Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pond Hockey Club Set to Host Leagues, Charity Tournament Next Month

Center ice at the new rink, The Pond Hockey Club.
It's been a long time coming, but Pond Hockey Club GM Jerry Taylor is excitedly anticipating the sounds of skate blades cutting up Austin's newest hockey rink near 183 and Mopac next month.

A tour through the facility reveals that there is much work to do on some of the rooms around the ice surface, but the 'pond' ice surface itself is mostly ready for action.

Taylor gave me a tour of the new facility on Wednesday morning, as nearly a dozen contractors and subcontractor worked feverishly to help ensure the rink can acquire its temporary certificate of occupancy from the Austin fire marshal and get the building in shape for its first planned events in the coming weeks.

The long-term goal for the facility and for hockey in Austin is to prepare its youth program to send players to Division I programs across the US and even into the juniors system in Canada. To get there, Taylor says, "the ultimate goal is to get triple-A teams at every level in the Austin area, not just midget but all across the age groups." Along the way, The Pond has many built-in amenities and activities planned to reach that goal.

Not what Austin is used to

The Pond will have all the usual items you would find in a hockey rink, including four locker rooms, to allow back-to-back games, and skate sharpening facilities. The rink will also have a vending machine in lieu of a pro shop for items such as tape, laces and wax. A women's only locker room is also under construction.

What sets The Pond apart is the off-ice facilities that the rink will include. A skatemill, and shooting lanes and shooter-tutor areas (both with synthetic ice) will complement a dry-land training area designed around the building key compentencies for maturing hockey players including explosiveness and agility. All of this is upstairs overlooking the ice surface.

Immediately below the training area, there is a climate-controlled 'warm-viewing' room for parents. This room and another 'coaching' room will feature a live video feed of the ice, allowing parents to watch action all over the ice from the warm room or allowing coaches to review game tape, which will be recorded.

A lot of work was done to ensure that The Pond is financially sustainable moving forward. The prospect of keeping a rink at 55 degrees during an Austin summer is a costly venture if not planned for properly. The walls are specially made to keep in the cool as much as possible with vapor-lock and radiant barriers. The club also invested in a state-of-the-art dehumidifier to keep the air crisp at minimal cost.

Panoramic view of The Pond.
Changing the pace with rule changes

The smaller ice surface will have new and very different rules to keep the promise of increased touches and shots for every player. Overall, the ice surface is shorter lengthwise and every dimension was changed proportionally from there except for the distance from the end boards to the goal line, which stayed at eleven feet. For example, the faceoff circles are now 22 feet in diameter instead of the normal 25.

Teams will play two 25-minute run-clock periods. To keep the action going, the play will barely ever stop. Minor penalties will be gone, replaced instead with penalty shots where all players can pursue as long as they start behind the far blue line. When goalies cover the puck, attacking players must individually tag up at the blue line but can turn right back around to forecheck once they have. 

Even when a goal is scored, the goalie and defending team must fish the puck out of the net while the attacking team tags up at the red line and then is allowed to attack again. If the puck goes out of play but then comes back in (off the roof or off the netting and back in) play won't stop either. There is no doubt this is going to be a fast-moving game.

Getting ready for tournament and league play

The first event open to the public, a charity tournament benefiting sled hockey teams in Austin, is planned for September 14th. Players of all levels are welcome to come out and join the event, details for which can be found here.

After the 14th, the rink plans to host its first leagues starting September 19th with C league. Leagues are envisioned to contain 4-6 teams consisting of ten players and a goalie each. Each team will play ten games and get a single playoff game. Another benefit is the set schedule for games. C league will always play games on Thursdays while A and B will play on Sunday. The bring-your-own-team mixed league is anticipated to play on Saturday.

Taylor anticipates opening registration for the fall season sometime the week of September 4th.

