Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars at Rockford IceHogs, Game 3

Texas Stars
38-24-8-6, 90 pts, 0.592
#2 Pacific Division
atRockford IceHogs
40-28-4-4, 90 pts, 0.579
#4 Central Division
May 22nd at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Stars lead 2-0
(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars will look to improve upon their 3-1 road record from this postseason when they take on the Rockford IceHogs in game 3 on Tuesday night. Team playoff history tilts in their favor, with the Stars only losing one series out of four when they were up two games to none.

Coming off their overtime thriller on Sunday that saw them score two power play goals, the Stars have a real chance to put the clamps down. Every indication from the locker room is that the players know what's at stake in every game, and they have yet to let arrogance or pomp creep into their game this postseason. The IceHogs remain the most dangerous opponent the Stars have taken on in these playoffs, after all.

Chris DiDomenico has goals in both games against the Stars and still clings to the lead in postseason scoring with 14 points. His teammate, defenseman Adam Clendening, is on DiDomenico's heels with 12 points, giving the IceHogs a blistering power play unit. The Stars would do well to mind their sticks while their in Rockford. The five power play opportunities they ceded to the IceHogs in game 2 was probably too many, though they did get seven chances themselves.

Where the goal scoring will come from the Stars is hard to predict, and they like it that way. On Sunday, it was Curtis McKenzie with the game winner in overtime, but he was quick to point out that everyone has pitched in on scoring during extended play this postseason. With the Stars icing three dangerous scoring lines, the IceHogs will have plenty to deal with if they want to make this a series on Tuesday night.

The puck drops at 7:00 PM CDT.

Stars injury report:
Fyten (injured)

Website: http://www.icehogs.com

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Curtis McKenzie Tonight's OT Hero as Texas Goes up 2-0 on Rockford IceHogs

(Credit: Derek Sparta/Texas Stars)
Texas didn't score the first goal tonight, but they did score the last. And that was all that mattered this evening in Cedar Park as the Stars beat the IceHogs to go up 2-0 in the Western Conference Final.

"Our group is resilient," said head coach Derek Laxdal after the 3-2 OT win. "There's not much to say after the third period. Just do what we do best; grind it out. This is what we do."

Curtis McKenzie was the overtime hero tonight, but it's taken a village in OT overall in the postseason. In his postgame comments, McKenzie noted that fourth liners Sam Laberge and Joel L'Esperance each have a game-winner.

"We like to keep it entertaining," joked McKenzie. "It's been finding ways to win games, come back in games and it's a goal from anywhere in the lineup. When guys are out there, everyone wants to put it on themself."

The IceHogs opened the scoring in the first period. With a strong forecheck from Rockford, Texas got hemmed in and was caught swimming a bit. John Hayden found himself alone in front with time and went five-hole on Mike McKenna. It was the only scoring of the frame as Rockford outshot Texas 11-6 in the frame.

"Rockford had a really good push early on in the game," added Laxdal.

The Stars picked it up in the second period with keen plays from defensemen assisting in their efforts. Matt Mangene found Jason Dickinson open in the right wing circle for a pass from the complete other side of the ice. Collin Delia couldn't react fast enough as Dickinson one-timed the puck into a wide-open net to tie the game.

Just a few minutes later, the power play came through. From the point with some traffic in front, Brent Regner skipped the puck on the ice like a stone on a pond. Roope Hintz occupied the D-man in front as the shot skittered over Delia's left pad to put Texas up 2-1, their first lead of the game.

Rockford would comeback with a great deflection play in front of the net on a power play of their own. In the building, the credit went to Chris DiDomenico, who centered the puck to Matt Highmore. The deflection off his blade in the paint was so quick that it was nearly undetectable on the film. It bounced out as quickly as it went in, leading to a quick review. With the score tied at two, Texas would head to the third period.

No score would be forthcoming in the final frame of regulation. The Stars had two golden opportunities with the extra man late as John Hayden and Lance Bouma each committed minor infractions. Texas was good, but Collin Delia's glove hand was better.

