- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sheldon Souray has been selected to three NHL All-Star games. But a year ago he was in Hershey, Pa., miles and miles away from any NHL city and even further away from playing in the league.

Signed to a five-year, $27 million contract by the Edmonton Oilers, the defenseman failed to live up to expectations and became disgruntled. The Oilers then loaned Souray to the Hershey Bears as they didn’t want to play him with their prospects in the American Hockey League. He spent a year there — calling it an “unsettling” situation — but managed to, in the process, rehabilitate his career.

“I wasn’t in any different situation than most of those guys — if not all of them — in that we were all trying to get to the next level,” Souray said. “So I think it’s unsettling for everyone down there. Last year was a different kind of challenge for me, but it’s behind me. Maybe it was a good thing.”

It seems like more than a maybe. Souray, bought out by the Oilers in the offseason, signed with the Dallas Stars on a one-year, $1.65 million, show-me-you-can-play contract. Through 14 games, he’s tied for No. 1 in the NHL in plus-minus at plus-11 and is tied for fourth among defensemen with 13 points.

On Thursday, he was back on the All-Star ballot, a sign of respect for a guy who paid his dues for a year but certainly seems to be back on top of his game.

“He’s brought leadership, he’s brought toughness to our back end and he’s brought commitment to play good D,” Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan told the Capitals Radio Network. “He’s solidified us in a lot of those areas, so he’s been a tremendous acquisition for us.”

A year in Hershey might not have been ideal for a defenseman who has played well over 600 career NHL games. But he pumped in 19 points in 40 games for the Bears and provided a veteran presence for a playoff team.

“You make the best of the situation that you’re given. They were good guys down there, a good coaching staff, a good organization to play for,” Souray said. “They made the transition for me real easy — as easy as they could. And I appreciated that.”

Much like Wade Redden, the New York Rangers defenseman spending another season in the AHL along with his $6.5 million cap hit, Souray seemed out of place. And his teammates knew it.

“You don’t know what to expect when a guy comes from the NHL, maybe he’s going to shut ‘er down,” Mathieu Perreault said. “But he came to Hershey and he was working hard and he was doing everything in his power to make our team win. I thought he was a really good guy in the dressing room for us.”

Souray helped mentor young defenseman Dmitry Orlov and was a rock on the blue line when healthy. His all-around game might have slipped in previous years in the NHL, but his shot still made a mark on opponents.

As a player being paid $4.5 million among teammates often making a little over 1 percent of that, Souray was helpful in and out of the dressing room. Perreault said Souray would often pick up the tab when he went out with fellow Bears players.

“I had a fun time down there and all the guys — it was good players down there and all the guys made it easy,” he said.

As for picking up the check every once in a while, Souray just smiled.

“I might’ve. I can’t remember,” he said. “You’d have to ask my accountant.”

Ask Souray’s accountant this year and the wallet is lighter, but the shot is just as heavy — and the production seems to be enough to spark a career revitalization. And perhaps another trip to the All-Star game, a long way away from Hershey.

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