Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars at Toronto Marlies

Texas Stars
10-8-8-0, 28 pts
#11 Western Conference
atToronto Marlies
10-14-3-0, 23 pts
#12 Western Conference
December 20th at 2:00 PM
Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto, ON

The 3-in-3 continues in Toronto with an early game, especially for a Saturday. Might have something to do with the Maple Leafs home game tonight at the Air Canada Centre. Just a guess.

Last night's first period was exactly how Texas wants to play hockey. Last night's second and third periods saw those early gains disappear and ultimately come undone in overtime. It's not precisely clear why the Stars have had so much troubling closing out games, but it is clear that it's a going concern for the team. Texas has eight OT losses on the season, leading the AHL. The next closest clubs have five each (STJ and HAM). The standings are pretty tight and a 2-8 record past sixty isn't helping. If Texas can convert half of those losses to wins, that's four points. Ignoring their opponents not earning a point, just earning the four points themselves would vault them from 11th place to 6th in the West.

The good news for the Stars right now is that they are in the pack of teams on the playoff bubble. Just three points separate 6th place Chicago from 11th place Texas. Toronto, today's opponent, is five points back from the Stars but just one place behind them in the standings. They are at the top of the 'third grouping' of teams in the West and look more likely each day to not make the playoffs. Charlotte, Rochester and Iowa round out the group.

Note that Dallas assigned Curtis McKenzie to Texas after their game against Calgary tonight. With the early start, he may not make the game in Toronto today.

Stars injury/call up report:
Morin, Rynnas, Jokipakka (call up)
Troock (injury)
Valentine (lower body)

Website: torontomarlies.com
Blog (official): Marlies Blog
Play by play voice: @HockeyCrock
Twitter: @TorontoMarlies

Friday, December 19, 2014

Stars Can't Hold Early Lead, Take League-High Eighth OT Loss in Utica

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, Texas would not score again in the game. Utica tallied three unanswered goals and handed the Stars their league-leading eighth overtime loss by a 3-2 final

The Stars drew an early penalty and managed to score before Jussi Rynnas could even make it off the ice for the extra attacker. Greg Rallo, who drew the call, assisted on Radek Faksa's 3rd of the year. Scott Glennie piciked up his third of the year off the assist from Brendan Ranford and Jesse Root as the period closed and the Stars appeared to be in pole position.

Former Star Dustin Jeffrey opened the Comets' scoring account on the night in the second period. A wrister from Brendan Gaunce in the third tied the game up at two a piece.

In overtime, Bobby Sanguenetti scored on the breakaway to end the game during the 4-on-4 segment. Jussi Rynnas finished with 28 saves on 31 shots.

Texas plays again tomorrow at Toronto. It's an early start with puck drop coming at 2 PM Central

Tonight's lines:
Henderson-Faksa-Rallo
Ranford-Root-Glennie
Ritchie-Dowling-Hulak
Stefishen-Smith-Stransky

Gaunce-Fortunus
Meech-Honka
Wrenn-Hardowa

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Morin, McKenzie, Jokipakka (call up)
Troock (injury)
Valentine (lower body)
Peters (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 3,835.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Utica - December 19 2014

Texas Stars Captain Maxime Fortunus to Captain AHL's Western Conference All-Star Squad

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The AHL's All-Star Classic in Utica is just over a month away and today, the league announced that long-time Texas Star Maxime Fortunus would be serving as the captain of the Western Conference All-Star team. Fortunus is in his 12th pro year, the last six coming with the Texas Stars. He has been the team captain since 2012-13. It will be his All-Star debut.

Here's the release:
American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews announced today that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Tom Kostopoulos and Texas Stars defenseman Maxime Fortunus have been selected to serve as playing captains for the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Turning Stone Resort Casino, to be held January 25-26 in Utica, N.Y.

Captains for the American Hockey League All-Star teams are selected by the league president in recognition of their outstanding leadership and service.

Tom Kostopoulos is in his 16th professional season and eighth as a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, where he holds the franchise records for goals, assists, points and games played. The 35-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont., has skated in more than 1,100 pro games, including 495 in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre and Manchester and 630 in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Montreal, Carolina, Calgary and New Jersey. Now in his second stint as Wilkes-Barre’s team captain (2002-04, 2013- ), Kostopoulos has totaled 152 goals and 231 assists for 383 points in the AHL and helped the Penguins reach the Calder Cup Finals in 2001 and 2004.

Kostopoulos, who made an AHL All-Star Classic appearance in 2002 and missed the 2005 event due to injury, will captain the Eastern Conference AHL All-Stars.

