By Larry Wigge
Sometimes the tea leaves are on the side of someone younger.
In other words, there are those who believe that 35-year-old defenseman Stephane Robidas' days may be numbered. But then, why has it, that the Sherbrooke, Quebec, minutes have been under 20 only twice in the first 39 games this season.
That one just goes on the positive side of the ledger for One tough Star, the career of Dallas' Stephane Robidas.
"I know we all get older, but I felt good and I think I can play lots of minutes," replied Robidas. "If they decide I need to to play 18 or 20 minutes, I'm fine with that, too."
There are certain players you trust -- and Robidas is one of them. The Stars know Steph's story and are proud of the stickt-to-it-tiveness, the passion and everything else that he has provided the people of Dallas.
But, most of all, they remember a particular night that turned into morning in May of 2008 against the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs.
The pass was quick, sharp and tape-to-tape. Most important, however, was the timing. That precision-like, assertive pass came at a time when a team that once let him go needed Stephane Robidas' contributions the most, seven periods into a game in which the Stars had blown a third-period lead for the third time in the series and most everyone on the ice was dragging.
With the clock ticking into the witching hours, Robidas forced the issue nine minutes into the fourth overtime of Game 6 in the Western Conference semifinals, stepping up from his defense position and whipping a perfect pass past San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov right to the stick of Brenden Morrow for a series-clinching power play tip-in at the edge of the goal crease.
We'll all remember Morrow for the clinching goal. But there is still room for the little plays that help make up the defining moments in history, right?
" 'Robie' made a great, heads-up play, faked once, got the defender down and then slid it across to me just out of Nabokov's reach and I was there for an easy one. It's awfully tough to miss a setup like that," Morrow said. "When you get to that point of the game, you never know how much you have left. There's not a lot of oxygen going to the brain at that time of the game, but 'Robie' is one of those warriors ... and he found a way to make a great play."
Obviously, the oxygen in Robidas' brain was working just fine as his creative juices were definitely still clicking, even after Stephane had played 50 minutes.
"Once you make that decision to jump into the play, you just go, go, go ... you follow the rhythm and don't really think," Robidas said
"When you get into period No. 7, there's not a lot of chalk talk you can do with the team," said former Stars coach Dave Tippett. "You trust your guys and tell them if they see an opportunity, you tell them to take it -- and boy did 'Robie' make the most of the opportunity he got on that power play."
"When you play in an overtime like that, you just got to play and don't think, you just keep going and keep trying to make the little plays and try to get the puck out and try to bring everything at the net," Robidas said with a big smile and a little grimace from the broken nose he suffered prior to Game 6 in the first round of the playoffs that caused him to wear a cage over his helmet for protection of the five, or is it six?, broken noses in his career.
Robidas got this devilish look on his face when I mentioned one step forward and two steps back.
"To me, you take one step ... and then run with it," he laughed.
Taking one step forward and two steps back had been the routine for the veteran, journeyman from Sherbrooke, who was one of those too-small-to-play-defense-at-the-NHL-level players at 5-foot-11, 189 pounds who can count Montreal, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Dallas again on his eight-year NHL career. He was almost an afterthought in the draft, going to his hometown Canadiens in the seventh round, 164th overall, of the 1995 Entry Draft.
He achieved his dream of playing for Les Habitants in one game in the 1999-2000 season and then spent two more seasons in Montreal before he was claimed in the waiver draft by Atlanta in October 2002. But he never played for the Thrashers. Instead he was traded to Dallas for future considerations. His vagabond lifestyle continued when the Stars traded him to Chicago in November 2003. After the lockout, the Blackhawks didn't qualify him and he was re-signed by Dallas again in August 2005.
Feel-good story? You bet.
"I don't know how many times my dad sat me down and told me not to listen to the people who said I was too small to play competitively on defense. My dad said never give in if you want something bad enough," Robidas said.
And who in their right mind wouldn't listen to the town's police chief? Constant Robidas, Robie's dad, was a cop when he was growing up in Sherbrooke. Now, he's the police chief.
Robidas was an all-round athlete as a kid. He played soccer, was a third baseman in Little League and one of those offensively skilled junior defensemen. There were no steps back at that time, with Montreal-born future Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque being Stephane's role model growing up.
No steps back? But wouldn't Robidas think twice about coming back to Dallas after the lockout?
"No," he said. "They gave me my first real chance in the NHL. They showed real interest in me. And besides, there weren't any other teams banging at my door offering me a contract after Chicago decided to left me go after the lockout."
Robidas said things couldn't have worked out better for him, in fact, because he was comfortable in Dallas, plus the rules change after the lockout were designed for skill and speed not size.
It was about that point after Game 4 that Robidas was talking specifically about never giving up.
"You've got to look at yourself in the mirror every day, knowing that you never quit," Robidas said.
I remember teammate Steve Ott walked by and heard that. He broke out laughing and said, "He takes hits, he makes hits, he blocks shots, he gets his nose in there. I'll tell you what, you don't get a nose like that from having a long stick."
Oh yes, the nose.
"It's not the first time," Robidas laughed, adding another wide smile and grimace. "Breathing's not great, but you learn to fight through injuries to stay on the ice at this time of the year."
Warrior. Competitor. Difference-maker. One step forward ... and more.
For Stephane Robidas, being creative during the dizzying pace in the National Hockey League, well, it's as plain as the nose on his face.