Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Texas Stars Foundation Announces Donation Drive to Help West, Texas

West, TX (Credit: Wikipedia user Jayb)
For anyone whose taken the trip to Dallas on I-35 enough as I have (or any Stars prospect, perhaps), West holds a special place in your heart. It's not exactly halfway, but a good kolache or klobasnek at the Czech Stop can make the stress of 35 traffic melt away. It's a required stop for me every time.

To help the folks in West affected by the plant explostion, the Texas Stars Foundation has announced they will be accepting donations at tomorrow's playoff game:
The Texas Stars Foundation will start taking collections for West, Texas at our playoff games, beginning May 1st. We will be accepting all monetary donations and any gift card donations for West Middle School. Everything will be given to the Principal, who will distribute it among the children who lost everything. Unfortunately their extra storage was destroyed, so they do not have space to store actual item donations at this time. We thank you for your help!

Other than generic Visa gift cards, below are stores in West: Walmart, H-E-B, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, and Target
The Foundation will accept donations at their usual spot, located on the main concourse behind sections 102/103.

ECHL Playoffs: Steelheads Take 3-2 Series Lead, Need One on the Road

Coming into game six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals between the Ontario Reign and the Idaho Steelheads, all the momentum was in the Steelheads' corner. Coming off a 6-0 win on Friday night, the feeling was that perhaps the series was over. The game was a mere formality on the way to the Steelheads to taking a 3-2 series lead and heading back to Ontario already thinking Conference Finals. The result would go the way of the Steelheads, 2-1 overtime win, but someone forgot to tell the Ontario Reign to roll over and play dead.

The Reign came out with all the pressure and intensity of a team that knew it had an uphill battle to fight and that it would be much better to fight with the lead. Just 4:33 into the first period, Kevin Estrada would get his 3rd goal of the postseason after a goal mouth scramble, and about five saves by Steelheads goaltender Josh Robinson, to stake the Reign to the 1-0 lead.

It took the better part of the first period and a few thunderous Hubert Labrie hits to start to turn the tide. The Steelheads would start to find their legs at the end of the first period but had nothing to show for it even with an extended 5-on-3 power play. A suddenly anxious crowd had to sit through the first intermission with the Reign holding a one goal advantage.

In the second, the two teams continued to battle, and both defenses and goaltenders played outstandingly. The Reign’s Jean-Francois Berube made eight saves in the second period, but unfortunately the Steelheads had nine shots. Labrie would take a shot from the high slot and Berube was unable to control the rebound. This allowed for a crashing Adrian Foster to pick up the loose puck and slam it into the back of the net to tie the game at one with 3:39 left in the second period.

In the third period, both teams would have some chances as the teams totaled 18 shots, however there weren’t a lot of high percentage chances for either team, and for the second time this playoff series and the 5th time this postseason, the Steelheads headed to overtime.

In the overtime session, the Reign once again come out firing, getting all the chances until Austin Smith was able to skate down the right side of the ice and make a great shot tagged for the corner over Berube’s shoulder. Berube was able to make the glove save, but that one shot changed the tide, and the Steelheads refused to relent. David de Kastrozza would have his own chance on a mini break that again was stopped by Berube.

In the end it was Gord Baldwin, who just returned to the lineup after serving a two game suspension, making a great play at the left point to keep the puck in the offensive zone. After Chase Schaber picked it up in front of the net, he measured a backhander and deposited the puck in the back of the net at the 9:36 mark of the first overtime. The goal gave the Steelheads a 2-1 win and a 3-2 series lead as the two teams head back to Ontario for game six on Tuesday and game seven on Wednesday (if nec.)

Notes: Both teams were scoreless on the power play. Ontario went 0-3 and the Steelheads went 0-4… With Baldwin in the line-up all 6 of the Steelheads defensemen dressed for the game saw some time in the AHL this season… Josh Robinson has stopped 67 of 68 shots over the last two wins…Chase Schaber has four goals with the Steelheads and all four have been game winners. Two in the regular season and two in the post season…The Alaska Aces won their game on Sunday to pulled within one game of the Stockton Thunder. The Thunder lead the other Western Conference Semi-Final 3-2.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Here Comes the Cavalry: Ads and Stars Get NHL Assignments

We're gettin' the band back together, boys. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
The regular season ended for both the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators on Saturday night, and each club, as expected, sent a bevy of reinforcements to their AHL clubs.

Texas got the expected additions of Reilly Smith, Alex Chiasson and Jordie Benn. Based on his recovery timeline in Dallas and the fact that he was sent down, Chiasson looks to be ready to play on Wednesday.

Texas will have an abundance of top six talent with this infusion. It would be very difficult to knock any of the players on the ice on Friday and Saturday out of the top six. First inclinations would be to put Alex Chiasson back on a line with Dowling and Hedden. That leaves Ritchie and Smith without homes. Both deserve top six minutes so it will be interesting to see what lines look like in practice this week.

On defense, it would seem that the Commodore/Klingberg spot is the one open rotation slot in the blue line roster. Those two paired with Gaunce on the weekend set, Commodore on Friday and Klingberg on Saturday. Benn could slide in there and lock-in the pairings for the duration. That all depends on how much Desjardins wants Commodore in the lineup on a given night.

Milwaukee, meanwhile, got a lot of guys back, six in fact. Including among them was Chris Mueller, a thorn in the side of the Stars in 2011, especially during his pairings with Gabriel Bourque. Bourque is pulling NHL paychecks down for now, but Mueller is still dangerous. He had 36 points in 55 games. He also had five points in eighteen games in Nashville.

The Ads also received RW Daniel Bang (9-13-22 in 55GP), LW Joonas Rask (1-1-2 in 1GP), LW Kevin Henderson (17-12-29 in 67GP), RW Taylor Beck (11-30-41 in 50GP) and D Victor Bartley (7-19-26 in 54GP). The eighth seed just got a lot harder to play against.

The good news for Texas, of course, is that they managed a split in Milwaukee instead of coming home 0-2. Elsewhere in the league, every series with a 2-3 setup saw a split of the first two games. Meanwhile, all other series had the same team take both of the first two games. That includes eighth seed Hershey going 2-0 on Providence at home and fifth seed Wilkes-Barre going up 2-0 on Binghamton. Those clubs could be in trouble as they head to their opponents' barns with absolutely no margin for error.

More information as the week progresses on those lineup choices...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Milwaukee Ties Series With 2-0 Blanking of Texas

Magnus Hellberg stopped all 23 Texas shots for his first AHL playoff shutout. (Credit: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Admirals)
After last night's relatively high scoring affair, tonight's 2-0 win by the Admirals felt more like what was expected from this series, which is now even at a game a piece. The two teams combined for 44 shots, which was the total number of shots Texas had last night. In all, only one of those got by either tender as the other was a late empty net insurance goal.

Magnus Hellberg showed his shutout form as he had six times in the last three months for the Admirals, whitewashing the Stars for the first time since a 2-0 loss to Chicago on March 1st. In all, Texas was only shutout four times on the season, not including tonight. Three of those four occurred in the first two months of the season.

A tight first period saw the Stars only get two shots on net. Milwaukee kept pressure on with twelve shots on Cristopher Nilstorp, who stopped them all, including some risky plays mid period where he lost his stick.

It would be Milwaukee scoring the games only true goal midway through the second period. Mike Liambas shot the puck on net from the left wing side. Nilstorp had the initial shot but the rebound bounced out to Austin Watson, who cashed in for his first of these playoffs.

The physicality of the series also showed up more during this game. Matt Fraser was rubbed out by captain Mike Moore in the second period and went down the tunnel afterwards. Jamie Oleksiak was lit up by Mike Liambas in the third, a hit which was penalized as charging. Luke Gazdic answered the bell, defending the rookie and earning a 2, 5, and 10 for fighting and instigating. Both players, Oleksiak and Fraser, finished the game.

Texas was given a golden opportunity with the charging call. A five minute major dwindled to nothing as Texas could not find the net on the man advantage, a concerning development as it becomes more and more evident how close these games might be. Not scoring on the power play could be the difference in the series; it was the difference in the game tonight.

Milwaukee only managed three shots in the final frame. One of those was an empty netter as time wound down, however, to make the final score 2-0.

The series now shifts to Texas for the remainder of the games. It is essentially a best of three format from here on out.