You can learn more about The Pond at their website, pondhockeyclub.com.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Texas Stars Add Depth with Goalie Pat Nagle, Defenseman Etienne Boutet

(Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
The Texas Stars announced the signing of two players this afternoon, both likely to head to the Idaho Steelheads. Third-year goaltender Pat Nagle was signed and will man the pipes in Idaho with fellow Texas signee Josh Robinson, a second year man. Defenseman Etienne Boutet out of the QMJHL, whose signing was announced by his junior team in March, was officially announced by Texas as well.

Texas GM Scott White continues to add to the depth of the Stars farm system with these two signings. Nagle, a Ferris State grad, played two seasons with the Florida Everblades. Florida won the ECHL championship in 2011-12 with Nagle splitting playoff starts with John Muse, who fans will know from AHL Charlotte. Nagle's stats were solid but not remarkable in his time in Florida with GAAs of 2.87 and 3.02 and SV%s of .905 and .904. He did have winning records both seasons though for a combined mark of 34-23-6.

Secondly, Boutet is a French-Canadian player out of the QMJHL. He totaled 28-85-113 in 289 games of work over four seasons with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Rimouski Oceanic and the Gatineau Olympiques. He also participated in Dallas training camp in 2010 and the Traverse City tournament that year as well. He is preliminarily setup to play in Idaho.

In a final bit of news, the Idaho Steelheads announced the signing of defenseman Carl Sneep today. Sneep finished his 2012-13 season with the Stars but in the pressbox instead of on the ice. It's an interesting case for the work that Steelheads GM Brad Ralph and Scott White have done together to sign both Sneep and Vause to ECHL deals.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Texas Stars 2013-14 Schedule Features Fewer 3-in-3s, All Western Teams

Cristopher Nilstorp (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League and the Texas Stars have released the club's 2013-14 schedule. The 76-game schedule features all Western Conference opponents including newcomers Iowa and Utica six and two times respectively.

Texas will have the good fortune of two seven-game homestands while their longest road swing is only five games. That's a reversal of last year, which featured a homestand max of five games and two six-game road trips. The Stars only have two three-in-three weekends this year, down from last year's six. November will be the Stars' busiest month this year with 13 total games. Last year it was December, which featured 14 games in 31 days (not including two days off for Christmas).

Texas will play OKC and San Antonio the most at 12 games a piece. Abbotsford and Charlotte are next up at eight each. After that, all non-division opponents have four games each with the exception of Iowa (6), Rockford (2), Rochester (2) and Utica (2). Rockford is a bit of an odd one to only have two games, but if you're going to get two extra against Iowa, they have to come from somewhere.

An additional twist will be two school games played in the morning. Both are on the road. The Stars only foray into weekday morning games was against Syracuse a few years ago and was not attended well over all.

Overall, it seems like the schedule is more favorable than last year's on the face of it. Of course, you never know until the season starts. Playing a team 12 times could be a blessing (like the Rampage last year) or a curse (like the Barons last year).

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, proud AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars, announced today their complete 2013-14 regular season schedule.

The Stars will open the 2013-14 season with a two-game weekend at Cedar Park Center beginning on Saturday, October 5th at 7:00 p.m. against the Chicago Wolves, followed by a Sunday, October 6th 5:00 p.m. matinee against the Rockford IceHogs. The Stars will close out their 76-game regular season schedule on Saturday, April 19, 2014, at home against the Abbotsford Heat at 7:00 p.m.

Home game start times at Cedar Park Center will continue to be 7:30 p.m. for all weeknight games (Monday-Friday), while Saturdays will start at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays begin at 5:00 p.m., with the exception of the February 2nd game against Oklahoma City, which will start at 1:00 p.m.

Highlights of the home schedule include Texas Stars' Stars & Stripes Weekend presented by Sport Clips, which will be held on November 8th and 9th as the team hosts the Milwaukee Admirals for two games. Pink in the Rink Weekend presented by Cedar Park Regional Medical Center falls on February 21st and 22nd with games against the Charlotte Checkers, the first visit of the season for the West Division rival. The Stars will hold Military Appreciation Weekend presented by Round Rock Auto Group on March 21st and 22nd when the Oklahoma City Barons come to town.