Heading to OT, Texas was moving into familiar territory with their 35th OT across regular season and playoffs. Asked what they chatted about in the intermission, McKenzie added, "There's not a lot you have to say. Everyone on the ice wants to score that goal. No one is being tentative."

The game nearly ended on a 2-on-1 for the IceHogs early in OT. A dive by Heatherington forced the pass, and Mike McKenna poked it astray to end the chance.

Around the halfway mark of the period, Texas earned a power play as McKenzie had a partial break and got taken down trying to split the defense. The timing was fortuitous as the Stars had a few seconds to regroup with the ice cleaning.

"It was nice to have that timeout halfway through the overtime period. It allowed me to rest [the first PP unit] a little bit. If not, I was going to call our timeout. Those guys came through when called upon."

Texas funneled a puck to the net, and McKenzie ended the contest with a rebound he buried. Laxdal quipped, "That's his area, five feet outside the paint."

The Stars head to Rockford tomorrow directly via charter to prep for Game 3.

Tonight's lines:
Morin-Dowling-McKenzie
Dickinson-Dries-Elie
Gurianov-Hintz-Flynn
Laberge-L'Esperance-Markison

Heatherington-Regner
Bodnarchuk-Scarlett
Bayreuther-Mangene

McKenna

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
O'Brien, Payne, Calderone, Kelleher, Rallo, Hansson, Paliotta, Robertson, Desrosiers (scratch)
Nyberg, Fyten (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 5,938.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - May 20 2018

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 2

Texas Stars
38-24-8-6, 90 pts, 0.592
#2 Pacific Division
v.Rockford IceHogs
40-28-4-4, 88 pts, 0.579
#4 Central Division
May 20th at 5:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Texas leads 1-0

The unexpected ride continues for the Texas Stars in Game 2. After handing the Rockford IceHogs their first defeat of the postseason, the Stars can guarantee another game in Cedar Park this postseason with a win tonight.

"They’re going to come with a great push on Sunday, and we have to be ready to rise to the challenge," said Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal.

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Even with scoring first on Friday, the Stars were still in a situation where they felt unsettled to start the game. "We had about a week off," said Jason Dickinson. "We’re starting to get our feet under us, so we can just keep getting better every game. We don’t expect to have anymore starts like that."

Watch to see if the 5 PM routine shift changes anything with the start of the game. Hockey players are creatures of routine and a 5 PM start is an oddity in the world of hockey. Texas did not have morning skate today, for example.

Stars injury/call up report:
Nyberg, Fyten (injury)

Website: icehogs.com
Twitter: @goicehogs

Friday, May 18, 2018

Greasy Goals Help Texas Stars Top Rockford IceHogs 4-2 in Game 1

(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars knocked off the Rockford IceHogs 4-2 on Friday night, winning game one of the Western Conference Finals and saddling Rockford with their first loss of the postseason. Roope Hintz and Remi Elie both ended the game with two points each. Sheldon Dries had one goal, and Jason Dickinson played a strong two-way game.

“I thought that whole line [played well] with Dries and Dickinson, said Stars coach Derek Laxdal. I really like that line. They were a good line for us in the Tucson series. For us moving forward, we just gotta keep ramping it up a little bit and be harder a little bit. And we have to grow as the series goes and guys like Remi, Roope and Deni are going to grow and get better.”

To Dickinson, getting to the net and getting dirty goals was the recipe for success for the Stars.

“That’s playoff hockey,” he said. “There’s not going to be too many pretty goals at this point in time. Everybody’s playing tight, everybody’s marking their guy well. You’re going to have to fight for the bounces. That’s what it’s going to take -- going to the net and maybe getting a couple of greasy ones or getting one to hit off your leg and go in.”

The Stars crashed the net hard less than five minutes into the game and were rewarded with the opening goal. Dillon Heatherington’s shot from the point somehow stayed out while Delia was heavily screened, but Curtis McKenzie cleaned up the the rebound with some yeoman’s work to make it 1-0.