Tonight's lines:
Fraser-Morin-Sceviour
Hedden-Dowling-Ritchie
Glennie-Vause-McKenzie
Gazdic-Petersen-Wathier

Fortunus-Morrow
Gaunce-Klingberg
Oleksiak-Connauton

Nilstorp

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
R. Smith, Chiasson, Benn (call up)
Sloan, Wrenn, Jokipakka, Sonne, Cameron, Faksa, Todd, Commodore (scratch)
Nemeth (injured)

John Klingberg played his first North American professional game tonight.

Tonight's attendance was 3,311.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Milwaukee - April 27 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

ECHL Playoffs: Steelheads Respond With 6-0 Win

John Mulhern on the Steelheads...

The Idaho Steelheads had just played a terrible game 4, losing 2-1 to the Ontario Reign to give the Reign a 2-1 series lead. Something changed after that game. Maybe it was the post-game meal, maybe it was the next day’s practice. Most likely it was head coach Brad Ralph calling out Austin Smith, Tyler Gron and others for not performing up to standard for the first 4 games of the series. So the obvious question was would the team respond to the first public criticism off the season.

6-0.

That’s all that is needed. The Idaho Steelheads came out firing on all cylinders Friday night. Austin Smith got the first goal of the night on the power play at the 7:30 mark of the first period and after that, the route was on.

A little over 3 minutes later, Patrick Cullity would get his second goal in as many games as he would go for a dump in from the red line and as the puck was riding the glass it hit a support and redirected right into the middle of Jean-Francois Berube’s vacated net. Just for good measure Tyler Gron would add a third. After the first period the Steelheads held a commanding 3-0 lead.

The Steelheads continued their pressure into the second period as they would tack on 2 more goals. Another one by Gron at the 10:25 mark of the second and then Justin Taylor would slam home a pass from David de Kastrozza with 57 seconds left in the period. That would end the night for Berube as he allowed 5 goals on 18 shots. He would be replace by Chris Carozzi to start the third.

Lost but not forgotten in this offensive explosion was the play of goaltender Josh Robinson. Robinson took the loss on Wednesday night after playing spectacularly in the 2-1 defeat. On this night he decided to leave nothing to chance and turned aside all 29 shots that the Reign directed at his net. The Reign were 0-3 on the power play in large part to Robinson back in net. He played excellent and was well deserving of the shutout and top star designation on this night.

In the third period, Austin Fyten would add one more goal for the Steelheads at the 7:02 mark of the period to give them their 6th and last goal of the night. After that is was more of the same. Great defensive zone coverage and smart plays to just get the puck deep into the Reign zone to protect the lead and get out with the win.

With the series now tied at 2 games apiece, the Steelheads have to hope there is some offense left in the tank as after Saturday night’s game 5 the series will shift back to Ontario for games 6 and 7 (if nec). Obviously it’s better to be leading a series than trailing, but having to go on the road and win two games is a much taller task than just having to steal one. Tyler Gron after the game stopped just short of calling Game 5 a must win, but you could tell from his tone that it might as well be a must win.

If the Steelheads continue to pressure like they did last night with pinching defensemen and continue to pass the puck like Friday night and continue to get great defensive play, I don’t know if there is any team in the west that can stop them.

Playoff Notes: The Stockton Thunder have opened up a 3 games to 1 lead over the Alaska Aces in the other Western Conference Semi-Final. The winner of that series will take on the winner of the Steelheads and Reign series.

Gameday Preview: Stars at Milwaukee Admirals, Game 2

Texas Stars
43-22-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
atMilwaukee Admirals
41-28-4-3, 89 pts
#8 Western Conference
Stars lead 1-0

April 27th at 7:00 PM
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI

Texas accomplished their mission in game 1 last night. It was a tight game and most of the action came on the power play.

The game winner was a great play by Mike Hedden and obviously a great finish by Ritchie. Hedden, who had just come over the boards on a change, sent the puck forward in front of the Stars' bench. This caught the Ads off guard as Ritchie cut into the zone and beat Hellberg, who had been stellar all night.

Expect more of the same from these two tonight. Milwaukee might get Filip Forsberg this time around for real. The first rounder could have played in tonight's Nashville game, which means he is eligible to play in Saturday's finale without burning a year on his entry level contract. They would have left him in Milwaukee if they hadn't intended to play him. It looks like Game 3 will be the first with new bodies for both teams. Those would include Chiasson, Benn and Reilly Smith for Texas.

Nilstorp and Hellberg look to be the starters again. Both performed well in their first AHL playoff games.

The Stars need to stay out of the box tonight, as Milwaukee got both of their goals on the power play. Sometimes that's hard to do, but Texas should make sure they don't get goaded into anything by the Ads. They seemed to be physical and chippy with the Stars on Friday. Watch for that tonight.

Stars injury/call up report:
R. Smith, Chiasson, Benn (call up)
Nemeth (injury)

Admirals Web Resources:
Website: milwaukeeadmirals.com
Blog (Official): In The Crease
Blog (Unofficial): Admirals Roundtable (@adsroundtable)
Twitter: @mkeadmirals

Friday, April 26, 2013

Brett Ritchie Lifts Texas Past Milwaukee 3-2 in OT

Jamie Oleksiak (Credit: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Admirals)
Brett Ritchie lifted the Stars to a 1-0 series lead with a water bottle-popping wrister in the first overtime period of tonight's game in Milwaukee. Texas allowed the first goal, but true to form all year, came back to win in the overtime period. Texas had a better than .500 record on the season when allowing the first goal.

Both goaltenders were heavily challenged in the game, earning second and third star honors. Cristopher Nilstorp got the start and stopped 29 of 31. Hellberg stopped 41 of 44.

The tight game was dominated by power play goals, as is typical when two teams are rather evenly matched on systems. Kevin Connauton found the net for Texas on the power play. Patrick Cehlin and Zach Hamill did for Milwaukee. Matt Fraser also scored, surprisingly at even strength.

The first started with the Ads shelling the Stars' net, throwing 14 shots at Cristopher Nilstorp. Their fourteenth shot found the net on the power play as Patrick Cehlin completed the pass from Joshua Shalla. The Stars were being outshot 14-7 at that time.

With time winding down in the first period, Texas found twine as well. A hard charge from recently returned Matt Fraser and Travis Morin resulted in Fraser's first postseason goal in the AHL. The goal came off a nice shot from Morin with 15.6 seconds left.

The late period goal pushed Texas forward in the second period as Milwaukee only managed one shot in the entire period. The Stars, for their part, had eleven shots of their own and gained their first lead of the game.

Milwaukee had a steady march to the penalty box in the second as they gave Texas six minutes of power play time in the first twelve minutes of the period. Kevin Connauton snuck down the left wing side on one of those power plays. With the Ads concenrating on the rookie, Brett Ritchie, Connauton beat the young Hellberg over the glove side.

The Ads only had one shot in the second.

Texas had their own penalty troubles in the third and they made no mistake, cashing in for the tie game. Former Dallas Star Brad Winchester sent the puck from right side to the left where Zach Hamill put it home over a sprawling Nilstorp, tying the game at two.

The two clubs fought a hard overtime period. Texas grabbed the momentum from the Ads with a power play  thanks to a Scott Ford holding call. The Stars had a lot of chances but didn't score. It didn't matter as the Stars had grabbed the big mo'.

Offensive faceoffs galore and plenty of shots out the Ads on their heels. Brett Ritchie broke in alone off the pass from Mike Hedden, who had just jumped on the ice off the change. Ritchie roofed a wrister past Hellberg, popping the water bottle and giving the Stars a 1-0 lead in the series.

Tonight's lines:
Fraser-Morin-Sceviour
Hedden-Dowling-Ritchie
Glennie-Vause-McKenzie
Gazdic-Petersen-Wathier

Fortunus-Morrow
Gaunce-Commodore
Oleksiak-Connauton

Nilstorp

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
R. Smith, Chiasson, Benn (call up)
Sloan, Wrenn, Jokipakka, Sonne, Cameron, Faksa, Todd, Klingberg (scratch)
Nemeth (injured)

Texas released Brock Montgomery from his ATO this afternoon.

Tonight's attendance was 3,053.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Milwaukee - April 26 2013

ECHL Playoffs: Steelheads Drop Game 3 with Game 4 Tonight

Mulhern brings the news of Game 3 in Boise with Game 4 tonight...

“Hard work never takes a night off, talent does” — John Mulhern.

I’m sure someone must have said this before me, but I couldn’t find it on a quick internet search. If one of you, loyal readers, decide to do a bigger search, leave a comment and let me know who has actually said this in the past.