Popular returning promotions include H-E-B Nights (Monday - Thursday); Winning Wednesdays and Texas Lottery Lucky Row Nights (Saturday). The Family Four Pack returns for Saturday games, presented by new partner Coca-Cola. On Friday nights, a favorite promotion has been expanded as the Texas Stars will now present $3 Beer & Wine specials. The Stars' full promotional calendar will be released at a later date.

The Stars' longest homestands of the year will be a pair of seven games stretches, the first spanning from January 22nd vs. Iowa to February 4th vs. Oklahoma City and the second running from March 21st vs. Oklahoma City to April 11 vs. San Antonio. Texas' longest road trips will be three separate five-game spans. Their longest single road trip will be a five-game, ten-day Midwestern trip from October 25th to November 3rd, while the Stars also have a stretch where they play 13-of-17 games away from Cedar Park Center, spanning from February 8th to March 19th.

The Stars' entire 76-game schedule will be against fellow Western Conference opponents. Texas will face their West Division colleagues a total of 40 times, while the remaining 36 games come against the Midwest (20 games) and the North (16 games) Divisions. Their most frequent adversaries this season will be intra-division rivals San Antonio and Oklahoma City, both of whom they will face twelve times, while they will play eight games each against Abbotsford and Charlotte.

Unlike last season, this year Texas will play two school-day morning games, both on the road. The Stars will face the Lake Erie Monsters for a 10:45 a.m. ET faceoff on February 25th at Quicken Loans Arena and then will battle the Abbotsford Heat for a 10:30 a.m. PT start on Tuesday, March 4th at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre. Texas will only have three occurrences of the dreaded three-in-three, consisting of three games in three straight days; they are spread out between once in October, February and April.

The Stars play a fairly balanced home vs. road schedule this year. The first half of the season, which spans from October 5th through January 11th, will see Texas play 18 home games and 20 road games. During the second half, which goes from January 15th to April 19th, has the Stars playing 20 home games and 18 road games. Texas' busiest month of the season will be November when the team plays 13 games, while their busiest day of the week remains Saturday, which totals 25 home and road games.

Stars Schedule Breakdown by Day & Month
Home Games by Day: Mon. - 0, Tue. - 2, Wed. - 8, Thu. - 0, Fri. - 10, Sat. - 14, Sun. - 4.
Road Games by Day: Mon. - 1, Tue. - 6, Wed. - 5, Thu. - 0, Fri. - 7, Sat. - 11, Sun. - 8.
Home Games by Month: Oct. - 5, Nov. - 6, Dec. - 5, Jan. - 7, Feb. - 5, Mar. - 6, Apr. - 4
Road Games by Month: Oct. - 5, Nov. - 7, Dec. - 6, Jan. - 4, Feb. - 7, Mar. - 6, Apr. - 3

Stars Schedule Breakdown by Opponent
West Division (40): ABB - 8, CHA - 8, OKC - 12, SA - 12.
Midwest Division (20): CHI - 4, GR - 4, IA - 6, MIL - 4, RFD - 2.
North Division (16): HAM - 4, LE - 4, RCH - 2, TOR - 4, UTI - 2.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

News and Notes: Vause, Tousignant and Others Find Homes

Mathieu Tousignant (Credit: Chris Jerina)
Not much going on this time of year, but two former Texas Stars found homes for the coming season over the past week: Taylor Vause in Idaho this week and Mathieu Tousignant in Milwaukee last week.

Tousignant was actually one of the original Texas Stars, playing all four years of his pro career in the Dallas system with many games in Idaho. "Tousi" had one truly solid year with the Stars, potting 10-13-23 in his second season and earning 120 PIMs. It was also the only season he played more than 45 games.  In his career with Texas, the forward was either hampered by injury or found himself the 13th or 14th man on a 12-man forward corps. In Milwaukee, he will likely play a similar role to what he was at his best in Austin: bottom-six energy player with a penchant for peskiness.

