Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gemel Smith-Led Top Line Headlines 6-3 Texas Victory

Stars move back into playoff spot with big win over San Antonio

Gemel Smith's first goal at the Cedar Park Center (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Heading to the rink today, Gemel Smith had no idea he had a chance at the night he was about to have for the Stars. When he arrived for today's game, the rookie center found out he would be centering the top line between Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie. He cashed in with two goals in the 6-3 victory over the San Antonio Rampage.

"That was my first time," said Smith. "I've never skated on a line with them, not even in practice. It was a great opportunity."

Smith potted his first professional goal against San Antonio on Friday and followed up with two more today. Coach Laxdal praised the young forward for his work over the past month, which set him up for the chance at the top line minutes today.

"He's been playing very well this past month," said Laxdal. "He's hard on the puck down low and has good speed. We thought he could take a step on that line and play more of a puck possession game. If it works out for him to play in the top six, now we have a guy pushing for extra minutes."

Injuries to Justin Dowling and Radek Faksa created the opportunity for Smith. His linemates also had great nights with McKenzie tallying a goal and an assist and Ritchie two goals including the game-winner.

McKenzie had praise for his new centerman as well, "Getting on a first line at this level is huge for him. It weighs on you when you aren't putting the puck in the net, so it's good to see them go in for him."

With the win, Texas finishes their 3-in-3 weekend with four of six possible points and a seventh place spot in the Conference standings.

"Tonight, for the amount of bodies we were down, I thought the guys stepped up," Laxdal continued. "These are games that define the development of your younger players. It was a hard fought game against a big, strong, talented team. It put us just three points back from them. It keeps us in the hunt."

Smith started his torrid night just 23 seconds in. Bobby Butler turned the puck over to Smith in the slot and the forward cashed in on Ellis for the 1-0 lead. It was a result of a strong forecheck that Laxdal called out post game.

Butler got the goal back quickly thereafter. Mike Dalhuisen, who was pressed into service as a forward, took an undisciplined penalty to hand San Antonio a power play. After failing to start a fight, Dalhuisen shoved down a Rampage skater as he made his way off the ice, pulling an interference call.

Dalhuisen made up for it when he drew a cross-checking call on Racine. Curtis McKenzie finished a pinball play with his fourth of the year. Derek Meech and Derek Hulak assisted on the power play goal.

The Stars continued their strong play into the second period, scoring three goals. Garrett Wilson scored on the power play to open the period and tie the game, but then Texas went to work. Scott Valentine got his first AHL goal of the season on a one-timer pass from Matej Stransky. Ritchie scored his fourth in two games through traffic just three minutes later to make it 4-2.

Jesse Blacker brought San Antonio back within one but Smith answered with his second of the night.

"Our team takes pride in driving to the net hard," said Smith. "McKenzie shot the puck and it bounced right out to me."

Brett Ritchie polished off the game with an empty netter in the 17th minute as the Rampage pulled Ellis with over three minutes left in the game.

Texas will take tomorrow off and get back to a skills-based practice on Tuesday. The Stars are next in action on Saturday at Charlotte.

Tonight's lines:
McKenzie-Smith-Ritchie
Ranford-Rallo-Glennie
Hulak-Root-Stransky
Dalhuisen-Peters-Henderson

Oleksiak-Fortunus
Mangene-Meech
Valentine-Gaunce

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Morin, Jokipakka (call up)
Wrenn, Hardowa (scratch)
Dowling, Campbell, Stefishen, Troock, Faksa (injury)
Honka (World Junior)

Justin Dowling and Radek Faksa are day-to-day. Matt Mangene left the game in the third after blocking a shot. He was spitting up blood on the bench and went to the hospital. Nothing further is known at this time.

Tonight's attendance was 4,382.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. San Antonio - December 28 2014

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