Game 3 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals series between the Idaho Steelheads and the Ontario Reign was decided through hard work and a dedication to a system. The Ontario Reign, in come from behind fashion defeated the Steelheads 2-1 to take a two game to one series lead. Games 4 & 5 will be played in Boise this Friday and Saturday.

There was some good news for Steelheads fans early in the day on Wednesday when it was announced that the Steelheads would use their last available roster opening to add AHL defenseman Patrick Cullity, whom was re-assigned from the St. John’s Ice Caps after their season ended over the weekend. This gave Brad Ralph the ability to simply replace suspended defenseman Gord Baldwin instead of having to juggle his defensive pairings for the game.

In the first period, having Cullity back on the blue line looked to be a genius decision when off an offensive zone face-off win by Chase Schaber, Cullity was able to skate into a slap shot and fire a shot past Reign goaltender Jean-Francios Berube. The Steelheads would hold the 1-0 lead all the way into the start of the third period, when a seeing eye shot was sent past Steelhead goaltender Josh Robinson to knot the game at 1 just 1:49 into the third period. Adrian Van de Mosselaer was credited with his first goal of the playoff season.

It was a shot that Robinson, given another 99 chances at making the save, makes the save 99 times. But on this night, it got past him and allowed the Reign to tie the game. The Steelheads in the first two periods did a great job to carry the play to the Reign. They didn’t necessary physically punish the Reign, but a good offensive zone presence and shooting from quality areas allowed them to play stingy defense during the game. In the third period, especially after the tying goal, it appeared as if the Steelheads were playing for overtime. The Reign attacked wave after wave and if not for Josh Robinson the final score may have been a bigger differential.

As the clock ticked under 4 minutes left to play in the third, a couple of weird puck bounces led to a turnover in the Steelheads zone. The Reign’s, Brady Calla found Mario Lamoureux with a quick pass and with Robinson caught out of position, the ensuing shot would hit far post before going into the net giving the Reign a 2-1 advantage and ultimately the win and series lead.

The big take away from this game, wasn’t that the Steelheads were out played, they got beat by a better team. The Reign were more willing to pay the price both in the defensive zone in terms of getting loose pucks out of the zone, and in the offensive zone by taking hits to make plays and forcing themselves in front of the net.

The Steelheads started to rely on individual talent and skills instead of staying within the prescribed systems Brad Ralph had laid out for the team prior to the game. If you ask me what needs to change, it’s trying to convince the players in the dressing room to stay committed to the offensive system that led the Steelheads to a league best 262 goals scored in the regular season. Defensively they were fine and played well enough to deserve a better fate. Game 4 is Friday and while it is clearly not a must win, it will go a long way to determining the Steelheads possible fate this post season.

Gameday Preview: Stars at Milwaukee Admirals, Game 1

Texas Stars
43-22-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
atMilwaukee Admirals
41-28-4-3, 89 pts
#8 Western Conference
Series tied 0-0

April 26th at 7:00 PM
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI

UPDATE: Matt Fraser has been assigned to Texas and is expected to be in the lineup for Game 1.

In doing research for tonight's game and the series in general, I went back to read this site's gameday preview for the first game between these two in the 2011 playoffs. Here's an exact quote, if you'll believe it:
Overall, the two very similar teams are going to have a grinding series. If Texas can get one of the two games in Milwaukee, their chances to clinch at home with the crowd behind them is huge. Texas has yet to clinch a playoff series win on home ice and would love to do just that next week.
Two years later, it's carbon copy.

I covered a general overview of how the Stars are viewing the series. Texas is looking for a grinding series; it looks like it's going to be a defensive series.

"It's the best time of year," said captain Maxime Fortunus. "I was telling [Tyler] Sloan that the other day. 'We might want to put on some Christmas songs because it's the best time of the year.'"

Things to watch for on Friday include:
  • The feeling-out period — these two teams might play a tentative first period since they haven't seen each other in a while.
  • Who's in net? — Coach Desjardins wouldn't let on one way or the other who would be his starter. Whoever leads Texas out of tunnel is still a big question mark?
  • Which six? — Which defensemen are going to be your six for the playoffs? Desjardins said he would be likely to go with the same six (or seven) through the playoffs. Whoever you get in game one is likely to be your set barring any major issues.

Coach Desjardins added, "We've proven that we're a playoff team, but we haven't proven we're better than anyone."

The Stars hope to make a point with a 'W' tonight.

Stars injury/call up report:
R. Smith, Fraser, Chiasson, Benn (call up)
Nemeth, Ritchie (injury)
Sceviour (questionable)

Admirals Web Resources:
Website: milwaukeeadmirals.com
Blog (Official): In The Crease
Blog (Unofficial): Admirals Roundtable (@adsroundtable)
Twitter: @mkeadmirals

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From Unknown to the Top Six, Justin Dowling Has Had "Rollercoaster" Year

Justin Dowling (Credit: Steven Christy)
Six months ago, almost no one in Cedar Park knew the name 'Justin Dowling'. Now as the Stars look to start the playoffs tomorrow night in Milwaukee, that name is indelibly etched in the minds of Stars fans and opposing goaltenders alike as a big part of this year's squad.

"It's been a rollercoaster," said Dowling. "[At the start of the year,] I had high expectations about where I was going to end up in the American League. Obviously starting in the East Coast League wasn't where I wanted to be."

However, the talent level at the AHL level pushed many down the depth charts across the league. In September, Dowling signed on with Brad Ralph's Idaho Steelheads crew.

"Coming in, we knew Justin had a lot of skill and could be a top-shelf player at this level," said Will Hoenike, director of PR and broadcaster for the Idaho Steelheads. "But he was so good here. A bona-fide MVP candidate. Those kinds of players get called up quickly."

Just as Hoenike expected, when the lockout ended, Dowling was signed immediately by Texas to a standard player contract and recalled. The centerman had just been named to the ECHL All-Star team as a starter after notching thirteen goals and 33 assists in just 34 games of work. Dowling is very fond of his time in Boise and has great things to say about the team, staff and league.

"I think it helped my game a lot," he said. "I met some great people down there. Everything in the ECHL helped evolve me into who I am here."

Coach Desjardins immediately slotted him between Mike Hedden and Scott Glennie to replace the recalled Antoine Roussel on that line. A few games later, Glennie injured his hand and was replaced by Alex Chiasson, who the Stars were looking to put in a more prominent role in the top six. The line combination that ensued, Hedden-Dowling-Chiasson, played together consistently on both the power play and at even strength from January 16th until the trade deadline, totaling 28 combined goals and 34 combined assists.

"We have really good chemistry. Chiasson is obviously an unbelievable player  Doing what he's doing in Dallas now is insane. He's strong on the puck and gets down low and battles back for pucks and gets them out and lets me and Hedden create. Hedden's so fast that he pushes defense back and gets them second guessing their positioning. It opens up space for me."

Mike Hedden and Justin Dowling celebrate one of Dowling's three goals in the Stars' January 26th game against the Rampage. The hat trick was Dowling's first pro trick. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
Their success at the AHL level is pretty remarkable, given where each started the season. Chiasson was in the bottom six, Hedden was a regular healthy scratch and Dowling was in the East Coast League.

"The lockout was a different year. Every level was good, and the AHL was full of NHL guys."

All three earned their spot in the top six and their ice time with their continued success. Earning your ice has been a staple of the Stars this season.

"If you play well, you'll move up. If somebody is playing well, we'll put them on the ice."

Moving players up in the lineup is dependent on having the open spots to do so. The departure of top talent at the end of the NHL lockout created a vacuum that Dowling and his linemates were able to fill. That was a luxury that Dowling didn't have in his last AHL stop, Abbotsford.

"They had good players there, and it was tough to bump out their top six. I was used more in a fourth line role, and I'm too small to be bumping guys off pucks and fighting."

Dowling continued, "A lot of it was to do with me. I wasn't putting up points, so my confidence was low."

With 30 points in 38 games, Dowling isn't worrying about his confidence now. He knows he can be an effective player at this level. When asked about moving up to the next level though, he's focused more on the here and now.

"I would love to be in Dallas or Austin. The weather's great; I've got a great sunburn here," said Dowling, pointing to his beet-red forehead and cheeks while laughing.

"I'm not looking too far into the future," he continued. "It's my first AHL playoffs. We'll see how that goes first, and hopefully I can keep producing and win a Calder Cup here."

Travis Morin Talks Systems, Reflects on Last Year, Looks to Set a Playoff Example

Travis Morin battles for the puck in the 2011 Calder Cup playoff series with Milwaukee. (Credit: Jeff Hanisch)
After two years of making the playoffs, it was obvious that last year's Texas Stars squad was disappointed in their play, not only missing the playoffs but placing last in the conference.