A 12th-year pro now in his sixth season with the Texas Stars and third as team captain, Maxime Fortunus has skated in 658 regular-season AHL games with Texas, Manitoba and Houston, registering 59 goals and 161 assists for 220 points. The 31-year-old native of La Prairie, Que., appeared in the Calder Cup Finals in 2009 and 2010 before captaining the Stars to the championship in 2014, and is tied for sixth all-time with 115 career AHL playoff games played. Undrafted, Fortunus signed as a free agent with Dallas in 2008 and has played nine career NHL contests with the Stars.

Fortunus will be making his AHL All-Star Classic debut as captain of the Western Conference All-Star team.

Gameday Preview: Stars at Utica Comets

Texas Stars
10-8-7-0, 27 pts
#11 Western Conference
atUtica Comets
17-5-5-0, 39 pts
#1 Western Conference
December 19th at 6:00 PM
Utica Memorial Auditorium, Utica, NY

Did you know the Texas Stars also play hockey? Among all the other news going on in the American League this week, including OKC leaving and the Dallas Stars buying the Texas Stars, there's hockey to be played this weekend.

Texas embarks on a road-only 3-in-3 this weekend against Utica, Toronto and Hamilton. Those three teams run the gamut of possible season outcomes. Utica, tonight's opponent, leads the Western Conference and is just a tick behind the Manchester Monarchs for the best record in the conference. Hamilton is on the playoff bubble, and Toronto appears to be on their way to being out of the running.

Cal O'Reilly boasts one of the best stat lines in the AHL with 3-23=26 and former Star Dustin Jeffrey is 6-14=20. In net, things are quite good with former San Antonio Rampage goalie Jacob Markstrom taking names and Joacim Eriksson doing the same. Eriksson has the 'worst' GAA on the team with a 2.30 average. Markstrom is down at 1.77. Markstrom is currently out with an injury and Joe Cannata is backing up. He's only got one AHL game this season and spend most of the year with ECHL Ontario where he has an impressive .934 SV% and 1.77 GAA.

It seems like Texas has something in their team DNA that gives them something over the Comets. The Stars lost in OT in their most recent matchup and beat them 1-0 in a tight goalie duel in the early season. While Utica is beating up on other teams, the Stars appear to be able to find points against them.

After last week's debacle against Charlotte, the Stars will look to get more out of those depth guys, as Coach Laxdal alluded to, and get more finish and effort from their top guys, as Laxdal explicitly called out.

Mind the early start.

Stars injury/call up report:
McKenzie, Rynnas, Jokipakka, Morin (callup)
Troock (questionable, missed last two periods of last game)
Henderson (questionable, should return from hand injury tonight)
Valentine (questionable, practiced this week, should return this week)

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oklahoma City Barons to Cease Operations at End of Season

Former Texas Stars Richard Bachman (Credit: Steven Christy)
What had been a whisper in the offseason grew into a roar today as one source reported and the Oilers later confirmed that the Oklahoma City Barons would cease operations at the end of the season and relocate to an as-yet unknown location. This appears to be the first domino in the long-rumoured AHL western expansion. Sources told Darren Dreger that the AHL is expecting to debut a western division in 2015 which would feature Edmonton's AHL affiliate along with affiliates of Calgary, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

The Barons have been in the league for five years, joining in 2010-11, and have moved with the San Antonio Rampage and Texas Stars to whatever division the AHL created for them, whether South or West.

Bob Funk, CEO of Prodigal, which operates the Barons, said the decision was "business-driven."

"Without a more equitable financial agreement with economic terms to provide the best opportunity for sustained success, we can no longer justify additional investments in the operations without higher returns."

Prodigal began operating a USL Pro level soccer team in Oklahoma City last year. They operated the Barons on a lease from the Oilers, who actually own the franchise.

Oilers President and COO Patrick LaForge told CHED in Edmonton that Prodigal was being forced to make a decision in a window that opened in November and closed at the end of the year. They had to either end their lease with the Cox Convention Center or re-up on a ten-year lease. They made the decision to pull the plug.

After losing local rival Houston after 2013, the Texas Stars lose another local trip, putting San Antonio on an island in Texas with the Dallas affiliate.

At the Stars' sale press conference earlier today, Jim Lites indicated he thinks the Oilers "would be delighted to go to Houston," saying that there should be a facility just like the Cedar Park Center built in the city of Houston or a community nearby to hold an AHL club again.

"We like OKC, but that's a long trip," he added. "We'd be much more excited about a team in Houston because you can play weekend games on the road because you avoid the 7-hour bus ride."

That, of course, is no salve to dedicated Oklahoma City fans who found out today that they will not be able to watch AHL hockey in their hometown. Further, many good hockey people will be without jobs come this summer. This is obviously a dark day for the American Hockey League fans on the I-35 corridor.

It can be reasonably assumed that hockey will return to Oklahoma City some day. With Wichita, Allen, Tulsa and Missouri all in close proximity, it makes a lot of sense to see an ECHL club in OKC sooner rather than later.

