Friday, April 20, 2018

Cal Petersen, Ontario Reign Frustrate Stars in Game 2 Loss

(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Missed opportunities were the bane of the Texas Stars on Friday night as they soundly beaten by the Ontario Reign 5-1. Rookie goaltender Cal Petersen 26 saves on 27 shots frustrated, stifled, and deflated the Stars at every turn. Stars forward Brian Flynn was the lone goal scorer, notching his second goal of the playoffs. Philippe Maillet scored twice for the Reign.

“We had our looks,” said Stars captain Curtis McKenzie. “Their goalie played really well. At the end of the day we knew they were going to be a desperate team and we needed more urgency coming out of the gate.”

The Stars only put up seven shots on goal in the first period but still managed to generate quality looks. They seemed about to break through on their second power play of the game at the thirteen minute marker but couldn’t get a bounce. At even strength, rookie forward Joel L’Esperance hammered the post with a snap shot off the rush that would’ve sent the crowd into a frenzy had it gone in.

“I thought our power play moved around good and our entries were good,” said McKenzie. “It might just be picking our spot or maybe getting a few more spots into the crease area. It’s one of those one where if you have that many opportunities if you score a goal early it changes the outcome of the game or gives us a lot better opportunity. The effort on the power play was there but you need a little more to capitalize.”

The Reign, however, did get the bounces, ending scoreless play on the first penalty called on the Stars. With four minutes left to play in the opening frame, Ontario center Philippe Maillet crashed the net and cashed in on the pass that trickled out from the end boards. In the regular season, the Reign were 27-3-1-2 when scoring the first goal, a bad sign going forward for the Stars.

Head coach Derek Laxdal described the play. “If you look at the first period, I thought it was fairly even. We had a couple of power plays early that we didn’t cash in on. They got a break on their power play goal. It just kind of deflected in off of a player from below the net and they buried it.”

To completely take the air out of the building, the Stars allowed a back-breaking goal with 28 seconds left before first intermission with Matt Luff scoring on the rush. “The second goal at the end of the period really stung,” lamented Laxdal. “We had to really chase the game from there.”

Four minutes into the second period Jason Dickinson and Sheldon Dries checked Oscar Fantenberg through a pane of glass that had to be replaced. The play seemed to get a decent result as the Stars were given a power play a couple of shifts later. Again, they got what they wanted, including a broken Ontario stick, but couldn’t finish as Brent Regner whiffed on a weak side one timer that surely would’ve beaten Petersen.
“We were really chasing and they just kind of managed the game. If you look at the overall game, they really wanted it more.”

Dickinson took a hard hit into the boards and fell awkwardly in the second period. He took another shift but did not return to the game in the third. McKenzie believes his team is staying disciplined with the physical nature of the series. “I thought we stayed away from it tonight. They’re a big, touch physical team. We’re just trying to stay disciplined and play the fast skilled game.”

Just before the second intermission, the Stars missed two more opportunities, the second of which led to an odd man rush for the Reign. When Sheldon Dries couldn’t get his point blank backhander to go, it set up Ontario with a 3-on-1 the other way. At the net, T.J. Hensick cleaned up the rebound on McKenna, who did all he could. “Mike [McKenna] was okay tonight,” said Laxdal. “There was a couple he’d probably like to have back. A couple of bad bounces that they turned into goals was probably the difference.”

On their sixth power play of the game, the Stars finally showed signs of life with Flynn’s goal, though it was too little too late. After Flynn finished off the set-up from Curtis McKenzie and Morin, the Stars gave it right back with Maillet scoring his second goal on the next shift with five minutes left of play. An empty netter from Justin Auger was the last bell that tolled on a frustrating night for the Stars’ offense.

“You gotta reset. You know, it’s the playoffs right? We reset and get ready to play on Sunday. We have to be the urgent team. It’s the best of three now and they have home ice. We gotta try and go in there and get one or get two wins.”

Tonight's lines:



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

Shane Hanna was assigned to ECHL Idaho before tonight’s game.

