while trying to stay in game shape and are now attempting to make an impact in a revised training camp setup.

They are also living in a hotel room for the duration of camp and could potentially be in one (albeit, in Edmonton) for the next 8-10 weeks.

That’s a lot of adapting to do in a short amount of time, but they are finding ways to adjust on the fly and cope with any new challenges that arise.

“For some reason, I didn’t find it that hard packing for this time,” Dellandrea said about preparing for his trip from Port Perry, Ontario to Dallas. “I knew I was driving down so I knew that, worst-case scenario, if I was going anywhere and had too much or whatnot, I could just leave it in my vehicle.

“I just kind of brought clothes and everyday stuff and didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t bring a lot down for entertainment.”

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“It’s kind of repetitive other than the schedule change in the morning,” Robertson said about living in a hotel. “You come to the rink and we’re always in the second group, so the first group goes out and we come in at like noonish, or maybe a little bit earlier to get tested. I come back here and maybe take a nice, hot bath because there’s not much to do besides play video games.”

Considering they are on the ice for less than two hours each day and can’t really go anywhere else, the time for gaming has spiked considerably. For Robertson, that means playing FIFA, Madden, Call of Duty, and NHL 20 online with his brother, Nick, who is currently at training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We’ll play a couple games of [Call of Duty], but we’re not good at it, so we just quit that and go to NHL [20],” Robertson said. “We play our EASHL club, so it’s me and him on a team against a couple of other guys. We’ll play shutdown hockey and we have a lot of fun.”

Harley said that he really enjoys playing Fortnite, though he also plays a lot of NHL 20 and other sports games like Madden and NBA 2K.

And then there’s golfing.

“I did buy some golf clubs and I’m not good at it, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get on the course with the fellas here,” Robertson said. “I don’t really want to stand out too bad, so I’ll definitely go to the driving range and work on some things because I have no idea. That’s definitely something I can try to pick up over this next week because I definitely have time for it.”

Robertson added that he hasn’t played many rounds in his lifetime and picked it up because of mandatory team tournaments down in Austin (though he noted that he was not the worst golfer on the team). He just recently picked up his first pair of clubs and plans to build on his skills.

“I just got them myself and I’m starting to practice, but I know a bunch of the other guys go to the golf course a lot and that’s all they talk about in the locker room,” Robertson said. “I’m trying to stay in the loop.”

Dellandrea, on the other hand, got into golfing last summer while recovering from a groin injury that prevented him from doing many lower-body workouts.

“That summer, I basically started training just upper body,” Dellandrea said. “I started to swing the club a bit. I didn’t really get my legs into it, but I’ve never played golf before, so I just started swinging the club. I kind of got into this hobby, got a set of clubs, and I had a lot of time on my hands. I got into it then.”

He added that he’s already played a few rounds during camp with Jake Oettinger, Nick Caamano, Gavin Bayreuther, and Joel Hanley (who he said was the best of the group and “puts on a show”).

And while Harley admitted he wasn’t much of a golfer, he added that the fondness for the game throughout the Stars organization may convince him to learn how to play.

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  • As the Dallas Stars prepare for an edited 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, these “black aces” will play an important role in getting the team ready. And so far, they have played their part well.

    All three players have had a good showing in camp so far and showed promise during the scrimmage on Sunday.

    Harley used a nice move to score a backhand goal on Anton Khudobin after joining Joe Pavelski for a 2-on-1 during 3-on-3. Dellandrea also scored a goal on a feed from Jason Dickinson during a 6-on-5 empty net situation.

    And while he didn’t score a goal, Robertson was active and noticeable in the play, creating chances for himself and his teammates while skating on a line with Pavelski and Alexander Radulov. He picked up where he left off after three games with the Dallas Stars in February and continues to look like a viable option should the Stars need him in the postseason.

    “When I was back home in Los Angeles over the past three months, I looked back and thought about how I was able to play at that pace,” Robertson said. “Coming into this camp, I could not only be one of the guys in the taxi squad, but also be one of the guys pushing the pro guys or being a substitute if they need to switch something up. That helped my confidence and my mentality.”

    Meanwhile, the thought of playing in an NHL game is still a dream for Dellandrea and Harley. The question is how much longer it will take for that dream to become a reality.

    Dellandrea had a good training camp in 2019, but couldn’t clinch a roster spot in the preseason and was sent back to the Flint Firebirds in the OHL. He proceeded to score 32 goals and 70 points in 47 games and win the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy, which is given annually to the OHL’s top captain.

    Over the past four months, he’s worked out in an at-home gym built by his dad in Port Perry, Ontario, trained with power skating coach Ashlea Jones, and tried to get himself ready for the unique opportunity that this summer training camp offers him.

    “I’m always trying to learn and grow my game in different ways,” Dellandrea said. “Whenever I get an opportunity to come in here – especially in the first couple of days skating with the big guys – I’m just trying to watch, learn, see what they do, adapt to that speed and pace, and just how they practice. I’m trying to take in these little things that will hopefully pay off in the long run and just grow that way.”

    Harley, on the other hand, survived a number of roster cuts during last year’s preseason before finally being sent back to the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL. The 18-year-old (he will turn 19 in August) has impressed and made a name for himself with his smooth skating ability and strong hands, and there’s reason to believe that he could challenge for an NHL roster spot as early as next season.

    "“Last year, I think I got pretty close. I got in five preseason games. Throughout the year, they’ve told me how well I defend is going to determine when I get to play in the NHL. I’ve been really focusing on that during the year and at this camp, so hopefully I can do it well enough that they give me a shot.” — Thomas Harley on the chance of making the NHL roster"

    His pause consisted of working out in his gym back home, adding 10 pounds, and getting a few skates in before coming back to Dallas.

    “It hasn’t been too different from last year’s camp for me,” Harley said. “There’s definitely an adjustment period the first week you are here where you’re just getting back up to speed with the older guys. They’re stronger than anyone I’ve played before in the [OHL], so it was just a little adjustment period where I struggled a bit and then I got used to it.”

    And now, the trio is in the thick of Dallas Stars training camp with a potential ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the line. While they are still adapting to a new life outside the rink and they truly have to be ready for anything in the days and weeks to come, this experience gives them another opportunity to prove their talent and help make the team better.

    It’s a weird time in the NHL; but so far, they have embraced the role.

    “I think coming here, it’s not just playing hockey and doing what you love, but it’s also business,” Robertson said. “Every practice is like a tryout for the main team. Everyone in the second group is trying really hard to push each other. If something opens up, one of us will hop right in.”

    The key will be continuing to do so as the playoffs begin to unfold.

    Next. Halfway Through: Notes From Stars Summer Camp. dark

    “It’s a little bit different from during the year when going in and out of the lineup is something that happens,” Robertson said. “You’re being thrown right into the fire during playoffs. It’s the biggest stage of the year and what these guys all worked for. It’s what I’m preparing for and everyone else in my group is preparing for. It’s a different circumstance than usual, but we’re doing our best job to maintain that mentality and always be ready.”