Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Return of Willie Desjardins and Doug Lidster Makes for Special Game in Dallas

Vancouver and Dallas have a unique connection through a trifecta of former Texas Stars coaches
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Regardless of the outcome of last night's game in Dallas, it was going to be a special and meaningful one thanks to the connection forged this summer between Vancouver and the Stars.

After leading the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup, head coach Willie Desjardins and assistant coach Doug Lidster were scooped up by the Canucks to lead the squad after a disappointing year. Last night's contest at the American Airlines Center was the first time Desjardins and Lidster coached against their former organization.

"It's a special game for me," said Coach Desjardins yesterday before the game, a 6-3 Dallas victory. "This is a good organization. I know a lot of guys in the organization, so it is a special place. Right from the start, I knew when this game was going to be."

Desjardins was plucked out of the WHL by Dallas for an associate coaching job behind Marc Crawford in 2010-11. The Crawford era gave way to the Glen Gulutzan era in 2011-12 and Desjardins stayed behind the bench in Big D. He had been in the conversation for the Dallas job but needed that head coaching professional experience according to many.

He got that experience when he took the helm in Cedar Park for the 2012-13 season. It was a peculiar season thanks to the NHL lockout but one that ended in Texas clinching the first seed in the West. An unceremonious exit in Game 5 of the second round gave the team's returning core fuel for a 2013-14 that ended in a Calder Cup.

Coincidentally, one of those who hoisted the Cup in June for Texas played just his second NHL game against the Canucks last night. Curtis McKenzie grew up a Canucks' fan; even at more than eight hours by car, Vancouver was the closest NHL team to his hometown of Golden, BC. He now has an added connection with the coaching staff.

Coach Desjardins is keeping track of his players all over the world, including McKenzie, even with his new responsibilities. He was fully aware of McKenzie's callup and was very proud to hear the news.

"He worked so hard. At one point I didn't even know if he was going to make it into the American League, if he could be a 4th line guy."

McKenzie proved he belonged of course, winning the 2014 Rookie of the Year crown in the AHL.

Coach Lidster extended Desjardins' point, agreeing that he wanted to see his players do well everywhere. He added with a smile, "Except when they play against us."

Joking aside, Lidster is also actively keeping tabs on his former players in Texas and elsewhere.

"I know [Texas] has had some good games to start. I've had some texts with Max, Toby and Morin. You try to keep in touch as much as you can. That's the nature of the hockey world. Sometimes you don't talk to someone for six years and then you end up texting them. It's nice to keep track of them."

Lidster even noted he had reached out to Francis Wathier to congratulate him on the contract in Portland. It's all about keeping connections in the small world of hockey.

Systems clicking in BC

Desjardins and Lidster are bringing the same uptempo game that they are known for to British Columbia. Even in morning skate, Desjardins had the Canucks doing drills with a heavy focus on competition and games to keep things light and engaging. With one coach timing the drills, the white and blue teams competed against each other in a 3-on-0 passing and shooting drill on Eddie Lack. The white team lost and had to put in a few pushups on the ice, but it was all in good fun as everyone skated away with smiles.

"We're getting complete buy-in," said Lidster. "They're trying real hard. It's not rocket science. After a season like last year, a lot of them are struggling with confidence. That's the key thing for me. If you're confident in your game, you can play any system."

Among the holdovers from last season's struggling Canucks was another familiar face to the Texas Stars faithful: Glen Gulutzan.

"It's been an easy transition," said Gulutzan after morning skate yesterday. "It's good for me to see some of the things that they do that I didn't and vice versa. Usually it's not the systems that win but the execution. Every team in the league is playing a little bit differently but 80% of it is the same."

Gulutzan credited Desjardins with being an inclusive coach who is really good at bringing people together.

"He's done a remarkable job of that with this group: what he's implemented and done off-ice. Those are the things that bind teams together."

Desjardins and crew are 3-2-0 after last night's game and will stay in Dallas before heading to St. Louis and beyond on Thursday. The Stars will make two visits to Vancouver, one in December and one in March, but the Canucks will not return to American Airlines Center this year. Well, that is, barring playoffs. And knowing Coach Desjardins' teams, playoffs are probably a decent bet.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Patrik Nemeth Out for Season; "Severe is an Understatement"

Former Texas Star Jamie Oleksiak appears to have cemented his roster spot with news of Nemeth injury
Jamie Oleksiak (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
When asked about Patrik Nemeth's injury, Lindy Ruff replied that "severe is an understatement." With that assessment, it is no surprise that Nemeth will be missing the rest of the 2014-15 regular season for the Dallas Stars.