Taylor Vause (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
Taylor Vause was another player who came to Texas and found himself in a bad numbers situation at times. Thanks to the lockout, Vause was scratched for many games in the early part of the season but never went to Idaho (as he was on an AHL tryout not an SPC for much of the year). He stuck it out and managed to get into 55 games for Texas, mostly in the 2013 calendar year. His speed is likely the mots memorable part of his game for many fans. Vause created plays with his skating by pressuring defenseman on the forecheck or even beating them to iced pucks.

It is very likely that Vause will be back in Cedar Park this fall for training camp in a few weeks. Additionally, I would imagine he is among the first call players for Scott White in case of an injury or Dallas call-up.

Other former players finding homes over the past few weeks include:
  • Aaron Gagnon - HV71 (SHL)
  • Andrew Hutchinson - Zug (NLA)
  • Brandon Segal - Washington (NHL)
  • Dan Spang (Leksand (SHL)
  • Jake Hauswirth - Fort Wayne (ECHL)
  • Mark Fistric - Anaheim (NHL)
  • Matt Stephenson - Missouri (CHL)
  • Mike Berube - Allen (CHL)
Of course, you could stay immediately up to date with all of those changes as they happen if you follow me on Twitter or read up on Facebook.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Texas Announces Two-Game Preseason, Will Host Neutral Site Game Between Division Rivals

Texas celebrates a goal in the 2010-11 preseason (Credit: San Antonio Rampage)
The Texas Stars announced their preseason schedule for the 2013-14 season today. A total of three games will be played at the Cedar Park Center in the presason this year, but only two of those games will feature the Texas Stars. The weekend of September 27th, Texas will host OKC and San Antonio on Friday and Sunday, respectively, and be a neutral site host for a third preseason match between the Barons and Rampage on Saturday.

In case you didn't catch that:
Friday, September 27th - Texas Stars vs. Oklahoma City Barons
7:00 p.m. @ Cedar Park Center 
Saturday, September 28th - Oklahoma City Barons vs. San Antonio Rampage
5:00 p.m. @ Cedar Park Center 
Sunday, September 29th - Texas Stars vs. San Antonio Rampage
5:00 p.m. @ Cedar Park Center
Texas full season ticket package holders will get complimentary tickets to all three games. Partial season ticket holders will receive complimentary tickets to Saturday's game. Friday and Sunday's games will feature normal regular season ticket prices. Saturday's game will be a flat rate of $10 for all visitors.

While all of this is happening in Cedar Park, many Texas Stars will no doubt still be on the roster for the Dallas Stars, who will be competing in their preseason game against Edmonton in Oklahoma City.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, proud American Hockey League affiliate of the Dallas Stars, announced today their 2013-14 pre-season game schedule.

The Stars will play two games during their 2013-14 pre-season schedule, facing off against West Division rivals Oklahoma City and San Antonio at Cedar Park Center. Texas will host the Barons on Friday, September 27th at 7:00 p.m. and then battle the Rampage on Sunday, September 29th at 5:00 p.m. In addition, Cedar Park Center will serve as a neutral site for a pre-season matchup between Oklahoma City and San Antonio on Saturday, September 28th at 5:00 p.m.

Cedar Park Center is offering a special discounted rate of just $10 for each ticket to the neutral site game between Oklahoma City and San Antonio and all Texas Stars ticket package holders will receive a complimentary ticket to that game. Tickets for all three pre-season games will go on sale on Friday at 10:00 a.m. at the Cedar Park Center box office and may also be purchased via Ticketmaster by calling (800) 745-3000, by going online at www.ticketmaster.com or by visiting any local Ticketmaster outlet.