"I'm not going to say you take it for granted, but you just expect it to happen every year," said Colton Sceviour, reflecting on his first two years in Austin. "A year like last year put it in perspective. There are guys who have gone fourteen years in pro hockey and never seen playoffs."

Travis Morin had a great statistical year last year despite the down season and credits the Stars improved play this season to their consistency of systems play. Last year's team got behind the eight ball quickly, and things got a little frantic as a result.

"We tried a lot of things [last year]. That just might be the fact that we were losing. You're going to look for other things when you're losing."

The only constant in the systems was change for the 2011-12 squad and that made it difficult to ensure everyone was on the page and also difficult to bring in new guys quickly.

Morin pointed to a few big changes that brought a lot of success to the Stars this season, "Trying to stay on the other team, rolling four lines where we try not to give the team any time off to relax. We're going to be on them, pressuring them. That's been a huge key for us to get our game where we're in good enough shape to play 60 minutes at a high tempo."

"The fact we've been more aggressive in the offensive zone in turning pucks up in the neutral zone and getting back on the offensive when we do turn pucks over. It's kept teams on their heels at times."

Travis Morin (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
Those systems have been essential to bringing in new players, whether they be from Idaho or on PTOs. The Stars actually used more players this season (47) than they did last year (44). However, that relatively high number of 44 was cited as one of the reasons why Texas had a lack of success last season. With constantly changing bodies, it was difficult to get everyone on the same page. With a year to reflect, the changing systems were a large part of the problem as well. How else could Desjardins have kept 47 different players all playing 'Texas Stars hockey' from game one to seventy-six?

"It helped this year with so many guys coming in. It's easy when you have guys who have all been on the same page for a while."

Looking further back, Morin draws some comparisons between this team and the inaugural club, which went to the Calder Cup Finals.

"I think they're two different teams. We were built on defense [in the inaugural] year. Goaltending was big for us. We played games to limit the opportunities of the other teams, limit the other team to 20-25 shots. This year we have a lot of offense and guys who can put the puck in the net. It keeps it hard on the other guys playing defense all the time."

Having thirty AHL playoffs games under his belt (all in a Stars uniform), Morin is just looking to lead by example. His seven goals and sixteen assists in that time would be a fine example for young players to emulate.

"I go out there and try to keep a level head and not get too up or down. You have to keep an even keel and remind the young kids that that's how you play. Playoffs are a roller coaster."

And that roller coaster starts Friday.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Texas Stars Defense: Who Are Your Six (or Seven)?

Kevin Connauton and his linemate Cameron Gaunce have been lineup staples since the deadline. (Credit: Christina Shapiro)
While there was an abundance of caution from the Stars coaches to get too far ahead of themselves on predicting lineups for Game 1 Friday, there were a few interesting tidbits on Texas's curious position on defense. The Stars currently have nine healthy defenseman here in Austin and could add Jordie Benn before the week is out depending on the fortunes of the Dallas Stars over the next two games.

Coach Desjardins hasn't made up his mind who will be in his defensive grouping yet, but stated, "I like having a group of guys that I go with. That may mean a group of 7, but it's not going to be a big group."

That may mean that your starting six (or seven) on Friday are the players the Stars expect to ice for the playoffs' duration. Desjardins cautions that the Stars wouldn't hesitate to shake things up if needed though.

"We'll see how it happens with the guys we've got. They'll get the first chance at it. If it doesn't go the way we want, maybe we'll look at someone else."

Continuing with the abundance of caution theme, Doug Lidster suggested against soothsaying based on current pairings, especially when asked about the consistently paired Cameron Gaunce and Kevin Connauton.

"Team defense and team play is about all six guys and the goaltender," Lidster intoned. "We'll pick the six that we think are going to do the job for us. I wouldn't read too much into the pairings [as we've had them]."

As a refresher, Texas has Gaunce, Connauton, Oleksiak, Wrenn, Commodore, Morrow, Sloan, Fortunus, Nemeth, Jokipakka and potentially Benn. You can take Nemeth off the list for now. After being out for 24 games, Nemeth was re-injured in the Friday game against Houston and did not play the third period or Saturday's game.

The prospect-aged players on contract to Dallas are the most likely to play at first glance, but don't think that Desjardins wouldn't bench a player on Dallas contract to put in a guy like Wrenn if something wasn't up to snuff. The coaching staff has used ice time as a tool all season to great effect. There is no coasting in Willie Desjardins hockey.

Balancing all the veterans in the lineup is another challenge, but Lidster feels that veteran presence does not have to be on the ice to be effective.

"The experience can come from more ways than just on the ice. The veteran players that have been out of the line up have been just terrific with the young guys, taking them under their wing and working with them."

Lidster added though, "At this time of the year, even our first year players are experienced players."

Texas Stars Anticipate Grinding Series, Confident in Road Play

Colton Sceviour tracks Milwaukee's Ben Ryan at Bradley Center during the first round of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs. (Credit: Jeff Hanisch)
Thanks to a few different factors, despite being the first seed in the Western Conference, Texas will start their hunt for the Calder Cup at the Bradley Center on Friday, not the CPC. For their part though, the Stars are aware of the challenge and are facing the games with a calm and measured approach.

"I think we should be confident," said Stars' assistant coach Doug Lidster. "It's going to be tight. I'm not sure home and away is going to matter as much. It's still 200 by 85 feet. The game is played the same way."

And the way these two teams play is very similar. Stars forward Colton Sceviour was around the last time these two clubs faced off in the playoffs and when they were divisional foes as well.

"All the way back to our first year when we played against them, the guys may change but the way they play is the same. They're structured and good in their own end. It's going to be a hard-fought grinding series. I predict a grinding series. You might not score your first goal until the last five minutes but it might be all you need."

In 2011, four of the six games were decided by a goal and three of those went to overtime.

Travis Morin, who scored some important goals in that series with Milwaukee, agrees: "They haven't changed a lot in the way they play. We can play the same style. Both teams are hard working and strong forechecking. I'm expecting a tough grind it out series with some low scoring games."

The potential for tight games is what makes getting at least a split out of the first two in Milwaukee so critical for the club. Texas has the best road record in the league with a .711 points percentage, so they are confident. Then again, Milwaukee is 15-4-1 in their last 20 and is riding the play of a very hot goaltender, Magnus Hellberg, who went 4-0 this past week with two shutouts to propel the Ads to the playoffs.

The Stars as a franchise are not unfamiliar with playing and winning big playoff games on the road. In the 2010 playoffs, Texas closed out all three of their series on the road, two of those being Game 7s. Several of the players who were there for those games are still around, including Luke Gazdic.

"[Starting on the road] is not going to affect us," said Gazdic. "We have to go in there and win regardless. We're going to have to win games in other buildings."

Coach Lidster added, "There's nothing fancy about our team. [Our play] translates to any rink."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Idaho Steelheads Report: Series Even Heading Back to Boise

Jace Coyle (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern gives us the weekend wrap on the Steelheads...

Back where we began. The Idaho Steelheads and the Ontario Reign have played two games of their best of seven Western Conference Semi-Final match-up, and nothing has been decided one way or the other. The teams depart Ontario, CA, all tied up at one game apiece. We also know that the Steelheads will have home-ice advantage for what has now turned into a best of five game series.

We also don’t know who will be in the Steelheads net when game three starts on Wednesday in Boise. Tyler Beskorowany got the start this past Saturday and allowed 4 goals on 21 shots in just over 45 minutes of action. Josh Robinson came in for relief and allowed 1 goal on 6 shots. In fairness to Robinson, the game had long been decided before Ontario got their 5th goal en route to a 5-0 white washing of the Steelheads.
In what was clearly their worse game of the playoffs if not the entire season, the Steelheads missed the net too many times on shot attempts (19 credited shots for the entire game), played uninspired points, and goaltending allowed too many rebounds into high percentage scoring areas.

This isn’t to say that the Steelheads did not have their chances on Saturday, it’s just that they didn’t have a lot of quality chances and were unable to finish any of the ones they had. As of writing, the Steelheads are still waiting to hear if they are going to have the services of defenseman Gord Baldwin after he got tagged with a leaving the bench during an altercation penalty. Those normally come with a suspension, but it appears video evidence shows he had just stepped onto the ice for a regular change as the whistle blew to stop play. When I know, you’ll know (@mulhern4 on Twitter).

