Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars
0-0-0-0, - pts
#- Pacific Division
v.San Antonio Rampage
0-0-0-0, - pts
#- Pacific Division
October 10th at 7:00 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

For the seventh season, the Texas Stars will take the ice at Cedar Park Center. This time, as many times before, they will face a familiar foe in name. This go-around, it might not be as familiar as far as personnel.

Over the summer, the Rampage switched affiliations, taking on prospects from the Colorado Avalanche. For the past several seasons, the Florida Panthers had been the club's NHL affiliate. Fans at the preseason games got a preview of what the Stars will see for 14 more games this season in terms of their lineup. Last Sunday's game was closer to the lineup we'll see tonight for both teams than what was on display on Friday.

One name to watch for all year will be the man in net: Calvin Pickard. He's a highly touted prospect and finally starting coming into his own last year with Lake Erie. After two years of approiximately 50-50 win percentages, Pickard earned a 23-17-9 record for the Monsters and even played 16 games for the Avalanche. He'll get rolled out regularly for the Rampage as the Avs look to hone his skills and place him behind Semyon Varlamov in the long term.

One change you'll notice to the format of this article is that the 'place' is now divisional, not by conference. The realignment this summer put Texas in the Pacific Division with San Antonio and changed the playoff format to match the NHL's division ranking. Top four teams in each division make the playoffs with no cross over. It's gonna get hateful.

John Muse starts in net for Texas.

Stars injury/call up report:
Campbell (call up/injury)

Blog (unofficial): Rampage with Tony U.
Blog (unofficial): Runnin' With The Herd
Twitter: @SARampage
Twitter: @DanWeissPBP (play-by-play for SA)

Friday, October 9, 2015

AHL, PHPA Ratify New CBA, Will Play Hockey Tonight

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League and Professional Hockey Players Association announced this morning that they have reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement and both parties have ratified it with 'overwhelming' support'.

The AHL was in limbo just a bit with no CBA, the agreement that governs the working relationship between the league, teams, and its players. The prior agreement expired this summer. The new deal is good until 2019.

There isn't a lot to say about the agreement until the text is released. Some details are included in the AHL's press release below.
The American Hockey League and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association today announced the ratification of a new four-year Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The new CBA, which is effective through August 31, 2019, has been ratified by both the AHL’s Board of Governors and the overwhelming majority of AHL players.

The CBA has been modified to include enhancements to the health and welfare plan currently offered to AHL players and their families, and to provide significantly better playoff compensation to players while allowing more flexibility to the AHL in Calder Cup Playoff scheduling and financing. The new Agreement also provides for increases in per-diem and minimum salary as well as modifications to housing and travel provisions.

“The American Hockey League remains fortunate to have an extremely positive and open relationship with our players and with the PHPA,” said David Andrews, AHL President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our previous CBA included several significant elements which have been beneficial to our players, our owners, and ultimately our fans, and this new agreement continues in that same spirit of cooperation.”

“The players advised us of the areas within the CBA most important to them, and we feel this deal addresses those issues, adding significant monetary and non-monetary value for present and future AHL players,” said PHPA Executive Director Larry Landon. “A number of players sacrificed family time to assist us with these negotiations, and I, along with all current and future AHL players thank them for their unwavering commitment.”

As it begins its historic 80th-anniversary season this weekend, the American Hockey League continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88 percent of all players competing in the NHL are AHL graduates, and through the years the American Hockey League has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Since its inception in 1967, the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA) has continued to serve as an advocate of player interests. Currently, the PHPA is the certified, U.S. National Labor Relations Board collective bargaining representative for over 1,600 players on 68 teams in the American Hockey League and ECHL.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Texas Stars Opening Roster

Cole Ully (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Following my sojourn to Pennsylvania for hockey, there was some intense work to be done to earn the trip, hence the lack of updates here this week.

Texas has spent the week doing hard work themselves. They solidified their opening roster for this Saturday's game against San Antonio and that wasn't without a few surprises along the way.

First of all, here is the final roster that Texas announced today:
#8 Cory Kane
#9 Remi Elie
#10 Justin Dowling
#11 Branden Troock
#14 Gemel Smith
#16 Curtis McKenzie
#19 Brendan Ranford
#21 Cole Ully
#23 Travis Morin (C)
#24 Derek Hulak
#27 Greg Rallo (A)
#28 Matej Stransky
#29 Radek Faksa
#34 Devin Shore
#38 Jason Dickinson

#3 Esa Lindell
#4 Stephen Johns
#5 Mattias Backman
#6 Julius Honka
#12 Jesse Blacker
#17 Ludwig Bystrom
#22 Brennan Evans (A)
#26 Matt Mangene

