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Robidas sets an All-Star example

Thursday, 01.22.2009 / 2:06 PM / Feature
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Robidas sets an All-Star example
Stephane Robidas is one of the most beloved figures in the Stars\' locker room. Now the defenseman will take his gutsy play to his first All-Star Game.

Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley was too kind. Asked for a colorful description of teammate Stephane Robidas' misshapen nose, Daley smiled, laughed and then refused to give one.

"We're going to leave the nose out of it," Daley told NHL.com. "He's too nice of a guy to make fun of anything about his nose."

Hockey fans know the nose. If they don't, they definitely should.

It's the one the Stars' training staff stuffed with cotton midway through Game 5 against Anaheim in last season's Western Conference Quarterfinals just so Robidas could return to the ice to rescue an already injury-depleted defense.

Robidas' nose is his single most defining physical attribute. It tells his story of grit, of determination, of meeting challenges head-on (pun intended), of overcoming obstacles such as being a longshot seventh-round draft pick, and of seizing the moment.

Given an opportunity through key injuries to a pair of Stars veteran blueliners midway through last season, Robidas has become one of the most important defensemen on any team in the NHL.

Now he can call himself an NHL All-Star.

Robidas, who is from Sherbrooke, Que., will be back in his home province this weekend to make his NHL All-Star Game debut as an injury replacement for Detroit veteran Nicklas Lidstrom.

"To be an All-Star anywhere would be great," Robidas said. "But to play in Montreal, that will be something very special."

"Stephane has earned this honor," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "He has been given an opportunity with our team and he has seized it. He is such a hard-worker; he really epitomizes how we want to play as a team."

"He's an example for everybody," Stars forward Mike Ribiero told NHL.com. "He was a fifth or sixth defenseman at the start of last season, but I always thought he was a two or three defensively. He proved me wrong. He is a No. 1 and he stepped up big time.

"Robi had his chance and he took it."

All Robidas ever wanted was a chance. Thanks to injuries to Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher last season, he got one.

Robidas, who didn't score a goal in the 2006-07 season, had 9 last season, along with a career-high 26 points. He played in all 82 games and averaged 20:38 of ice time, the most of any player who played at least 50 games with the Stars last season.

He was even better in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, totaling 3 power-play goals and 8 assists while playing more than 25 1/2 minutes a night. In Game 6 against Anaheim, playing with a cage over his face to protect his broken nose, Robidas scored the game-tying goal early in the third period, and 52 seconds later his tape-to-tape pass to Stu Barnes resulted in the series-clinching goal.

Through 42 games this season, Robidas has 19 points and is playing a team-leading 24:28 per game. Those numbers are a far cry from where he was four summers ago, when 29 other teams told him they didn't need or want his services.

He regained his confidence as a strong-willed offensive-defenseman while playing in Germany during the lockout season, but Robidas still struggled to find a job when the NHL returned from its work stoppage in 2005.

Robidas said his agent called around and nobody wanted him. His wife had just given birth to the couple's first child and Robidas wanted some stability for his family, so playing in the AHL wasn't really an option.

"You don't want to keep moving up and down," he said.

He had a Plan B in place. Robidas already had signed a contract to play with the Mannheim Eagles in Germany, but he had an out-clause that stated he could sign with an NHL team and the contract would be voided.

"Stephane has earned this honor. He has been given an opportunity with our team and he has seized it. He is such a hard-worker; he really epitomizes how we want to play as a team."
-- Stars coach Dave Tippett

Fortunately, one of Robidas' former teams needed some defensive depth. Robidas had played the 2002-03 season and 14 games of the next season in Dallas before the Stars traded him to Chicago.

"It's a place I enjoyed playing and they had a great team," Robidas said of Dallas. "The only question mark for me was that I was going to come back to Dallas as a seventh defenseman. I knew they had a lot of defensemen. I really had no choice. It was either that or out of the country, in Germany."

For the next two seasons, Robidas played a regular shift and earned some power-play time, but he was far behind Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher on Dallas' depth chart. He was still a fifth or sixth defenseman.

"Even though I'm not a big guy, my role was to play physical and block shots and throw my body around," Robidas said. "I knew that's how I had to play to be effective. I was hoping to get a chance and I finally got it last year with the injuries we had to big players like Boucher and Zubov. It gave me a chance to play a lot more and I was ready for that challenge. That's a challenge I wanted to happen."

In meeting the challenge, Robidas continued to earn the praise of his teammates.

"A lot of who he is is what you see on the ice," Daley said. "You see him on the ice and he throws everything he has into everything he does. You see him do that off the ice, too. It's a reflection of who he really is."

Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who is out for the season with a knee injury, used words like sacrifice and toughness to describe why Robidas is one of the most popular players in the Stars' locker room.

"He's like a wrecking ball out there," Morrow told NHL.com. "He'll get knocked down but he'll pop right back up and he'll be the first one in the play, blocking shots and doing what he can. For the size of the guy, he is pound for pound one of the toughest guys. He takes a licking every game and just pops right back up for us."

The best thing about Robidas is he doesn't fear the consequences -- he embraces them.

The former long-shot seventh-round pick has forged his career out of doing just that, and he doesn't plan on stopping any time soon. He played his 500th NHL game earlier this season, now has his sights set on 1,000.

"I always told my wife, all I want to play is one NHL game," Robidas said. "I got called up in my third year and I played in one. After you get one, you want two. If you have two, you want three. Then you want four and then you want more. It's always been my goal to keep moving forward. Now, 1,000 (games played) would be a great accomplishment. It shows that you have been consistent for a long time. I'm 31 and I'd be thrilled to do that."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.


Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer

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