Now, there is some positive to come out of this past weekend. The Steelheads took away the home ice advantage on Friday night as they improved to 3-1 in OT games this playoff year. It was a game where the Steelheads had a 2-0 lead with 10:46 remaining in the 3rd period when Ben Ondrus* was assessed a five minute slashing major as well as a game misconduct. The Reign were unable to score until 16 seconds remained on the major penalty. It seemed like the Steelheads were still in the driver’s seat until after a couple of missed interference calls the Reign tied the game back up at 2 and sent game 1 into overtime. It was the 3rd overtime for the Reign as their OT record would fall to 2-1 during the playoffs.

Tyler Gron would send the Reign fans home disgruntled and quiet as at the 12:12 mark of the period, Gron would make a pass from the left point to the right point on a line rush to Andrew Carroll. Carroll was able to get enough of a stick on the puck to poke it to the top of the right hand circle where Gron would skate over and blindly spin around and send a shot towards goaltender Jean-Francois Berube. The puck would beat Berube, and the Steelheads had a 1-0 series lead. Tyler Beskorowany got the win stopping 37 of 39 shots.

So to recap, here is what we know. We know we have two evenly matched teams coming to Boise this week (Wed- Fri- Sat) to continue what may be the best and most evenly matched Conference Semi-Final matchup this season. There is no love lost between these two teams and with the physical play both teams bring to the ice, this series is only getting started. Should be a good one.

Stay tuned…

* - Ben Ondrus avoided suspension for his slashing major and game misconduct penalty Friday night. My personal opinion watching the video was that Ondrus and Mario Lamoureux got tied up and both threw some elbows until Lamoureux went down holding his ear. I think referee JM McNulty over reacted to the injury in assessing the major and game misconduct. If I was making the call I think 2 each for roughing and maybe an extra minor to Ondrus because of the injury. There was no big wind up with Ondrus’ stick on the play.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Jim Lites: Dallas Org's Future "Rosy and Bright"

(L to R) Rick McLaughlin, Jim Lites, Willie Desjardins and Scott White (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Jim Lites, president and CEO of the Dallas Stars, was in Cedar Park on Saturday night to help honor Coach Desjardins for earning the Louis A.R. Pieri AHL Coach of the Year award.

Lites and the entire Dallas organization are obviously extremely pleased with the work that Coach Desjardins did in Texas this season. They knew it wasn't an easy task from the start.

"When Willie started 3-6-2, I think we were all a little nervous," said Lites. "We had dealt him a pretty hard hand. We were pretty young. It's been unbelievable the job he, Doug Lidster and Scott White have done finding players and taking them and making them not just competitive but ultra-competitive. They've done a great job of teaching these players how to play."

Former Dallas coach, GM and current Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations, Bob Gainey, heaps praise on Dejardins and his systems work with the team, according to Lites.

"The guy I rely on more than anyone as a friend, mentor and confidant is Bob Gainey. Bob pays a lot of attention to what goes on here, and he loves Willie Desjardins. What we know and see is that when you are playing in a Texas Stars uniform for Willie Desjardins, you're playing the right way. You're getting pucks deep; you're clearing the zone. He uses ice time as a tool. He doesn't let guys float. If you don't play well, you sit."

That player growth has been evident in the number of callups that have been earned out of this group this season.

"You can see guys grow as they come here. There is no honor more important for an NHL franchise than to have their AHL coach win Coach of the Year. It means he's really good and you're really good. It's always a harbinger of future success. It would be one thing if we were dumping a lot of veteran guys down here, but we're not."

Looking forward to the playoffs, Lites is realistic about the Dallas Stars' hopes to make the postseason.

"You'll be helped if Dallas doesn't make the playoffs. We've set it up so that three guys come right back. One thing that may [have been missing Saturday night] is the forward talent pool is a little thinner. If Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser and Alex Chiasson come back and assuming Ritchie is healthy, you're going to be a very difficult team to play against and beat. I'm not cheering against the Dallas Stars; we're being realistic."

Past the playoffs, Dallas has decisions to make about how many players they slot in from the American League to start in Dallas next season. Lites feels that it could "four or five".

"Those decisions ultimately get made by the general manager and our development team including Les Jackson and Scott White. We're confident that there are four or five guys that are going to be capable of playing in the NHL relatively soon. Ritchie's close. He's probably a guy that starts [in the AHL]. We think everyone should play some in the American League. I would imagine that two or three of these defensemen will find their way onto our opening roster."

Lites added, "The future is rosy and bright and you don't get that without quality coaching."

Dallas brass including Lites, GM Joe Nieuwendyk and others will surely be back soon if Texas can make a deep playoff run.

"A Calder Cup championship would be wonderful; we'd love it."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Texas to Face Milwaukee in First Round, Start on the Road Friday

Reilly Smith and Alex Chiasson lineup for the anthem against the Admirals this season. (Credit: Milwaukee Admirals)
With wins by OKC, Rochester and Milwaukee today, Texas now knows their first round opponent will be the Admirals. An infrequent adversary this year, Texas's last visit to the playoffs was ended by the Ads in April 2011.

Obviously there will be more coming over this week breaking down the matchup. Texas will start on the road on Friday and Saturday in Milwaukee.

Full schedule:
1-Texas Stars vs. 8-Milwaukee Admirals
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 26 – Texas at Milwaukee, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 27 – Texas at Milwaukee, 7:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 1 – Milwaukee at Texas, 7:30
*Game 4 – Fri., May 3 – Milwaukee at Texas, 7:30
*Game 5 – Sat., May 4 – Milwaukee at Texas, 7:00

Scoreboard Watching: Who Will Texas Play (and How)?

Mike Hedden (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
All that is settled as we roll into the final day of the regular season is that Texas is the top seed in the West. Their opponent is still unknown and will be settled today. Let's break down who the possible contenders are and how they would get to the 8th seed. Arrange your scoreboard watching appropriately.

Milwaukee
Current rank: 8th
Best possible rank: 6th
Worst possible rank: 9th
Stars record against: 2-0-0-0
Today's game: at Peoria, 5:05 PM


All wins or all OT/SO losses by Milwaukee, Rochester and OKC get us to Milwaukee in eight. Everyone moves up by the same number of points, and none of the rankings change.

Milwaukee can get to 6th if they win and OKC loses in regulation and Rochester loses in any way. They would pass OKC and Rochester on the tie break with more regulation and OT wins (37 v. 35/32).

They can get to 7th if they tie Rochester in points (RCH gets OTL/SOL and MIL win, or RCH gets regulation loss and MIL an OTL/SOL). Milwaukee has a superior ROW (regulation and overtime wins).

If they lose, Milwaukee drops to 9th by virtue of the season series between the Ads and IceHogs. They are tied on ROW at 37, but Rockford has more points (15) than Milwaukee (11).

Rochester
Current rank: 7th
Best possible rank: 6th
Worst possible rank: 8th
Stars record against: 2-0-0-0
Today's game: at Hamilton, 2:00 PM


Rochester can slip to eighth with a Milwaukee point and Rochester loss. Their ROW of 32 hurts them a lot here. That's how Milwaukee slips by them (MIL ROW: 37). All the teams around them are higher in that regard.

They can make it to 6th with a win and everyone else losing, but again the ROW prevents them from passing Houston (35).

Rockford
Current rank: 9th
Best possible rank: 8th
Worst possible rank: 9th
Stars record against: 2-1-0-1
Today's game: No game


Rockford finished their season with the win at Texas last night and had to have it to keep their hopes alive. All IceHogs fans are going to become the biggest Peoria Rivermen fans you've ever seen today as the Ads must lose in regulation for the Hogs to have a playoff berth. If the Ads take it to OT, they will clinch their spot. If Milwaukee loses in regulation, Rockford slides into eighth thanks to the second tiebreaker, season series points (15 v. 11).

Oklahoma City
Current rank: 6th
Best possible rank: 5th
Worst possible rank: 8th
Stars record against: 4-7-0-1
Today's game: v. Houston, 4:00 PM


This one didn't seem possible, but there's actually a chance. If Milwaukee and Rochester win but OKC loses in regulation, the Barons will slip to eighth. Despite being tied on points, Milwaukee would again have the tie break on ROW (37 or 36 v. 35).