#33 Maxime Lagace
#40 John Muse

Some notes for me include:
  • Curtis McKenzie is back in Cedar Park after it looked liek he was a lock to make the roster in Dallas. The surprise here is less McKenzie and more the emergence of Mattias Janmark. If you'll remember, Janmark was last seen by most Texas Stars fans in the playoffs, playing a very tired game against Rockford after traveling from Europe and being pressed into service on short notice. It clearly wasn't a game that was indicative of his talent.
  • McKenzie is not the type of player to sulk at his assignment. He will definitely contribute and earn an inevitable callup. Injuries and other movement are just part of the game.
  • Cory Kane is surprise to make the roster. Not much noise of him in the preseason games I watched, but he must have impressed the coaching staff. I think he's the first assignment to Idaho though, if they move that way. Players like Taylor Peters and Emil Molin may even be better than Kane in some ways, but they need to get quality minutes in Idaho, which brings us to...
  • Philippe Desrosiers was always penciled in for Boise. When Jack Campbell got injured, that went out the door a bit, and there was an open competition to backup John Muse in Texas. Maxime Lagace made the original plan easy by just nailing training camp and playing lights out in preseason. Scott White can feel good with Desrosiers getting tons of minutes in Idaho because Lagace has shown he can hang at this level.
  • Cole Ully is the final note, a surprise to make it out of camp in a Texas sweater. He didn't look like he was 100% ready for the AHL just 6 months ago, but he spent some time this summer concentrating on things that he can change about his game and it made a difference. essentially, he stopped trying to bulk up, accepted he wasn't going to get any bigger and instead worked on other things like explosive speed and agility. It worked.
Season starts on Saturday...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hershey's Giant Center Is The AHL's Crown Jewel

GIANT Center (Credit: Kyle Mace/Chocolate Hockey)
Taking nothing away from the Cedar Park Center, the Giant Center, home to the Hershey Bears, is the premier facility in the American Hockey League. It is a 10,500-person facility purpose built for hockey. It is simultaneously expansive and intimate. Sleek and new but steeped in a long tradition. Fans are rabid but knowledgeable.

"I played in Lehigh Valley last year, and [Giant Center] was always a hostile environment," said Austin Fyten, a former Star who now wears the Bears chocolate and white. "It's hard [for visitors] to win in this building."

On a business trip for the day job, I took the opportunity to visit the Giant Center for a preseason game between the Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It being a preseason game, the final score was rather immaterial. The trip was more about the chance to experience an Eastern Conference arena and game. Given the Texas Stars' connection to this building, it couldn't have been a better match.

Of course, long-time Stars fans know that this was both a site of great triumph and great sadness for their club. Hot off beating Hamilton in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, the Jamie Benn-led Stars had to take the show on the road to face the Eastern Conference champion Bears for the Cup.

Giant Center is an intimidating space. Even for a preseason game, the fans were there in droves. I seat surfed during the second period of the game and talked with fans who were extremely knowledgeable and very bought into their club. The shortest tenured season ticket holder I talked to had had their seats for seven years.

During the regular season, the doors open to several thousand fans already waiting to enter. Inside they find a shrine to the history of their club; each of the Bears eleven Calder Cup banners hangs in the main arena.

"We're getting 10 or 12 thousand on the weekend, and uh, they'll let you know if your'e not playing well," Fyten noted, laughing. "We have to bring our A game every night in this building."

GIANT Center's new video board on season ticket holder night.
(Credit: Kyle Mace/Chocolate Hockey)
Only three of those Calder Cup titles were won while their current building was open. The previous eight came during their tenure in Hersheypark Arena, the oldest continuously operated hockey facility in North America.

Opened in 1936, Hersheypark Arena has a history longer than almost any sports facility you can find west of the Mississippi, both hockey and non-hockey related. On March 2, 1962, for example, it was the site of Wilt Chamberlain's famous 100 point game. Now it hosts recreational and pick up hockey games in its cavernous main space. One might argue it's the best place to play a regular pick up game in the country. Imagine if you could just saunter down to Reunion Arena in Dallas to lace up the skates for a few hours. That's what we're talking about here.

The hockey history is all over the arena in more than just the banners. Retired numbers, championship photos, plaques and all sorts of other regalia adorn the place.

"[The history] is a good thing. They preach that here. You come here, and it's a pride thing. You put that jersey on and they expect to win. The fact taht they have 11 banners here says a lot about the organization."

Texas contributed to that history in 2010. After going up 2-0 in two sold-out games at Giant Center, the Stars dropped three at home and return to Pennsylvania to lose Game 6 by a 4-0 margin. For the Bears, it meant back-to-back Cups. Texas would be back, but it took 4 more years to achieve the Cup.

The Bears have ten Cups on the Stars, but they've also been around for 70 more years. As far as teams go, Hershey can't be a bad team to model yourself off.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Texas Stars Finish Preseason with OT Thriller

Justin Dowling's game-tying goal (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
San Antonio led in the third period, but Texas came back and won things in overtime. The 3-on-3 overtime frame, which had been unkind to Texas last season, was the savior in this contest. Julius Honka, a player known for his vision on the ice and ability to make things happen offensively, was the trigger man for the 5-4 victory.

"Honka was in a perfect spot to score," said Justin Dowling, who scored the tying goal himself. "He made the right play to beat the defenseman and hit the backside."