Tonight's attendance was 5,620.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Ontario - April 20 2018

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Ontario Reign, Game 2

Texas Stars
38-24-8-6, 90 pts, 0.592
#2 Pacific Division
v.Ontario Reign
36-25-4-3, 79 pts, 0.581
#3 Pacific Division
April 20th at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Texas leads 1-0

In the wake of a dramatic 4-3 overtime win over the Ontario Reign in game one, the Texas Stars had a pretty good idea of what to expect in the second game of the opening round of the AHL playoffs.

"They’ll play the same way," said forward Brian Flynn after scoring the game winner. "They’ll play physical and hard and in our face. We gotta use our legs and play smart on the puck and manage it well. Hopefully we can get some more off the rush."

(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Stars were able to withstand the onslaught of hard-hitting play and post-whistle activity from the Reign by refusing to get rattled, even though they didn't get one penalty called in their favor. Center Sheldon Dries, who scored in Thursday's opening frame, knows the Stars will have to stay even keeled."

"Personally I gotta stay out of the box. It’s a chippy game. They want to play that way. We gotta stay out of the stuff and play our style. I expect them to have a heavy push. We just gotta be ready for that."

If the Stars want to take game two, they'll need another solid night from Mike McKenna, who turned in 38 saves on 41 shots on Thursday. Although every AHL team wants to get pucks to the net, Dries noted that the Reign seem to do it in bunches.

Coach Derek Laxdal made a few strategic tweaks to the lines in the middle of game one that seemed to turn the tide in the Stars' favor. Look for him to stick with what worked for him on Friday. "I liked our lineup but I didn’t like our lines in the game," he said. "I made the change [in the third]. It worked tonight, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow night."

Flynn expanded on how the Stars can take control of the series. "We’re not going to beat them by playing that big, heavy game right at them. We’re going to use our legs--that’s our biggest asset as a team, and scoring in transition. That’s when we’re successful."

The puck drops on Friday at 7:00 PM CDT.

Read more about Media Day thoughts here.
Read more about Brian Flynn's impact on the roster here.

Stars injury/call up report:
Fyten (questionable)

Twitter: @ontarioreign
Coverage: Reign coverage via Jewels from the Crown

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Texas Stars Claim Game 1 Off Brian Flynn's OT Winner

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
It was a physical game, as promised, tonight in Cedar Park, and as you would expect, these two teams went to overtime. Texas emerged victorious 4-3 just two minutes into the overtime period off a goal from the quiet, consistent Brian Flynn.

“I just lost a faceoff dead clean and Roope [Hintz] jumped on it and somehow got a tie-up. And then [Denis Gurianov] jumped in and did a good job to get the puck to the net, and I just kind of found a quiet spot and was fortunate to get a bouncer to me.“

It was the first postseason overtime victory for the Texas Stars since Patrik Nemeth went top shelf for the Calder Cup clincher. The physicality of the Reign was on full display, especially in the second period where it put Texas on their heels a bit. Speed won the day though.

“We played right into their hands [in the second],” said Sheldon Dries. “They got those two quick goals but once we settled down and started playing our game--you saw we got two goals in the third and that’s the way we want to play.”

Flynn continued, “We’re not going to beat them by playing that big, heavy game right at them. We’re going to use our legs--that’s our biggest asset as a team and scoring in transition. “

The Stars opened the scoring with a great effort from their bottom six. Dries scored the first goal of the playoffs, cashing in on a pass from Colin Markison behind the net.

“It was a great play by Markison and [Laberge] there,” said Dries. “Marky chips it deep and Sammy is the first guy on the puck, throws it to the front of the net--I just happened to be there. But that’s the way we gotta play. Simple game for us, but at the same time hard on the body.”

Texas would hold that lead to the end of the frame, where they were outshot 12-7 but looked good overall.