The Barons are playing Houston head to head and could pass them with a regulation win, which is one way they get to fifth. If they win in OT, they will tie with Houston on points but have a better ROW and also move to fifth. If they win in a shootout, their ROW will not increase and they will be tied at 35. Houston will maintain fifth if that is the case thanks to a 16-9 series points record this season.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Stars Give Up Three Goal Lead, Lose 5-3 in Season Finale

Kevin Connauton had the opening goal in tonight's game. (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
There's just something about the matchup between the Stars and IceHogs that turns every game into a high scoring, come from behind affair. Tonight was no different as the Stars gave up a 3-0 lead to fall 5-3 in their regular season finale. Amazingly, it was the fourth straight game in the season series between the two where the home team dropped a three goal lead to lose.

"We just didn't play well enough," said Coach Desjardins. "[Rockford] played with desperation. We have to defend better; we gave them too many chances, and that's not what we do."

The game had a combined 101 shots, 54 of those coming off the sticks of Rockford skaters.

"You can't give up [54] shots at home," said Luke Gazdic, who scored his fourth of the season in the game. "We need to talk in the zone and have communication. They just worked us."

Texas didn't clear out in front of Cristopher Nilstorp, who faced a season high in shots. The number of quality chances Texas was able to generate compared to the IceHogs was part of the issue.

"We didn't put up much on Simpson for quality chances," said Desjardins. "We had a few late but not until they got up on us."

Despite the loss, Texas did clinch the top seed in the West today with a Toronto loss. Veteran Francis Wathier added, "We can't perform like we did tonight in the playoffs. We'll be out in three games."

The game's first goal came unexpectedly as Kevin Connauton collected a Radek Faksa faceoff win and dumped it in from center ice. The puck was misjudged by Henrik Karlsson and slipped past him for the 1-0 lead.

The Stars poured more on the IceHogs in the second as two quick goals gave Texas a 3-0 lead. Scott Glennie went first just 22 seconds in. The rebound goal off the initial shot of Dowling was shortly followed by Gazdic's tally. Curtis McKenzie was trying to slip the puck across the slot to Faksa, but the puck was deflected straight to the stick of Gazdic, who made no mistake in finding the net for the 3-0 lead.

From there, it was all IceHogs. Kent Simpson relieved Henrik Karlsson in net for Rockford and had a dazzling 32 save performance for the win.

"We had the game on the line and our foot on their throats," said Gazdic. "We couldn't put it away."

Adam Clendening went first, collecting a botched clearing attempt and scoring on a doubly-screened Nilstorp. Captain Martin St. Pierre made it 3-2 early in the third period with another unassisted goal. Just 43 seconds later, Clendening found Svendsen completely uncovered on the left wing side. Svendsen bang home the puck into the empty net for the three all tie.

Ben Smith polished off the night's scoring with two more as Texas lost just their third game all year after trailing in the second intermission.

Obviously this was not the same team that Texas will ice when they start the playoffs against a yet-to-be-decided opponent later this week. The Stars scratched Morin and Fortunus to rest them and are hoping for the recovery of injured players such as Sceviour and Ritchie.

Still, it's a motivational point for their Coach: "It shows we have work to do if we want to do well in the playoffs."

Tonight's lines:
Hedden-Dowling-Glennie
Sonne-Vause-Cameron
Gazdic-Petersen-McKenzie
Faksa-Wathier-Todd

Gaunce-Connauton
Oleksiak-Wrenn
Commodore-Morrow

Nilstorp

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
R. Smith, Fraser, Chiasson, Benn (call up)
Morin, Montgomery, Sloan, Fortunus, Nemeth, Jokipakka (scratch)
Sceviour, Ritchie (injured)

Tonight's attendance was 6,300.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - April 20 2013

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Rockford IceHogs

Texas Stars
43-21-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
v.Rockford IceHogs
41-31-2-1, 85 pts
#9 Western Conference
April 20th at 7:00 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

While the Stars are concerned about getting a point to clinch the top seed, their opponents, the Rockford IceHogs, are playing tonight to make it into the playoffs period. If they do, they could be a first round opponent of the Stars. This is the last game of the season for both teams.

Rockford currently sits in the ninth seed despite winning seven of their last eight games and many of those being against teams around them in the standings.

Through those eight games, they've outscored their opponents 34-21. That includes two blowouts 7-3 and 9-4. That nine goal effort was last night in San Antonio as the Rampage gave up four goals in the third period.

In the past, Texas has rested players in the last few games of the season before playoffs. Coach Desjardins isn't taking that route.

"We don't plan on resting anyone. We weren't going to [regardless of the Houston loss]. It's a full season, and you've got to play every game."

The guess would be that Campbell takes the start tonight. Karlsson is likely to go from Rockford as Hutton is in Chicago currently. Karlsson played last night in San Antonio.

Stars injury/call up report:
R. Smith, Fraser, Chiasson, Benn (call up)

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

Friday, April 19, 2013

Houston Slips By Texas One Final Time 4-3

Joe Morrow's fifth of the year wasn't enough to get Texas past Houston one last time. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
In the last regular season game between the two, Texas and Houston had a classic back and forth battle with the Aeros finishing on top 4-3 in regulation.

"We knew they were going to come out strong," said captain Maxime Fortunus. "It was a game they really needed. We always have good games against Houston."

Fortunus was alluding to Houston's need to clinch their playoff berth, which they did with the victory over the Stars this evening. Texas only lost by one but never held the lead in the game, constantly battling back from one goal deficits to tie the contest.

"Once you get back, you have to keep it," said Coach Desjardins. "We turned it over a couple of times. I don't think we had enough desperation in our game. We thought it was just going to happen. It doesn't just happen; you have to work for it."

The Stars are still in search of the top seed in the West as Toronto won tonight to keep their hopes alive of surpassing Texas. A Marlies loss or Texas win or overtime loss will clinch that top seed for the Stars.

"The number one seed is the goal," said Fortunus. "You work all year to be on top."

Cristopher Nilstorp took the loss for Texas, stopping 26 of 30 shots on net. Josh Harding got the win in his first of two conditioning starts for the Aeros, stopping 33 of 36.

Houston struck first early as Dan DaSilva roofed a rebound over Nilstorp for the 1-0 lead. The Stars answered back a few minutes later as Justin Dowling netted his 16th of the year, a delightful wrister from the top of the right wing circle that glided past Harding and into the net. The score was set at one all after twenty minutes with Texas leading shots 14-13.

Chad Rau started his two goal night in the second period with a power play goal unassisted through the five hole of Nilstorp. Exactly one minute later, the see saw continued with Joe Morrow scoring his fifth on the season, polishing off a bouncing puck to tie things at two.

Texas had a chance to go ahead 3-2 with a power play midway through the period, but instead it was Houston taking advantage. Chad Rau collected the puck at the point and began to break out. Jamie Oleksiak hesitated on his decision whether to pinch and force the play or back up and play it safe. That hesitation cost Texas as Rau danced around Oleksiak unimpeded and Morrow didn't have a chance to catch up to the hard skating Rau. The Aeros' center scored his second of the night and sixteenth of the season shorthanded.

The Stars got their tying goal to open the third. Francis Wathier was almost caught by surprise as his attempt on net caught Harding unawares and went five hole for the three all marker. Fortunus collected his second assist of the night on the play. It was an old school goal as Travis Morin completed the scoring line; all three players have been with Texas since the first season.

Houston's game winner came off a turnover in the third. Chad Rau pinched the puck from the Texas fourth line and sent McMillan in for the 4-3 goal. There was a lengthy review of the goal, however, as Houston appeared to interfere with Nilstorp's ability to play the puck.

Fortunus repeated the ref's explanation, "The goalie was out of the crease so that was a fair play. I asked him to look at a hand too. They reviewed it and didn't see it."

The Stars couldn't pull off one last comeback to get that needed point. Despite the last 72 seconds 6-on-5, Houston won the final regular season match-up between the two teams.

Texas is in action for their final game of the regular season tomorrow as they host the Rockford IceHogs.

Tonight's lines:
Sonne-Morin-Sceviour
Hedden-Dowling-Glennie
Gazdic-Petersen-Wathier
Todd-Faksa-McKenzie

Gaunce-Connauton
Oleksiak-Nemeth
Fortunus-Morrow

Nilstorp

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
R. Smith, Fraser, Chiasson, Benn (call up)
Vause, Cameron, Montgomery, Sloan, Commodore, Wrenn, Ritchie, Jokipakka (scratch)

Desjardins on the fourth line: "It was a tough night for them. They were on for a couple goals. One was a turnover but outside of that they played OK."

