Friday, April 16, 2010

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 1

Texas Stars
46-27-3-4, 99 pts
#2 West Division
v.Rockford IceHogs
44-30-3-3, 94 pts
#3 West Division
Series tied 0-0

April 16th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

After a week of patient (and sometimes impatient) waiting, here we are. Central Texas is ready for its first ever taste of AHL Playoff hockey. The Rockford IceHogs come to town to open up the Calder Cup playoffs for the Stars. Tonight's game will be the first playoff game in franchise history.

Of course, just because it's the first game for the team doesn't mean it's the first playoff game for the players. Between the players on the Stars roster, Texas has 323 total games of AHL and NHL playoff experience. This is in comparison to Rockford's 165 total games.

It feels really difficult to write a playoff preview against Rockford because I feel like the Stars have not had a dialog with the team. Texas and Rockford played 5 times in a 30 day span starting in November and didn't meet again until March. There was no back and forth over the course of the season. In all, the Stars won six of the eight matchups. Realistically, the Stars weren't really even in it to win it on the eighth and final matchup last week, so perhaps we'll toss that one out. Still, despite eight games against, the IceHogs feel like something of an unknown quantity, as opposed to Peoria, Chicago, or the other Texas teams.

Top players for Texas in the season series include Travis Morin, who clocked in with 1 goal and 9 assists; Mathieu Beaudoin, currently injured, with 3 goals and 4 assists; and Warren Peters, the leading goal scorer, with 4 goals and 2 assists. Also of note is Landon Wilson, who played two games against the IceHogs this season and scored twice. Of course, the big story on the offensive front is Jamie Benn. Benn joins the club after spending a full 82 games in Dallas this season. He scored 22 goals and tallied 19 assists in his rookie season in the NHL. This sort of player movement is not without precedent in hockey. Players like Mark Fistric in the Dallas organization have joined AHL teams after the NHL playoff run is over to help bolster the AHL ranks and also to give useful playoff experience.

On the other side, Stars killers from the Hogs have included Mark Cullen with 4-5-9, Kyle Greentree with 2-2-4, and Bracken Kearns with 2-2-4 as well. Also, flying below the radar, is the addition of Ben Smith to the Rockford IceHogs roster. Smith, signed to an ATO after finishing his collegiate career at NCAA national champion Boston College, was a sixth round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008. Smith played four years for Boston, scoring 57 goals and 65 assists, including the game winning goal in last week's 5-0 championship game over Wisconsin. This is a player to watch out for.

In nets for the Stars, we know what we have and that's the Wrath of Krahn. Brent Krahn has faced the IceHogs in four games this season and has defeated them in each, allowing only 4 goals and tallying two shutouts, a 0.99 GAA and a .971 SV%. My guess is that Krahn is the guy. Coach Gulutzan is going with a "win and you're in" philosophy, so Matt Climie will likely not see much playing time unless Krahn slips up. Climie has played in three games against Rockford, going 2-1-0 with 3.29 GAA and .898 SV%.

Corey Crawford is the man in the net for the Rockford IceHogs. Crawford played in four of the games against Texas this year, going 1-3-0 with a 2.75 GAA and .904 SV%. Joe Fallon took three of the remaining games, but he was traded to Peoria for tender Hannu Toivonen. Toivonen is 2-1-1 against Texas this season with all four games coming with Peoria.

Remember, the Stars have called for a white out. First 5,000 get a free white T-shirt to encourage the white out. All for One!

Stars injury/call up report:
Beaudoin (lower body)

Website: icehogs.com
Blog (unofficial): Rockford IceHogs Fan Blog
Twitter: @goicehogs

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