Ontario ramped up the physical play in the second period. Texas got caught up in it a bit, engaging in scrums behind plays and at the net more than in the first. Justin Auger broke the scoreless tie with one of his own men down on the ice in the zone. Austin Wagner was clipped on the play but did return to play later. With the chaos of traffic, Roy's shot found twine off the tip from Auger.

A few minutes later, Colin Markison saw his equipment betray him to deny a sure goal. Texas had Markison all alone on the backside of the net when his stick snapped in two on the shot. The tie remained until a few more minutes later.

Mike Amadio drew double coverage in the corner but managed to separate Andrew Bodnarchuk from the puck. A quick pass to an unguarded Jonny Brodzinski in the slot put the Stars down by one. With forty minutes in the books, Texas trailed 2-1.

The Stars found themselves behind in more than a few contests this season and played the second-most OT games in the league despite that.

Denis Gurianov had a chance to score in the second period and chose an ill-advised drop pass instead. In the third, he made no mistake. On a 2-on-1 with Roope Hintz, the Russian forward collected a smooth cross-crease pass from the Finn and deposited it in a yawning net for the 2-2 tie. The crowd was back into the game with the goal.

Laxdal commented, “You look at Denis’s goal with Roope. That’s an NHL goal.”

Texas went up 3-2 on Travis Morin’s 17th career postseason goal, the most in franchise history. Good pressure from his reconfigured line with Curtis McKenzie and Justin Dowling led to the big goal and set up a final minute showdown.

The AHL’s best compensated forward, Matt Moulson, made no mistake with the 6-on-5 chance for Ontario and sent the game to overtime. In the extra frame, it didn’t take long. Just 1:55 in, Flynn got the winner.

Postgame he noted that Texas had “no panic” in their locker room at the prospect of OT. “We got a lot of older guys in there. And I don’t know how many OT games we’ve played this year, but it feels like a ton. You just make the percentage play and then maybe you get a bounce at the net like that.”

Texas will face Ontario tomorrow night for Game 2 in Cedar Park.

Tonight's lines:



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

Tonight's attendance was 4,878.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Ontario - April 19 2018

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Ontario Reign, Game 1

Texas Stars
38-24-8-6, 90 pts, 0.592
#2 Pacific Division
v.Ontario Reign
36-25-4-3, 79 pts, 0.581
#3 Pacific Division
April 18th at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Series tied 0-0

Welcome back to the playoffs. After a year out, the Stars return to the postseason with home ice advantage in the first round.

Ontario is a tough customer in this matchup, and you would expect Texas to adjust their line-up some to compensate. Much was made of the heavy style that Ontario plays at Media Day so it only makes sense that players like Sam Laberge would check in. Otherwise, Texas can't try to change their game too much to match up against the Reign. They'll concentrate on speed and making crisp passes. As Travis Morin said on Tuesday, making those crisp passes and making a man miss with speed with back off the Reign defenders and give them pause before finishing a check and being out of position. The Stars will want to establish this early to avoid too many ice packs postgame.

(Credit: Texas Stars)
The Stars have been a comeback team this season, which gives everyone in the room confidence that they can claw back to even if they need it. This team played the second most OT games in the league this season with 28 total. Knowing they can rally from two down in the third is something that keeps everyone level-headed in the final frame when that happens. Of course, the ideal situation is to not have that happen.

The road has gotten harder for the Stars since Tuesday though. With last night's elimination of the Kings in the NHL playoffs, Ontario gains four players at the top end of their lineup: Michael Amadio, Jonny Brodzinski, Oscar Fantenberg and Paul LaDue. The four combine for an average of 1.05 goals per game in the AHL. The most lethal is Mike Amadio. He's better than a point per game player (35 in 32) and had a 17-game point streak from December to January, the longest in the AHL this year.

Texas is concentrating on that first shift of the first period, not thinking about getting out of round 1. But that doesn't mean it's not in the back of their heads. One unanswered question for that first shift is who will be in net. Mike McKenna and Landon Bow were referred to as "1A and 1B" by Coach Laxdal on Tuesday. Morning skate today should bring clarity.