Tonight's attendance was 5,416.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Houston - April 19 2013

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Houston Aeros

Texas Stars
43-20-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
v.Houston Aeros
38-25-5-5, 86 pts
#5 Western Conference
April 19th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Despite holding on to the five seed for quite a while now, the Iowa Wild Houston Aeros are still not technically in the playoffs yet. They can change that with a win against the Stars tonight in Cedar Park. Texas, meanwhile, can lock up the first overall seed in the Western Conference with at least a point against the Aeros.

There's no love lost between these two clubs, as Mathieu Tousignant and Carson McMillan demonstrate in a bout from the 2010-11 season. (Credit: Houston Aeros)
Each club has something to fight for tonight, and it should be a battle. Both of these clubs look to be playoff bound on the upswing. The Aeros have won five of their last six despite the rotation of goaltenders that they have going after the recall of Darcy Kuemper and trade of Matt Hackett. Journeyman Jeff Deslauriers, who you may remember from his time with the Barons in their inaugural season, played two games and then got injured. That is apparently, a predictable occurrence in Houston, as T3I reported.

To fill the gap, they signed Mike Condon, who started and won his first two pro games last week. However, he likely won't face Texas tonight. Josh Harding is down from Minnesota on a conditioning assignment and is expected to start two of the Aeros' games this weekend. What a better way to get him back into shape than a game against number one Texas.

Also on the radar for Texas should be Mathew Dumba. The Wild first-round pick defenseman was just signed on an ATO after completing his WHL career with the Red Deer Rebels. Dumba was the seventh overall pick in 2012, just six ahead of the Texas Stars' Radek Faksa. It's unclear if either plays, but it wouldn't be surprising.

Finally, on a serious note, this is the last time the Stars will ever play this incarnation of the Houston Aeros. These two clubs have absolutely battled it out every night they've matched up. You know if it's a game against Houston, everyone brings their all. Over four season, these two teams have played each other forty-seven times. If you're one for sign making, perhaps a "We'll miss you, Houston" sign wouldn't be out of line.

Stars injury/call up report:
R. Smith, Benn, Fraser, Chiasson (call up)
Nemeth (injured)

Website: aeros.com
Blog (official): Pilot to Gunner
Blog (unofficial): The Third Intermission
Twitter: @Houston_Aeros
Twitter: @aero_joe (play-by-play)
Twitter: @TheJoshFisher (PR)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Texas Adds C Daine Todd on Amateur Tryout

The Stars picked up an unexpected amateur tryout this afternoon with the addition of centerman Daine Todd. Todd captained Coach Willie Desjardins' Medicine Hat Tigers squad from 2006-08, winning the WHL championship in 2004 and 2007.

After juniors, Todd continued in hockey while pursuing his education at the University of New Brunswick. He missed the entire 08-09 season due to injury, but he has played four years since. The Varsity Reds won the 2011 and 2013 CIS University Cup during his time there. Todd scored the game winning goal in the 2013 championship game. He has been to NHL prospect camps with Phoenix and Tampa Bay. Todd studied engineering at UNB and was recognized as an Academic All-Canadian.

This seems more like a black ace signing, given the depth Texas has up the middle. For example, centerman Radek Faksa would be a more likely choice if players previously on the roster could not dress for playoff games. Regardless of whether he plays, this is a pretty good signing in my opinion. Todd has won multiple championships at each level he's been at. That sort of influence around the locker room is just good to have.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the Dallas Stars, announced today that center Daine Todd has signed an amateur tryout contract.

Todd, 26, completed his senior season at the University of New Brunswick of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference, where he recorded 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) and 28 penalty minutes in 28 regular season games. The Stettler, Alberta native led the Varsity Reds to the school's third consecutive AUS Championship and then the 2013 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) University Cup as the CIS National Champions, the fifth in school history. He scored the game-winning goal in the championship game as UNB beat St. Mary's University 2-0 on March 17, 2013 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Todd played four years at UNB, where he appeared in 85 career CIS games and recorded 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) and 80 penalty minutes and played in 31 career CIS playoff games, tallying 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) and 44 penalty minutes. He held UNB win three AUS Championships (2011, 2012, 2013) and two CIS University Cups (2011, 2013).

The five-foot-ten, 185-pound center is reunited with Stars head coach Willie Desjardins after spending five seasons together (2003-2008) with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Todd played in 234 career WHL games for Medicine Hat, scoring 153 points (54 goals, 99 assists) and 105 penalty minutes. He helped the Tigers win the WHL Championship in 2004 and 2007, serving as the team captain for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, which included a trip to the 2007 Memorial Cup. In 50 career WHL playoff games, Todd posted 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) and 26 penalty minutes.

Idaho Steelheads Report: Previewing the Ontario Reign


Hubert Labrie (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern gives us a look ahead at the Ontario Reign, second round opponent for the Steelheads.

The Idaho Steelheads defeated the Colorado Eagles (St Johns Ice Caps) last Friday night in a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory as Andrew Carroll got the game-tying goal with a nice deflection on the power play with just under three minutes remaining and then scored the game winner and series clinching goal just 1:40 into the extra frame. Chase Schaber continues to come up big in pressure situations as he and Tyler Gron worked a good cycle before Schaber made the pass out front to Carroll for the slam dunk goal.

Bonus Hockey
The Steelheads hosted three games in the first round and all 3 of those games resulted in overtime. Interestingly enough, despite the extra periods, the teams only played about one extra period of hockey, in terms of minutes, during the length of the series. In game one the Steelheads scored less than a minute in to win that game. Game two saw the Eagles score with about 2:30 minutes left and as mentioned the Steelheads scored 1:40 into OT in game 6.

The Steelheads have now advanced to the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs 4 straight years. The last time they got out of the second round was the 2009-2010 season when they made a run to the Kelly Cup Finals.

Waiting for the Steelheads in the second round (Western Conference Semi-Finals) are the second seeded Ontario Reign (Manchester Monarchs). The Reign swept the Utah Grizzlies in 4 games to advance to the second round and only allowed a total of 6 goals over those 4 games. They scored a total of 16 goals in those same 4 games.

The Steelheads went 5-3-1 against the Reign during the regular season. They were 3-1 at home and 2-2-1 on the road. Those are great records considering that the Steelheads will have to start on the road for games 1 & 2 this Friday & Saturday before coming back to Boise for game 3, 4 & 5 (if nec.). By the time the second round starts, Ontario will have been off for 12 days and the Steelheads will have had 6 days off.

Top First Round Performances:
Ontario:
8 Players registered at least 1 goal
Kyle Kramer 2g 5a 7 points
Derek Couture 1g 5a 6 points
C.J. Stretch 5g 0a 5 points (Currently in OKC with the Barons)

Nick Ebert (D) 2g 2a 4 points +6
Matt Register (D) 0g 2a 2 points +4
Brock Sheahan (D) 0g 0a 0 points +3

Jean Francois Berube 4gp 4W 0L 1.46 GAA .939 sv %

Idaho: 
12 Players registered at least 1 goal
Adrian Foster 2g 6a 8 points
Tyler Gron 3g 4a 7 points
Austin Smith 5g 1a 6 points
Austin Fyten 2g 4a 6 points

Matt Case (D) 1g 5a 6 points +2
Gord Baldwin (D) 0g 1a 1 point +3
James Isaacs (D) 0g 0a 0 points +4

Tyler Beskorowany 4gp 3W 0L 2.38 GAA .911 sv %
Josh Robinson 3gp 1W 1L 1OTL 4.06 GAA .888 sv %

Power Play:
Ontario went 3 for 21 good for 14.3%
Idaho went 4 for 23 good for 17.4 %

Penalty Kill:
Ontario went 15 for 15 good for 100%
Idaho went 20 for 26 good for 76.9 %

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Texas Stars Storm Back to Win in Shootout 3-2

Almost nothing fazed Dov Grumet-Morris tonight, despite the final result. (Credit: Darren Abate/pressphotointl.com)
Texas showed why they are leading the West with their comeback performance in San Antonio tonight. After allowing the first goal and trailing 2-1 late in the third, the Stars scored a power play goal off the stick of Travis Morin and persevered through overtime and the shootout to win in the skills competition.

The story of the game was the play of San Antonio goalie Dov Grumet-Morris. Texas put a total of 50 shots on the Rampage net. However, Grumet-Morris, the same Rampage tender who was pulled in Sunday's game after ceding five goals on seventeen shots, would not give in. He earned first star honors stopping 48 of those 50.

With the win, Texas moves their magic number for clinching the West to just one point. A point in any of their next two games or a loss of any kind by the Toronto Marlies, who still have three games left, will clinch the top seed for the Stars. Also with the win, Texas moved their record when allowing the first goal to 21-16-5-1. They also set their final record against San Antonio at 10-0-1-1 for the season.

