Written by George Johnson (Via Flames.com)
SAN JOSE – It’s almost a rite of passage.
The foldable chair in front of the row of shelves on which rolls of white tape and Johnson’s Baby Powder sit haphazardly.
The portable nameplate Scotch-taped to the top shelf serving as a finishing touch.
“The Tape Stall,” mused James Neal, seated across the way in the visiting dressing room of The Shark Tank. “I was thinking the same thing as he was going out today. That was me once upon a time. Everybody in here has been in the same position. Being a young guy, getting a shot with veterans, players who you’ve watched since you were a kid.
“For me, it was getting a chance on a line with Mike Modano – not bad, huh? – and B.J. Crombeen in Dallas.”
As auditions dwindle down to a precious few, a precious two to be exact, Cochrane’s Dillon Dube receives a prime spot to face a fully-locked-and-loaded San Jose Sharks line-up.
On the right flank, partnering Neal and centre Derek Ryan.
Not shabby for a guy residing in the Tape Stall.
“I came into the room and was looking for my stall for about five minutes,” joked Dube following the morning skate. “Then I went to see the lineup to see if I was even playing. And it was right here, in front of the stall. Luckily enough. So at least I knew where to sit.
“It’s crazy. What (Neal) said about Modano … one day in my career I’ll be saying the same thing about James Neal. It gives me an extra confidence boost, being out there with those two guys. You want to be put in spots like that.
“When Nealer arrived in the trade, I was star-struck. To get to play with him tonight is awesome.
“When you play with good players, it makes the game easier.
“Everybody thinks in the same way. It’s going to be a lot faster. The puck’s going to be tape-to-tape everywhere and everybody will know where to be.
“I think it’s going to be fun being close to actual NHL out there.”
Dube equated his current exhibition experience this to his World Junior experience, which, naturally, culminated in gold last January.
“In a seven-game tournament like the World Juniors you learn how to get up for every game. I’ve kinda been taking that same mindset for these seven games in pre-season.
“It’s almost like two more and they’re the most important, just like going for gold. So it’s pretty easy to get up for these games. If anybody was in this position, they’d relish it.”
Ryan predicts he’ll do just fine.
“He’s taken advantage of every opportunity he’s had in this camp,” he praised. “So why should this be any different?
“He’s a dynamic player with a dynamic skill set. Play your game – he knows that. He doesn’t need to hear that. But maybe it would be nice, hearing it from James or myself.
“My story’s a little different. I got here at 29. But the emotion, the anxiety, is the same, however old you are. Suddenly you’re playing with guys you’ve watched on TV forever. But there comes a time where you realize they’re not just your idols, they’re human beings, same as you. They tie their skates same way I do.
“Once you realize that, you become one of them. And that’s when you kinda turn the switch.
“Dubes is a great player. That’s pretty obvious. That’s why he’s still here.”
And why he’s planning on sticking around.
“I didn’t know him at all before I had the chance to watch him at camp,” said Neal. “Had no idea who he was. Then I’m asking people: ‘Who is that kid? He’s really good.’
“When I was young and in this kind of a situation I wanted to give it to the older guys. I wanted to pass it to them as much as I could. I was forcing stuff. So the first thing I’m going to say to him is: have fun. Play your game. Do whatever you want out here. Don’t, just cause you’re out with some older guys, change the way you play.
“When you’re an older guy you have a presence with the younger kids that sometimes you aren’t even aware of. When they were younger, they were watching you play. You forget that.
“I was definitely in those shoes before. I remember like yesterday my first NHL game.
“He played well in camp. He’s been pushing to be on our roster, so he deserves a good look.
“Hopefully we can help him out a bit tonight. And he can help us.”