Read more about Media Day thoughts here.
Read more about Brian Flynn's impact on the roster here.

Stars injury/call up report:
Fyten (questionable)

Twitter: @ontarioreign
Coverage: Reign coverage via Jewels from the Crown

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Quiet Consistency of Brian Flynn

Brian Flynn posts up against Dalton Prout of the Stockton Heat
(credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
With the Texas Stars putting together a successful regular season and earning the second seed in the Pacific division, the list of notable contributors on the team has some familiar names to the fanbase. The likes of Travis Morin and Curtis McKenzie give the Stars some AHL star power punch to go with others such as Jason Dickinson and Remi Elie, who were recently reassigned from Dallas to help with a potentially deep playoff run. One name that gets lost in the shuffle, perhaps by his own design, is Brian Flynn.

“I’m pretty quiet,” Flynn admits. “I don’t like any attention on myself. I think we’ve got a really close group of guys, and I don’t think any one guy wants the attention on himself.”

Flynn signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Stars as a depth forward prior to the start of the 2017-18 season after spending the previous five seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres. The former captain at the University of Maine and native Bostonian quietly compiled 47 points in 51 AHL games this season, third in team scoring. Though he eschews speaking openly about his resume and previous accomplishments, his teammates and coaches speak glowingly about him and believe he will be key in every area when the Ontario Reign come to town on Thursday.

“Flynn is a seasoned vet,” said head coach Derek Laxdal. “He has a calming presence in our dressing room and on the ice. I think he’s going to be very important in this series because he can play through the hard adversity. He’s played in the NHL in the last several years in Montreal, and he’s been through the playoffs. His experience is going to help our young group, and it’s going to help our leadership group in the room.”

Such experience has given Flynn the tools to be a player who sees ice time in all situations and makes the right plays to help win games. “He really doesn’t have a panic point in the game, and he doesn’t panic with the puck,” said Laxdal. Though his skill with the puck is probably his best asset, Flynn would rather discuss his penchant for playing the game the right way while avoiding unnecessary risk-taking.

“I just try and play pretty honest. I don’t cheat. If you’re cheating, you’ll get some points--maybe in bunches. But I think in the long run it always comes back to bite you. If you look at plus/minus and things like that I think that I always play on the right side of the puck and help generate some offense.”

For all that the quietly consistent Flynn has done for the Stars this season, he sees his role as mainly having to do with how he can help his teammates. “Once the puck is dropped, I think that all the guys know that I want to win. And everything that I do on the ice is not for myself--it’s to help the guys win.”

He also owns the burden of leadership that comes with his list of achievements. “Guys know how hard it is to get to the [NHL] level, and they respect that. We have a lot of guys like [Roope Hintz] and [Denis Gurianov] that are going to play in the NHL for a while. I just try and help them out and give them some of the things that I’ve learned, because it’s a different game at the next level. Those guys have the physical ability, but if you want to stick around for a while you have to play smart. So I try to help those guys out as much as I can.”

In general, this seems to be Flynn’s overall approach to life and leadership. When asked about how his play measured up to his own expectations during the regular season, he spent little time talking about himself and gave ample room for discussing his teammates.

One such teammate, Matt Mangene, who played with Flynn at the University of Maine, helped Flynn and his wife transition to central Texas this past offseason. “We’ve worked out in the summers together for the previous four or five years. Once I signed here, you start hanging out a little bit more. Then in training camp, once you get here you don’t really know anyone so [Mangene] helps introduce you to the guys, and it just makes the transition a lot easier.”

Up to that point, Flynn had spent his entire life in the northeast, but he’s loving life in the south--particularly the weather. “It’s been a nice change of pace, and my wife is thrilled about it. Buffalo has a ton of snow, and Montreal has a ton of snow and is really cold. We’re from Boston, and it snowed there this past week. So we’re pretty happy with where we’re at.”