2013-14 Pre-Season Game Schedule (all times CDT)

Friday, September 27th - Texas Stars vs. Oklahoma City Barons
7:00 p.m. @ Cedar Park Center

Saturday, September 28th - Oklahoma City Barons vs. San Antonio Rampage
5:00 p.m. @ Cedar Park Center

Sunday, September 29th - Texas Stars vs. San Antonio Rampage
5:00 p.m. @ Cedar Park Center

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dallas Stars Release Traverse City Roster Full of Texas Stars

Radek Faksa (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The summer plods on and less than a month from now, the Dallas Stars prospects will take the ice in their new threads for the Traverse City Tournament. The roster for that tournament was released yesterday and it features a lot of current and future Texas Stars. Depending on how Alex Chiasson performs in training camp, you could even say it contains some 'former' Texas Stars too.

Here's the roster:

Valeri Nichushkin-Radek Faksa-Brett Ritchie
Cole Ully-Taylor Peters-Alex Chiasson
Nick Paul-Mike Winther-Matej Stransky
Remi Elie-Gemel Smith-Cody Payne
Curtis McKenzie-Jason Dickinson-Matej Paulovic
Brendan Ranford

Patrik Nemeth-John Klingberg
*Etienne Boutet-Jamie Oleksiak
Jyrki Jokipakka-Troy Vance
*Rinat Valiev

Jack Campbell
Maxime Lagace
Philippe Desrosiers

Italicized players are signed to Texas only.
* - Rinat Valiev is the only player here without a contract to Dallas or Texas or drafted by Dallas.

It is very promising to see the Dallas club able to put so many actual prospects on the ice. As Defending Big D notes, most years the Dallas prospects camp roster has been populated with more than a few players that were never going to be considered for an NHL or perhaps even AHL job. This year, only three players round out the roster as not being Dallas contracted or drafted. Two of those have contracts in Texas. Rinat Valiev is the only player in neither category. The 18-year old defenseman played last season in the USHL for the Indiana Ice, scoring 6-7-13 in 36 games and racking 43 PIMs.

The tournament begins September 5th at the tip-top of the Michigan peninsula. If you want to get there from here, the hot tip is to fly through O'Hare. It's not a terribly cheap trip, $414 round trip on Kayak as of right now, but the chance you have to mingle with hockey elite watching in the stands can be worth it for some.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Updating the 'Where Are They Now?' List; APBs for Some Former Texas Stars

Does anyone know where G Todd Ford is?
In case you didn't know, 100 Degree Hockey maintains a 'Where Are They Now?' list of any skater who played at least one game with Texas and every goalie who suited up for a game. Basically, if you've been on a roster sheet, you're on the list.

I spent some time going through and updating that sheet this weekend, finding some very interesting destinations for some players:
  • D Gord Baldwin is going the Matt Stephenson route and signed on for two years with the Sheffield Steelers. The two year term really makes me wonder if Baldwin isn't looking to exactly replicate what Stephenson did and get his MBA at the University of Sheffield while also racking up points in the EIHL. If so, that is great news for him. Hockey isn't a forever job.

  • Several former Stars will be spending time in continental Europe this coming year including Brett Sonne and Michael Forney (Austria), Shawn Weller and Stephen Schultz (Germany), Severin Blindenbacher, Perttu Lindgren and Andrew Hutchinson (Switzerland), Ondrej Roman (Czech Republic) and Mark Derlago (Denmark).

  • Submitted without comment, I will note that after a year in the Italian ice hockey league, G Andrew Raycroft will now play in the second tier of the Swedish ice hockey league.

  • One of those leagues you don't hear about every day, Norway's GET-ligaen, will be the new home for Matt Case. He will lace them up for Lillehammer, home of the 1994 Olympics.
Some other players have retired and still stayed on the radar, including some who moved to coaching (Eric Godard, Brad Lukowich, Landon Wilson). Brent Krahn opened a goalie school in Calgary. Some of the young guns even went back to school (Guillaume Monast and Adrien LeMay).

Others have dropped off the radar. So, here it is. I'm putting out an APB for any of the following hockey players:
  • D Ethan Graham
  • F Scott McCulloch
  • G Todd Ford
  • F Nick Layton
Anyone got a lead?