Prior to Friday evening, the Stars were 6-0 in the playoffs when scoring first. “If you can score first, it’s going to gain energy for your team. Give our guys a lot of credit to keep pounding.”

Over the next several minutes, the IceHogs put on a quick clinic of postseason special teams play. A power play for the Stars at six minutes into the game went nowhere with the IceHogs controlling play for the duration of the penalty.

The IceHogs were then the recipients of one full minute of 5-on-3 time when Curtis McKenzie committed a tripping penalty while he was on the kill. Reece Scarlett had a sliding block to deny a shot on a yawning net and keep the Stars up by one momentarily.

However, the blistering IceHogs power play wouldn’t be denied as Carl Dahlstrom was left unchecked at the right circle for a one timer that trickled in under McKenna. Both teams finished the game 1-for-4 on the power play.

Roope Hintz got it back a couple of shifts later when he was sprung on a breakaway by a perfect neutral zone pass from Denis Gurianov. “If your linemmates know where and when you’re going it helps a lot,” said Hintz. “It’s good that [Gurianov and I] know how to play together.”

“Those two players have great speed,” noted Laxdal. “To make that play tape to tape at full speed shows NHL quality.”

McKenna’s marvelous glove save at point blank on Luke Johnson with five minutes left in the period kept the Stars in the lead through the end of the frame. He put together another stellar outing with 31 saves on 33 shots.

It wasn’t long into the middle frame before the IceHogs tied again, when DiDomenico picked up his goal at the four and half minute marker. A blocked shot bounced in Rockford’s favor, and DiDomenico took advantage of the open net.

“They’re a great second period team. We got caught in a couple of long changes and didn’t have great puck management. It started in the first period as we turned some pucks over and fueled their offense.”

Texas bent but didn’t break and was rewarded. Elie’s power play goal pushed the Stars back ahead near the eleven minute marker when he shoveled the puck in through a pile of humanity near Delia’s crease. “Remi looked engaged tonight,” said Laxdal. The Stars held the lead but were outshot 28-16 heading into second intermission.

The IceHogs activated their three man forecheck in the third period but didn’t record a shot through the first nine minutes. Hintz talked about how Rockford’s aggressiveness in the final frame was advantageous for the Stars. “It’s good for us if we get the puck [in that situation] because it’s 3-on-2 for us the other way,” he said. “We just gotta come down low and help our D-men.”

Dries’s goal near the thirteen minute marker gave the Stars a two-goal lead that they would not relinquish. Jason Dickinson screened on the play, and Dries made the most of Elie’s clean zone entry pass.

“Tonight, we did what we do best,” said Laxdal. “We grind and we’re resilient. We aren’t pretty, but we get it done. Game one in the books. Now our job is to get ready. They have 4 lines that come at you hard and they have a mobile backend.”

The Stars take on the IceHogs for Game 2 on Sunday at 5 PM Central.

Tonight's lines:
Morin-Dowling-McKenzie
Dickinson-Dries-Elie
Gurianov-Hintz-Flynn
Laberge-L'Esperance-Markison

Heatherington-Regner
Bodnarchuk-Scarlett
Bayreuther-Mangene

McKenna

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
O'Brien, Payne, Nyberg, Calderone, Kelleher, Rallo, Hansson, Paliotta, Robertson, Desrosiers (scratch)
Fyten (injury)


Tonight's attendance was 6,150.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - May 18 2018

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 1

Texas Stars
38-24-8-6, 90 pts, 0.592
#2 Pacific Division
v.Rockford IceHogs
40-28-4-4, 90 pts, 0.579
#4 Central Division
May 18th at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Series tied 0-0
(credit: Andy Nietuspki/Texas Stars)
So begins the Western Conference finals between the Texas Stars and the Rockford IceHogs. With home ice advantage in this 2-3-2 format, the Stars know they almost have to make a statement in game one. That's easier said than done.