Flynn is also happy with the position of his team heading into the playoffs. A quick survey of the stat sheet will reveal that the Stars possess balanced scoring throughout the lineup, a critical component of winning playoff hockey. “We’re not relying on that one or two guys every night,” said Flynn. “You’re not going to go deep in the playoffs with just the same guys scoring over and over; you need it from everywhere. I think going into the playoffs we’re peaking at the right time.”

Beginning with Thursday’s game against the Reign, the Stars have a chance to do something special as a group, which translates into more opportunities for players looking to set themselves up for future success. “The guys realize that the deeper we go [in the playoffs] and the better our team does, then the better off they’ll be contract-wise and chances moving forward.”

In a lot of ways, the under-the-radar, but successful, Stars season has mirrored the contributions of Flynn. If they are going to make a run, they’ll need Flynn to keep doing what he’s been doing, but you won’t catch him talking about it. When the puck drops on Thursday, watch for him to avoid notoriety and incessantly pursue winning.

“The spotlight is not something that I want. I just want to win and help the guys.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Texas Stars Media Day: Getting Out of Round 1, Ontario's Physicality, Starting Goalies

(Credit: Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars seem loose and ready for their first round matchup with the Ontario Reign, kicking off Thursday night at home. The players were jovial on the ice and seemed relaxed as they talked with the assembled media about the task ahead of them. Coach Derek Laxdal, Travis Morin and Curtis McKenzie spoke in the scrum, but 100 Degree Hockey grabbed a 1-on-1 with Brian Flynn that will roll out tomorrow.

Here are some high level topics from the day.

Getting out of the first round
Texas has made the playoffs in 3 of 4 years since the Calder Cup but hasn't yet emerged from the first round. Rockford and San Diego knocked off Texas in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It is definitely something that Texas has on its collective mind, but the team is very focused on game 1.

"We’re focused on this year," said Laxdal. "Our goal is get that first win Thursday night and win the series. We’re not focused on playing a 'championship' game right now. The word 'championship' isn’t even in our vocabulary right now. Our vocabulary right now is Game 1. The focus is on Game 1, getting a win and getting up 1-0 in the series. If you don’t get that, you won’t talk about the other things, plain and simple."

Travis Morin contrasted that, noting game 1 is the first step, "It’s been our goal all year to make it to the playoffs and now we obviously want to go as far as we can. We have to use [previous years] as motivation. Everyone in there should be motivated to play as hard as we can because we want to win a championship, not just win one round."

Ontario's physical style
The Reign have always been a physical team. Texas feels that plays to their advantage for multiple reasons.

"I love it," said McKenzie. "Every game, they came physically. We know what to expect. They’re a big team, and they like to throw the weight around. I’m just going to try to get myself to the net and create what I can."
(Credit: Texas Stars)
Morin noted that the team's speed will prevail if they can be crisp in their passing, "We’re a speed team, and if you can take their overagressiveness to finish checks and make them miss and use your speed to get around them, we’ve got quite a few guys who can fly on the ice. You start backing guys off and they get tentative about stepping up, and it can open up the ice."

Coach Laxdal has been coaching against Mike Stothers for years, both in the AHL and the WHL, and noted that this is simply the way his teams play hockey. "Ontario’s a big heavy team and I can tell you exactly how they’re going to play. They’re going to be physical, finish every hit and try to frustrate you. We have to have unbelievable composure and be disciplined We need to play with speed and be physical. If they’re going to take penalties, we have to strike on the power play. They’re going to try everything. They’re going to try to slow the play down, they’re going to scrum after whistles and stick guys. We have to play through that and have thick skin. That’s the way Mike Stothers coaches. We know what we’re going to get and we’re not going to be surprised."

Veteran and championship experience
With a mix of ATOs, rookies and vets, Texas has a massive number of championship players on the roster but also some green skaters as well. Travis Morin, Justin Dowling and Curtis McKenzie were all part of the Calder Cup team. Mike McKenna and Greg Rallo have made finals trips. Andrew Bodnarchuk won a Cup with Manchester, and Dillon Heatherington got one with Cleveland (Michael Paliotta didn't play in a ton of games in the playoffs, but also won in Cleveland that year).