John Muse was not spectacular early, stopping just three of his first six shots. He finished 9 for 13 before Maxime Lagace spelled him in the third period. Lagace earned the win with a six save performance. It's not a great sign for the veteran Muse as he is being looked at as the de facto starter for the moment with Jack Campbell injured in Dallas.

Stephen Johns, Brendan Ranford and Devin Shore also scored for Texas. The Stars finished their preseason slate with a 1-1 record and start the regular season this Saturday against San Antonio again.

Here's the release:
After both teams traded goals throughout the entire game, the Texas Stars pulled out a last-second win over the rival San Antonio Rampage on Sunday evening in a 5-4, overtime finish at Cedar Park Center to close out their preseason schedule.

Justin Dowling setup Julius Honka with 1.9 seconds left on a backdoor pass to beat Rampage goaltender Calvin Pickard in the extra frame. The Stars and Rampage split their two preseason games over the weekend, and the two teams will hook up again on Saturday in their respective regular season openers to the 2015-16 campaign.

With the Stars trailing 4-3, Dowling forced the extra frame with a minute left in regulation when his sharp-angled shot from the left side of the net snuck through the legs of Pickard. Texas played catch-up all game long erasing San Antonio leads of 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 before taking the overtime win.

Stephen Johns opened up the scoring at 3:21 of the first period on a deflected shot from the right point. The Rampage tallied two of their own to take their first lead of the night with goals from Colin Smith on the power play at 10:41 and Mason Geertsen at 13:42. Brendan Ranford touched home a power play goal for the Stars to tie the game at 2-2 with 3:29 left in the frame, but the Rampage capped off the offensive first period with a power play goal from Chris Bigras with just under a minute remaining.

Devin Shore knotted the score again on a wrist shot from the slot midway through the second, but Brett Perlini banged home a loose pick in front at 18:37 to push the Rampage in front again.

John Muse took the start in net for Texas, going nine of 13 in just under 40 minutes of play. Maxime Lagace came on in relief to start the third and earned the win after stopping all six shots he faced. Pickard suffered the loss stopping 25 of 30 in net for the Rampage.

San Antonio went 2-for-3 on the power play. The Stars went 1-for-3.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Ully, Eller, Molin, Braes, Peters, Rallo, Magee, Evans, Mangene, Desrosiers

Tonight's attendance was not announced.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Texas Stars Cut Five, Sign Magee to AHL Deal

Andrew Panzarella (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
(Updates about my trip to Hershey later, but now this...)

The Texas Stars announced several roster cuts this morning and one signing. Five players were released from training camp: F Colton Beck; D Cole Martin; D Andrew Panzarella; D Jake Rutt; and F Taylor Stefishen. All five played in last night's preseason contest against San Antonio and weren't going to play in Sunday's game. Coach Laxdal plans to go with a more 'opening day' lineup for his final preseason game.

In addition to the cuts, Texas announced that they had signed Brandon Magee to an AHL deal. Magee already had an ECHL deal in Idaho but this puts him on the radar for a callup with more certainty now. He impressed in Dallas and Texas camps and is still in camp with Texas for the time being. There are roster battles in the bottom six and Magee is part of that conversation now for sure.

Beck, Martin, Panzarella and Rutt will all report to Steelheads camp in Boise next.

Friday, October 2, 2015

San Antonio Takes Feisty Contest Over Texas 4-3

Branden Troock had two goals. (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Tryout players looking to make an impression turned tonight's preseason contest into a truculent one. Texas and San Antonio totaled 68 penalty minutes including four fights. The 4-3 score was almost secondary in the contest.

San Antonio opened the scoring with a quick shoveling backhand over a sprawled Maxime Lagace. Lagace had stopped the first shot but wasn't able to get to the second with traffic in front vying for the puck. Branden Troock poured it on to end the period. Troock, who is fighting to ensure he has a spot in Cedar Park this season, slipped a puck five-hole on Roman Will and then scored on a rebound to make it 2-1 to end the period.

The Rampage stepped up in the second period, scoring all three in the frame. Andreas Martinsen potted a power play goal to tie things up. Mid period, the goalies switched as Maxime Lagace gave way to Philippe Desrosiers. Shortly thereafter, former Star Brock Montgomery put the visitors in the lead at 3-2. Ben Street scored on a breakaway with a fantastic backhand move that perplexed Desrosiers, and it was 4-2.

The real story of the back half of the game was the truculence. Starting with a hit from Taylor Stefishen on Will Weber, the gloves were off. Stefishen fought Duncan Siemens immediately after the hit and later fought Weber himself, earning an ejection for two fights in a game. Cam Braes had a center ice bout that began with some circling before it degenerated into a pummeling with haymakers on both sides. The third period saw Andrew Panzarella fight Dan Maggio.

The Stars battled back with an extra attacker goal. Matt Mangene was the recipient of a nice pass from the left wing circle, which he wired to the net to make it 4-3 with 2:10 left in the third.

Texas attempted to get the tying goal late but their best chance, off the stick of Branden Troock, wouldn't go, ending the game with a 4-3 final.

These two teams will face off again on Sunday.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:

Tonight's attendance was not announced.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - April 24 2015