Cristopher Nilstorp stopped 13 of the just 15 shots on his net in his first action since reassignment.

San Antonio struck first in this one in a bit of unluckiness for the Stars. The initial shot from Rheault deflected off Tyler Sloan's skate and onto Nilstorp's net. While the Texas tender had the initial deflection handled, the rebound bounced to Jared Combs, who collected his fifteenth of the season.

Texas pounded the Rampage net with fifteen shots each in the first and the second periods. This compared to just 11 eleven shots for San Antonio in the same span. After forty minutes, it was Dov Grumet-Morris keeping the Stars off the board because they were not without chances.

The Stars would break through DGM in the final period as a wild scramble in front of the net yielded Brett Sonne's first goal as a Star. After the initial shot was tipped by Morin, Connauton and Sonne had chances at the rebounds. Sonne's goal at the 32 second mark of the third tied the game at one.

That score didn't last long as the Rampage came back to regain their lead five minutes later. Jared Gomes tipped the point shot of John Lee through traffic to earn the 2-1 mark.

Late in the period, Jon Rheault took an ill-advised slashing penalty behind the play. On the ensuing power play, Texas took advantage. Colton Sceviour had the initial shot and Travis Morin cleaned up the rebound, knocking and bouncing puck off the ice and over DGM for the two all tie.

The stunned Rampage and the surging Stars would head to overtime. The best chance of the extra period came when Justin Dowling stormed the net one-on-one with John Lee but put the puck right into the chest of the San Antonio tender.

Dowling would redeem that chance in the shootout as he scored five hole and Sceviour went forehand-backhand to score on two of the five attempts for Texas. Cristopher Nilstorp stopped four of five to seal up the win.

Tonight's lines:
Sonne-Morin-Sceviour
Hedden-Dowling-Glennie
McKenzie-Vause-Cameron
Gazdic-Petersen-Wathier

Gaunce-Connauton
Oleksiak-Morrow
Fortunus-Sloan

Nilstorp

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
R. Smith, Fraser, Chiasson, Benn (call up)
Montgomery, Nemeth, Commodore, Wrenn, Ritchie, Jokipakka, Faksa (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 6,732.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at San Antonio - April 16 2013

Texas Stars Coach Desjardins Earns Well-Deserved AHL Coach of Year Honors

Coach Desjardins has one more reason to smile today. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars) 
A full 365 days ago, the troubling 2011-12 season came to an end for the Texas Stars. They missed the playoffs for the first time in their history. They didn't really have a team direction. Their systems were all over the place. The coaching staff was let go.

Fast forward to today and Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins has just been named the Louis A.R. Pieri Award winner for 2012-13; he's the AHL's coach of the year.

For league observers, it really isn't surprising. The most obvious part of the puzzle is that Texas went from worst to first in the West. Next, take a look at this roster. The Stars had an abundance of rookies and a massive amount of roster flux between the end of the lockout and the trade deadline. Somehow, they are still having success.

The Daily Report shows you more. When Texas leads after two, they flat lock it down. They have a 30-2-0-1 record in that situation and those two regulation losses didn't come until two weekends ago, the first two games with all the new players from the trade deadline. The Stars got back on track after that with seven of eight possible points in their next four games.

Finally, you can see it on the ice and in postgame interviews. This club has bought in 100% to Desjardins' methodology. Last year, no one was ever on the same page about the systems that they were playing. This year, there has been no doubt.

There was a little bit of friction at the beginning of the season as they learned and grew, but once they all got on the same page, it was obvious. Texas rocketed from a bumpy .500 start to 16-11-3-2 at the New Year. Even after roster turnover due to the NHL lockout, Desjardins' club won 10 of 12 in January and collected a point in one of those losses. Texas surged to first place and hasn't relinquished it since.

New players coming in see that the system works and buy in immediately. How else would you be able to overcome the big changes that Texas endured two weeks ago? Desjardins took it in stride, commenting that it would be easy to blame the two losses on that. He refused to take that easy route.

This is a scary club for opponents to play. They have been circled on everyone's calendar as a 'big' game since December, for sure. And still, they have a better than .500 record when allowing the first goal. They barely ever give up the lead when they do get it. They can play defense when it's called for, winning 1-0 or 2-1. They can beat you with goals, too, winning 7-6 or 8-2.

Whatever is called for, Coach Desjardins has been able to bring it out in his club. For that, he is the AHL's Coach of the Year. It is a well-deserved honor.

Radek Faksa Expected To Join Texas Soon, Could Play


UPDATE: Dallas made this news official this afternoon.

The always newsworthy Mark Stepneski tweeted out the above this morning. Center Radek Faksa, Dallas's 2012 first round pick, is expected to join the Texas Stars this week. It seems like more of a black ace assignment on the face of it.

However, Texas could clinch the top seed in the conference tonight. Texas has done that in prior playoff years as well. If that happens, I would bet on the club resting key players and veterans this weekend. That means players like Jyrki Jokipakka, Curtis McKenzie and even Faksa could get significant ice time.

More information as it becomes available.

Gameday Preview: Stars at San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars
42-20-5-6, 95 pts
#1 Western Conference
atSan Antonio Rampage
29-36-2-6, 66 pts
#14 Western Conference
April 16th at 7:00 PM
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

UPDATE: Texas received Cristopher Nilstorp back on assignment from Dallas today. Josh Robinson was assigned to Idaho in turn.

UPDATE 2: Reilly Smith recalled.

Much of the same can be said about tonight's game as could be said about Sunday's. Texas has to be hoping that the effort is the same as well. Their 8-2 drubbing of the Rampage tied a franchise record for goals in a game.

The Stars have a chance to secure a near-perfect record against San Antontio tonight. Texas has gotten at least a point in every one of 12 games against the Rampage this season, going 9-0-1-1.

Thanks to that play, the Stars are in a position to wrap up the top spot in the conference with three points in the next three games. They can wrap it up tonight with help from the OKC Barons, who are playing in Toronto. The Marlies, currently in second place, are the only team left that can catch Texas in the West. The following scenarios will lock up the division for Texas tonight:
  • Texas regulation win AND Toronto loss of any kind
  • Texas OT/SO loss AND Toronto regulation loss.
So keep an eye on the Barons and Marlies game tonight, which is in Toronto, starts at 6 PM Central and will be completed before the end of the Stars' game.

Stars injury/call up report:
R. Smith, Fraser, Chiasson, Benn, Nilstorp (call up)
Nemeth (injured)

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

Monday, April 15, 2013

Texas Adds Jyrki Jokipakka, Has Nine Active Defensemen

Jokipakka (Credit: Dallas Stars)
In a bit of a delayed story here, Texas added defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka late last week. The Dallas draft pick is under contract to the NHL club and is therefore a reassignment, not an amateur tryout. Either way, he is eligible for postseason play with the Texas Stars.

It's questionable at this point whether he would be participating though. Texas has nine defensemen active on their roster with his addition, not including Benn, currently in Dallas, and Nemeth, who is still out with lingering effects of his injuries. With so much experienced talent in front of him, I would hesitate to think that Lidster would choose Jokipakka over any of the other defenseman he has 'gone to war with' over the past months.

That being said, Jokipakka will be in Texas next season, so he is clearly the start of a black aces crew that will be with Texas throughout the playoffs. Black aces are players on the roster who are around to pracrice Brock Montgomery also appears to be included in the that group. I would also bet that Curtis McKenzie, just recently signed to an entry level contract, is less likely to get ice in the playoffs and may be more of a black ace too.

Here's the release
The Texas Stars, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the Dallas Stars, announced today that Dallas has reassigned defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka (pronounced YUHR-kee yoh-kih-PAH-kah) to Texas from Ilves Tampere of the SM-liiga in Finland.

Jokipakka, 21, appeared in 59 games, recording 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) and 20 penalty minutes this season for his hometown club, Ilves Tampere of the SM-liiga, the top division in Finland. The Tampere, Finland native has played in 159 SM-liiga games, all with Ilves, scoring 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) and posting 56 penalty minutes. Jokipakka represented Finland at the 2011 IIHF Under-20 World Championships in Buffalo, New York, tallying three points (1 goal, 2 assists) and 4 penalty minutes in six games as he helped Team Finland reach the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Russia. The six-foot-three, 193-pound defenseman was drafted by Dallas in the seventh round (195th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Jokipakka signed a three-year entry level contract with Dallas on June 14, 2012.