Jamie Oleksiak appears to have truly won his roster spot for good, although under less than ideal circumstances. For now, Jyrki Jokipakka will also stay in Dallas until Sergei Gonchar is healthy. That could be another several weeks. Estimates at the start of the season put him at 3-5 weeks away, but he hasn't started skating yet after fracturing his ankle in the preseason.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jyrki Jokipakka Recalled to Dallas Stars

As expected, the Dallas Stars have recalled Jyrki Jokipakka this afternoon. Jokipakka will be hte seventh D for Tuesday's game against Vancouver and possibly beyond.

Release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the NHL club has recalled defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka from the Texas Stars, Dallas' top development affiliate in the American Hockey League.

Jokipakka, 23, has appeared in three games for Texas this season recording one point (1-0=1), which was a power play goal, and a +1 plus/minus rating. During the 2013-14 season, he appeared in 68 regular season games posting 21 points (5-16=21). In helping Texas to their first Calder Cup championship in 2014, Jokipakka (YIHR-kee YOH-kee-pah-kuh) posted five assists (0-5=5) and a +8 plus/minus rating in 21 postseason games played.

Texas Stars Will Lose a Defenseman to Callup; Who Will It Be?

Patrik Nemeth (Credit: Steven Christy)
In case you missed it, last night's Dallas Stars game was unkind to Patrik Nemeth. Early in the game, R.J. Umberger's skate caught Nemeth on the wrist in the gap between the glove and jersey. He immediately went off the ice and did not return. After the game, Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff told the media Jamie Oleksiak would pull into the lineup and they would be calling someone up from Texas to fill the spot as 7th man.

Now the question is who will go. Texas defensemen on Dallas contract include Jyrki Jokipakka, John Klingberg, Cameron Gaunce and Julius Honka. The rookie Honka is obviously not going. Jokipakka impressed in the preseason. Klingberg was solid but was coming off hip surgery in the summer. Cameron Gaunce has the most NHL experience of the group and could serve as a stabilizing force there. However, he also has a lot of value with this group in Cedar Park as a veteran.

Personally, I think it's Jyrki Jokipakka. If he is the callup, it's quite an accomplishment for both the player and the organization. Jokipakka was a 7th round pick in 2011, a round where there are more misses than hits to be sure.

In Texas, we know that William Wrenn is hurt and the Stars have Mike Dalhuisen on the roster from Idaho. Dalhuisen could get his first AHL action of the season on Friday if Sergei Gonchar, Patrik Nemeth and William Wrenn are all injured at that point.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rynnas Shutout, Morin Record Tally Vault Texas Stars Past Utica 1-0

Travis Morin sets franchise record with 100th career goal
Travis Morin (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
A tight goalie duel was finished off in the third period with Travis Morin's 100th career AHL goal, all as a Texas Star, for a 1-0 victory over the visiting Utica Comets.

Morin, ever-deflecting of praise, summed it up simply, "It's nice to do it with the same team. Other than that, it's just another goal."

Texas' Jussi Rynnas and Utica's Joacim Eriksson each faced 29 shots on the evening, but Rynnas was just one better for his first shutout as a Texas Star.

"It was an entertaining game from start to finish for back-to-back games," said Coach Laxdal. "It was a good rebound game because we didn't think we were that great last night in Oklahoma City."

Cameron Gaunce added to the level critique of the game, "We knew they weren't a very high scoring team coming in. We gave them more chances than we should have."

The game had a very physical feel to it, despite the fact that the two teams only combined for sixteen penalty minutes. Utica is a team that will finish checks and get physical more often than Texas.

"We've got a tough group of guys," said Gaunce. "We might not have the guys that will drop the gloves at every opportunity but we're a team with a lot of character. If they want to play a strong physical game, we'll use our skill, talent and speed to our advantage."

The Stars and Comets traded power play chances throughout the game until late in the second period when Cameron Gaunce took a tripping call on the penalty kill and moved the advantage to 5-on-3 for Utica.

Veterans Maxime Fortunus and Derek Meech manned the defense for the entire advantage with Travis Morin and Radek Faksa rotating at forward.

"You want guys who are going to be smart on a 5-on-3 and aren't going to be running around," said Morin. "You know you're going to give things up on a 5-on-3 but it's knowing what you're willing to give up. We don't want passes through the crease or back doors."

Laxdal praised the 2-man kill as well, "It's a tough job description. You look at Radek Faksa, blocking shots. It's important to your hockey club and it's not a pretty job. You've got to have that."