"The guys who have been here, if anyone needs to ask questions about what to expect, we have a lot of guys in there," said Morin. "It’s experience more to keep yourself calm where you might get panicky."

Starting goalies
Coach Laxdal has Mike McKenna, who went to the finals last year in Syrcause, and rookie Landon Bow to choose from in net. He had this to say about the choice, "We’re pretty confident saying we have a 1a and a 1b. We’ll name our goaltender tomorrow. We could start either goaltender. That’s a great thing to have in the playoffs. McKenna had a great second half of the season, and Bow did a great job when McKenna was in Dallas. The goaltending is a strong point of both teams."

Good life advice
Felt like I should also throw in this Curtis McKenzie quote about playing in the playoffs as a rookie, but it seems like good life advice as well if you generalize.

"Every shift you have to be ready to make a difference. It’s the little things in series that add up to the big things. It could be a faceoff, getting a puck deep or a shot on goal. It could change the outcome of a whole series. You have to be ready for that. If you get behind, you might feel like it’s over. If you get up, it might feel like you already won it. You just have to maintain a level presence."

The series starts Thursday. Watch for our Brian Flynn feature tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Texas Closes Regular Season with Shootout Loss, Looks Ahead to Playoffs

Tony Calderone scored his first pro goal tonight (Credit: Derek Sparta/Texas Stars)
In the final game of the regular season, Texas had a predictable storyline. For the team-record 28th time this year, it took more than 60 minutes to get to a final decision. That final was a 4-3 shootout loss that included a come-from-behind third period effort.

"Thank God there's no OT 3-on-3 or shootouts in the playoffs," exclaimed Coach Laxdal after the contest.

The Stars wanted to have a lineup closer to their playoff roster in the game tonight and rested some veterans last night to make that happen. "We rested a bunch of guys last night. I thought they would have a bunch of energy but sometimes that backfires on you. We have to be ready to respond on Thursday night."

ATO forward Tony Calderone scored his first professional goal on the night, tying the game at two in the second period. "It was great," he commented. "I know I had a few chances in the early games. To bury on my chance, it was awesome."

Texas tried a number of line combinations in the third period, down by a goal and looking for energy. "I mixed it up in the third to create some energy. There's 29 guys in there and at some point someone has to step up and take this team by the horns. Any given night someone can be the hero."

The Stars got that goal from Brian Flynn with the goalie pulled, taking them to overtime and a shootout to close the season with a 38-24-8-6 record.

San Antonio jumped out to the early lead with the first AHL goal for Taylor Richart, playing in just his second AHL game. Before the end of the frame, Adam Werner's puckhandling got him in trouble as Sheldon Dries wrapped around on the goalie, who couldn't make it back to the far post in time to prevent the tying goal from Dries.

The Rampage struck again early in the second with Reid Petryk going five hole on Landon Bow. The aforementioned Calderone stepped up on the power play in the 6th minute to wrist one past Werner for the 2-2 tie. It was a quick play by Calderone, which is something he admits he'll have to work on in the league. "Everything is quicker and everyone's better. You don't have as much time with the puck. You have to make the play quick."

Zach Sanford matched the power play goal with one of his own. Just a few seconds after missing on a wide open net, Sanford earned redemption with his fourth of the year to go up 3-2. That would be the score after forty minutes.

Brian Flynn notched his 18th goal of the season on the 6-on-5 advantage with 71 seconds left in the third to push the game to OT. Despite a Texas power play in the extra frame, neither team could break through. A goalie-centric shootout ensued and Klim Kostin scored the winning goal in the fourth round.

Landon Bow stopped 20 of 23 in the loss. Adam Werner stopped 36 of 39 in the win.

The Stars now rest up to start the playoffs on Thursday at home against Ontario.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Mangene, Markison, Kelleher, Rallo, Laberge, O'Brien, Hanna, Paliotta (scratch)
Fyten (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 6,863, a sellout.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. San Antonio - April 14 2018