Dallas and Texas Stars Press Conference Highlights Excellent Relationship Between NHL, AHL Clubs

The press conference for the Dallas Stars purchase of the Texas Stars was today. Dallas ran the show, bringing president Jim Lites to sit on the dais with Texas Stars GM Rick McLaughlin and Cedar Park mayor Matt Powell. The conference and Q&A was just under thirty minutes long and then there were follow-up one-on-one conversations. That being said, I'm going to try to hit the high points through out the conference in a summary format.

Jim Lites said it was always in the long-term vision, from his perspective, to own an AHL affiliate inside the Dallas Stars' television market. Lites had this with Grand Rapids when he was with the Red Wings organization. This is the culmination of that vision he had in 1993.

The overall feel was that this has been a great working relationship from all sides and everyone is very excited about moving forward with deepening the ties between the NHL, AHL and the city. Lites called the Cedar Park Center the perfect AHL venue and even suggested that Houston ought to build a replica to get AHL hockey back into that city. Lites even said that upon his return to Dallas, Valeri Nichushkin commented that the CPC was nicer than any building in the KHL.

Bringing Dallas resources to bear on the front office
It sounds like the wheels have already started to turn on bringing the resources of Dallas to bear on the Texas Stars staff. Brad Alberts, EVP and Chief Revenue Officer for Dallas, was set to spend the afternoon in meetings with Rick McLaughlin and the Texas Stars corporate sponsorship staff.

"The first thing is going to be working with Brad and the contacts Dallas has in the corporate community that are headquartered in Dallas but have a presence here to tap into," said McLaughlin. "Brad is able to get into meetings we aren't able to get into. After this press conference we're going to sit down and start strategizing.

"Even just small things like the resources. Greg came down here and Dallas PR put all this together. This isn't our typical press conference here, so they just have a lot of resources in Dallas that come with being an NHL team that we will take full advantage of."

Lites also mentioned, "We've identified a couple of young people on our staff in Dallas who will be coming down here to augment the Texas Stars staff."

Development around the Cedar Park Center
The purchase also included the land around the CPC. Lites said there have been several days of meetings already with the city, its planners and economic development people working on plans for what to do. He said, "The area is ripe for development and I think you'd start to see action on it in the next twelve months."

Mayor Matt Powell expanded on the point, calling the CPC the anchor for the city's entertainment district, which should feature retail and commercial development, including a Gaglardi hotel. There was also mention of office space that can take advantage of the CPC's large parking lots, which are unoccupied during the day.

Powell also mentioned that the contract for the CPC anticipated a naming rights purchase and stipulated that "Cedar Park" must remain in the name in any case.

Logo and jersey changes
The team doesn't have concepts yet for the jerseys and logos, but Lites did have this to say:

"We don't want the jerseys and look to be identical [to Dallas]. You can assume it's going to have a synergy. Victory green has been big to the rebrand of our hockey franchise. We want Texas Stars to have their own identity, but at the same time we don't want anyone to not know that's our franchise when they see our jerseys."

It sounds like next season will be the new jersey debut.

ECHL purchase as well?
Dallas owner Tom Gaglardi is not looking to acquire an ECHL team to complete the trifecta. He already owns the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL and "has 250 games per year" to watch already.

Further from Lites: "We have a wonderful working relationship with a long-term successful ECHL partner. We're biting off the AHL deal, and that's going to be it for us. It's not ideal from a geographic point of view, but Boise is a nice city and it's been great to grow there. It's been stable for us. I think the stability of Idaho, Cedar Park and Dallas is what we're looking for, so I don't anticipate going there."

Mascot for Texas Stars
Because someone asked, here's the response from Rick McLaughlin: "I've held off on a mascot until it made some sense. Now, we can sit down with Dallas [to talk about it]. To put it in perspective, Dallas launched their mascot this year, so they operated for 21 years without a mascot. This is our sixth season but sure, we'll take a look at it."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Texas Stars Report: The True Story Behind the 2014 Texas Stars Season, So Far

Derek Laxdal at the bench (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The 'Texas Stars Report' on Defending Big D...
Can we talk for a second? I know it's the holiday season, and happy news is usually the order of the day, but I think we need some #realtalk about the Texas Stars. Here it comes. Are you ready?

This is not the same team that won the Calder Cup in June.

I don't say this as an insult to the current team or its staff or anything. It's just a fact that the fans are going to have to get used to. Comparisons are inevitable. That's the basis of sport. That's how we decide whether the Cowboys in the 1990s or the Patriots in the 2000s were the better NFL team. Sport is all about comparison, so I get that.

So then let's do this. Let's make the comparison. One of the big complaints I keep seeing is that Coach Laxdal inherited a Calder Cup winning team and all he had to do was put it on auto-pilot and it will win another. Did he inherit a Calder Cup winning team though?
Read more at Defending Big D...