The Rockford special teams have been well documented by Texas coaching staff and players. The Stars simply cannot afford to take needless penalties in the first game with the IceHogs' power play unit humming at 38%, good for 15 goals in the playoffs. Mike McKenna must maintain his strong play and be the best penalty killer when things break down.

Coach Derek Laxdal also anticipates a heavy forecheck, much like the Tucson Roadrunners, and a grinding pursuit of the puck from the IceHogs. Expect to see McKenna have to come out of the crease quite a bit to play the puck and try to slow down the quick forwards of Rockford. He spoke about this on Tuesday's Media Day.

"It depends on how they’re dumping the puck. Some teams are better than others with it. Some teams will go a period where you handle it a lot and then they realize they should put it in the corner. I’m sure we’ll find out what to expect in that first game. We’ll have a plan of attack for it when it comes."

The Stars also won't be looking for only the top players to carry the scoring load in game one. As Brian Flynn noted on Media Day, depth scoring will tilt the balance of winning or losing. "We’re going to need everyone," he said. "It’s not a line or a guy. We’ve been getting scoring throughout the lineup. Our fourth line kind of won us that last game [against Tucson]. That’s what we’re going to need to win."

For the IceHogs, center Chris DiDomenico currently outpaces all postseason players in scoring with eleven points. With home ice on the front end of the series, it will be intriguing to see which line Laxdal deploys against DiDomenico's top line. With rookie goaltender Collin Delia playing as good as any goaltender left in the playoffs (.948 SP), every decision and strategic move will have an indelible impact with the stakes so high.

Laxdal doesn't expect to have to go to anyone who is currently out of the lineup and plans to stick with the group he iced against Tucson. "If something happens and we feel we need to make a change, if we feel we need something, then we will," he said. "If we have an injury or a sickness. But right now we’ll go with the group that has got us this far."

The puck drops at 7:00 PM CDT.

Stars injury report:
Fyten (injured)

Website: http://www.icehogs.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Texas Stars Eager to Face Red Hot Rockford IceHogs

The mood of the Texas Stars on the ice during Tuesday's morning skate could accurately be described as business casual. As they look ahead to Friday's game one against the Rockford IceHogs at home, the team is having fun and itching to get back to competing on the ice with such a long layoff between rounds two and three. Coach Derek Laxdal, Brian Flynn, and Mike McKenna all spoke to the media on Tuesday after practice to discuss the upcoming series.

Rockford forward Chris DiDomenico leads postseason scoring with 11 points.
(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Here are some interesting takeaways.

McKenna's Influence Beyond the Crease

Inarguably, the Stars' spectacular postseason run so far has been anchored by McKenna's stellar play in net (.952 SP). "When we’re not playing that well Mike has bailed us out," said Flynn. "Having a hot goalie at this time of year is just as important [as playing your best hockey]."

Not to be overlooked is McKenna's demeanor and composing effect on his teammates. These traits have gone a long way in helping the Stars have success, according to Laxdal. "Mike brings a calmness to our group. If you watch the TV timeouts during the periods, he comes back to the bench and is just so relaxed. I think our team has taken on his personality. We don’t get flustered; we don’t get rattled if we’re down a goal, we just continue to play."

McKenna, for his part, is only doing what comes naturally to him. "I’m just trying to be myself and have fun," he says. "Being too uptight in this stuff is going to hold you back. It really is the best time of the year. You can have so much fun doing this and you can gain so much in your career and experience with it. Just trying to keep the guys on the same wavelength in having a good time out there, and making sure that we’re dilligent so that we can have a good time."

Respect for Rockford

In the IceHogs, the Stars will face their stiffest postseason challenge yet. Though they did just enough to punch a playoff ticket, Rockford was one of the hottest teams at the end of the regular season with a 7-3-0-0 record in their final ten games. They rode that momentum to a perfect 7-0 record in the first two rounds of the postseason, dispatching the higher seeded Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose behind hot goaltending and unsustainably great special teams.