The success on the kill vaulted Texas to the only goal of the night early in the third period. Travis Morin describes the play:

"We had a 3-on-2 rush. Ritchie moved it wide to Ranford and I pulled up and went to the back side. Ranford put a nice pass off the pad. The goalie doesn't have a lot of choice but to kick it out to the side. I was lucky enough to be in the right spot and put it back toward the net. Luckily, it went in."

Late in the period, Utica would attempt to get the equalizer but a penalty on former Star Dustin Jeffrey would all but salt it away with 2:18 left. The Comets were unable to pull the goaltender for even a second at the end and Texas set a 3-0 season mark.

Texas is next in action at Oklahoma City on Friday.

Tonight's lines:
Henderson-Faksa-Stransky
Ranford-Morin-Ritchie
Smith-Dowling-Glennie
Hulak-Peters-Troock

Honka-Meech
Jokipakka-Fortunus
Gaunce-Klingberg

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Dalhuisen, Root, Lagace (scratched)
Wrenn, Rallo (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 4,248.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Utica - October 18 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Utica Comets

Texas Stars
2-0-0-0, 4 pts
#3 Western Conference
v.Utica Comets
2-0-1-0, 5 pts
#2 Western Conference
October 18th at 7:00 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

The days of the Utica Comets being a Western Conference doormat could be behind them. Thanks to strong goaltending and building off the momentum of last season's final few months, they have started the season well.

Jacob Markstrom, formerly of San Antonio, was assigned to the Comets this season and he's already 2-0 for the club. It's certainly not where he wanted to be. Last year it looked like Vancouver would go with Markstrom and Eddie Lack in net as a young tandem. That changed when the team picked up veteran goalie Ryan Miller in free agency. Now Markstrom plies his trade in upstate New York.

Former Texas Star Dustin Jeffrey is the leading scorer for the visitors. After the Calder Cup win, he followed Coach Desjardins to British Columbia, signing a one-year deal with the Canucks. He was assigned to Utica and has two goals and an assist in three games.

Another player new to the Comets (but very familiar to at least one Texas Star) is Brendan Gaunce. The younger brother of the Stars' Cameron Gaunce was a first round pick of the Canucks in 2012. In just three games of action with Utica, he has a goal and two assists. Gaunce also leads the team in plus-minus.

Another rookie to watch for is Hunter Shinkaruk. The Alberta native was Vancouver's 2013 first round draft pick. He already has two assist in three games.

The Comets blanked the Rampage last night in San Antonio, surely a nice win for Markstrom, who was last seen in the AHL at the AT&T Center. That means it's likely the Stars will see Joacim Eriksson in net. Eriksson has one game played on the season, a 3-2 OT loss to Toronto. Last season he was 24-24-2 for Utica

Stars injury/call up report:
McKenzie (callup)

Website: uticacomets.com
Blog (official): Comet Tales
Newspaper: Utica Observer-Dispatch
Twitter: @UticaComets

Friday, October 17, 2014

Campbell Posts First Win in 3-2 Victory Over OKC

Despite giving up an early lead in the second, Texas got their second win of the season off a power play goal by Jyrki Jokipakka for a 3-2 final score. Jack Campbell started his first game of the season and stopped 37 of 39, including 12 in the final period.

Derek Meech scored the first goal of the game very early on. Just 1:45 in, Kevin Henderson's cross-ice pass to Meech ended up in the net behind Laurent Brossoit for the 1-0 lead. Julius Honka picked up his second pro point with an assist on the play.

Derek Hulak, playing in his first game of the season, scored a tap-in off the rebound just 27 seconds later and it looked like Texas was off to the races.

In the second, Texas gave up two goals almost as quickly in the middle of the frame. Jordan Oesterle got his first of the season on the power play at 9:00 and vet Jason Williams evened things just under two minutes later.

Before the end of the period, Jokipakka's power play tally would put the Stars ahead for good. Gemel Smith, who almost didn't make the roster after being in a battle for the final forward spot with Ludwig Karlsson, had the setup pass to Jokipakka for the game-winner. Smith was on a power play unit with Dowling, Glennie, Jokipakka and Honka. That's quite the vote of confidence for the rookie winger from Coach Laxdal.

OKC poured it on in the third period, but Campbell stood tall. Texas went 1/4 on the power play and stopped 4/5 powre plays against. That's a much more typical penalty number for this team this year.

Texas plays Saturday against Utica at home.

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Lagace, Rallo, Wrenn, Dalhuisen, Root (scratched)

Tonight's attendance was 4,561.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Oklahoma City - October 17 2014