DALLAS — It’s been a bit of a weird season so far for the Stars. A 1-7-1 start was followed by a run of 14 wins in 16 games. That was followed up with four straight losses and then three wins in a row.
That third win in a row on Dec. 10 was the start of a new era in Dallas following the sudden dismissal of head coach Jim Montgomery. Assistant coach Rick Bowness has been at the wheel on an interim basis and the transition has been okay with the Stars 5-3-1 since the change.
The Stars sit third in the Central Division with 40 games played as they prepare for the 2020 Winter Classic against the Predators at the Cotton Bowl (1 p.m. ET; NBC) on New Year’s Day.
It’s only been nine games since the hockey world and the Stars were stunned by the Montgomery news, but the players are working through it.
“It’s still a growing process. We’re trying to get better every day here,” said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. “We’ve been having a few games where we get the points we want to, but we haven’t played the way we want to. That’s a good thing that we can still get points when we don’t play as good.”
No one has coached more NHL games than Bowness, who will have been a head coach in the league for five decades as of New Year’s Day, joining only Pat Quinn and Scotty Bowman in that category. The responsibilities have certainly increased moving from an assistant’s role to taking charge of the entire team, but the players know him after he came on board a month after Montgomery’s hiring in June 2018.
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Stars goaltender Ben Bishop, who was with Bowness in Tampa for four seasons, hasn’t seen a different side to the head coach since the change. Bowness has kept his upbeat personality and is always the loudest guy in the room when he greets his players in the morning.
The voice in charge behind the bench may be different now, but things have very much stayed the same for the Stars. Considering the circumstances, being able to call on someone like Bowness has been huge in keeping the team from heading in a bad direction.
“It’s kind of one of those things, even though he is a coach everybody has their own job to do,” Bishop said. “When a coach gets fired or let go you still have your job to do. I think guys continue to do their jobs and the players are the ones who go out there and execute the gameplan. As long as the players go out there and do that you’ll have a pretty good chance to win.”
The situation last season for the Stars was about adjusting to a new system under a new head coach. That took time for the Stars, who didn’t get going until last January during a second half that propelled them to within a victory of the Western Conference Final. The experience of overcoming that obstacle has helped this season, and having a dressing room full of veterans who have seen everything the NHL can offer has ensured that they remain competitive in a tough division.
“We have a good team in here,” said Joe Pavelski. “We just have a lot of honest hockey players, a lot of good people in this organization, in this room. The start, we didn’t like that. You put yourselves in such a deep hole and then we’re as hot as anyone for a while. And there’s been a few times where we turn a corner and we might get a little separation but we’ve always fallen back to the pack.
“So we’re right there. [We’re] just a resilient group. You’ve got different ups and downs but we’ve had some extremes at some times this year. We’re looking to get some kind of consistency here in the second half.”
MORE: 2020 Winter Classic by the numbers
Watch the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars at the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday, January 1 at 1 p.m. ET only on NBC, NBC Sports and the NBC Sports app.
Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Pierre McGuire and Brian Boucher will have the call from the Cotton Bowl. Mike Tirico will host the network’s on-site Winter Classic pre-game coverage alongside the NHL Live studio team of host Kathryn Tappen, and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp. Tirico will interview members of 1999 Stanley Cup Champion Stars team on-site during intermission of coverage on NBC.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.