Laxdal knows his team will have their hands full. "[The IceHogs] play fast, they pressure, they’re a lot like Tucson. So I think it’s going to be an outstanding series. I’m guessing it’s going to go six or seven games. Rockford hasn’t been defeated in the playoffs yet, and we’re looking forward to the first game. I think they got six players down from Chicago so they have a lot of NHL talent on the team. It’s going to be a great challenge for our group."

Rookie goaltender Collin Delia is as good as anyone right now with a sparkling .948 SP in the playoffs. "It’s going to be a goaltending battle. And hopefully Mike’s experience will put him over the top of the young kid."

(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Rockford's postseason special teams numbers are staggering. Most notably, they have 15 power play goals in the first two rounds. "Their numbers are outstanding. I think they’re 38% on the power play. Glendening and Franson -- I think they’ve got five or six goals on the power play from the back end. We have to stay out of the box and we have to play a tight game."

For good measure, Rockford's penalty kill unit is clicking at 92.9% in the playoffs, good for second in the league. Everything is working for them right now.

Leaning on Resiliency

One topic that has come up more often than not during media scrums this season has been the amount of overtime games the Stars have played. The tally has run up to 33, including postseason games. The Stars believe their comfort level with extended play and depth gives them an edge.

We’re not the most talented team in the league, we’re not the fastest team in the league, but we find a way. [We have] depth and resiliency. At any given time guys can score on our team. It’s a thing we’ve done all year -- we’ve been resilient. You never know who’s going to step up at any given time or whose gonna make that big play. Our bottom six forwards have been outstanding all year, and [our veterans] seem to rise when they’re most counted on."

"We feel pretty comfortable in [overtime] and I think our record shows that," said Flynn. "Our fourth line has scored two of those [game winners] for us. If those guys get out there they can make plays too. All the overtimes that played out through the season will help out."

The Comforts of Home

The Stars are looking forward to packing out the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park during the first two games. "Our fans have been phenomenal the whole [season]," said McKenna. "It’s just been getting better and better. All season long you look how full our building’s been and how loud its been. This H-E-B Center is a fun place to play, man. And it’s only going to get better."

For all that the Stars have put in to get home ice the lower seeded IceHogs, Flynn knows that it can be taken from them rather quickly. "We start at home so we obviously wanna come out and get that first win and not give up our home ice advantage," he said. "That first home game is really important to get. If you lose that one then maybe some guys start gripping a little bit because you know you need to get that next one. We just gotta come out and have a good start and see if we can carry it through."

Holding onto home ice advantage, for McKenna, means putting in the preparation. "I think it’s just really doing everything you can to do your homework on your opponent coming in and trying not to leave any stone unturned," he said. "I don’t think you can ever be too prepared for a specific opponent. We’ll do our homework on Rockford."

The series schedule against the IceHogs can be found here.

Key Value for Hockey and Living

When asked about his belief in his team's destiny, McKenna was quick with an answer that merits deep reflection. "I believe in working hard and hoping you get what you deserve." That's the best that any of us can do.

The series opens with Friday's game in Cedar Park.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Texas Stars Will Face Rockford in Conference Finals; Here's the Schedule

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Here's your schedule for the Western Conference Finals featuring the Texas Stars and the Rockford IceHogs. The Stars have home ice against Rockford, so Game 1 comes at home next Friday.

Western Conference Finals (best-of-seven):

Game 1 – Fri., May 18 – Rockford at Texas, 7 p.m. CT
Game 2 – Sun., May 20 – Rockford at Texas, 5 p.m. CT
Game 3 – Tue., May 22 – Texas at Rockford, 7 p.m. CT
Game 4 – Thu., May 24 – Texas at Rockford, 7 p.m. CT
*Game 5 – Fri., May 25 – Texas at Rockford, 7 p.m. CT
*Game 6 – Mon., May 28 – Rockford at Texas, 7 p.m. CT
*Game 7 – Tue., May 29 – Rockford at Texas, 7 p.m. CT
*if necessary