Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jussi Rynnas Named Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Every Thursday, 100 Degree Hockey will name the Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week. Lone Star Grille features classic comfort food and Southern dishes less than five minutes from the Cedar Park Center. If you mention the Player of the Week or 100 Degree Hockey on your next visit to Lone Star Grille, your server will take $5 off your order of any two entrees.

Back-to-back player of the week honors are handed out for the first time this season as Jussi Rynnas earns the nod again after a big effort last night to keep the Stars in the contest despite a heavy Rockford shot count. Rynnas stopped 38 of 41 last night and 33 of 36 on Friday. That's a .922 save percentage in the playoff series.

Now the offseason looms for the entire club. Goaltending is a question mark in Dallas, specifically in the backup slot. Rynnas is in pole position for the backup job if he wants it. With another year on his contract with the NHL's Stars, he will enter camp as a favorite to clinch the job if Jim Nill decides to go a similar route as this year. However, if Nill decides to sign a more clear-cut backup in the role, Rynnas would be more likely to return to Cedar Park next year.

That will bring more discussion of what exactly the team is going to do with Jack Campbell and how he will be used in 2015-16. But there's plenty of time to discuss that over the coming five months...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Texas Stars Swept From Calder Cup Playoffs in OT

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Facing tough odds, the Stars gave it all they had through 60 minutes in Rockford. Down 0-2 in their opening round playoffs series, Texas went up 2-1 in the second period and held that lead until the middle of the third period. Jussi Rynnas put up a solid game for Texas but got pelted by 41 shots in regulation.

Stephen Johns ended the Stars season just 23 seconds into the overtime frame. His wrap around goal that saw him enter the zone unmolested and swoop around the net for the winner was his first of the playoffs and the first and only shot of overtime for either team. Jamie Oleksiak had a feeble effort on the play, and it ended up costing the Stars the game.

The defeat marked Texas' first series sweep in franchise history. It was also the first time in 11 years that the defending champion was eliminated in the first round in a sweep.

Rockford opened the scoring on a goofy play that could have defined the night for Texas. A centering pass hit Maxime Fortunus' stick and rainbowed up over Jussi Rynnas. Phillip Danault scored as he swatted the puck past Rynnas for the 1-0 lead.

Devin Shore answered for Texas before the end of the period, scoring his first career postseason goal. The ATO forward swooped in down the right side and befuddled Leighton on the far side. The goal was unassisted, but Greg Rallo was in front distracting Leighton with the possibility of a tip play.

The second period saw Jussi Rynnas and Michael Leighton both step up their games to keep the scoring tight. The two squads combined for 30 shots at the nets in the frame, and only one pierced the armor. Late in the frame, Brett Ritchie's initial shot bounced out for a nice rebound attempt by Scott Glennie. The former first rounder popped the puck around Leighton as he extended his full body length while falling down to reach the puck on the far side and tap it in.

Not to be outdone, the IceHogs thought they'd take a chance at a falling-down goal. After two solid saves by Jussi Rynnas, a defensive zone faceoff proved fatal for Stars' lead. Phillip Danault lifted one over on the oddest play. Danault had eyes in the back of his head on the shot, whacking the puck on the backhand, falling down and facing away from the net. Rynnas lifted his arms trying to stop the chip shot, but it was too late.

Texas will return home to Cedar Park for locker cleanout and exit interviews.

Tonight's lines:
McKenzie-Morin-Ranford
Hulak-Dowling-Ritchie
Rallo-Shore-Glennie
Stransky-Dickinson-Henderson

Meech-Oleksiak
Honka-Nemeth
Fortunus-Gaunce

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Backman, Janmark, Troock, Smith, Ully, Valentine, Mangene, Bystrom, Kiviaho (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 3,905.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Rockford - April 29 2015

Gameday Preview: Stars at Rockford IceHogs, Game 3

Texas Stars
40-22-13-1, 94 pts
#4 Western Conference
atRockford IceHogs
46-23-5-2, 99 pts
#5 Western Conference
Rockford leads 2-0

April 29th at 7:00 PM
BMO Harris Bank Center, Rockford, IL

Well, it's do-or-die time for the defending champs. After Saturday's letdown in Cedar Park, there's no margin for error in Rockford.

The Stars will have to make the decision on what kind of lineup to ice this evening. They went development-heavy on Saturday, and it was to their detriment. Branden Troock, Gemel Smith, Kevin Henderson and Scott Valentine all traded their breezers for slacks. With their backs against the proverbial wall, will those players take the ice tonight?

The Stars haven't won in Rockford since January 21, 2013. Tomas Vincour, Alex Chiasson, Antoine Roussel and Matt Fraser were among the goal scorers in that one. Richard Bachman got the win, and Mathieu Tousignant and Luke Gazdic combined for 6 PIMs. Jace Coyle was plus-1.

So, it was a while ago.

Rockford gets three swings at closing out this series and Texas will need to make some history to get themselves out of the hole. No lower seed in a 2-3 format has come back from down 0-2 since the league instituted the best-of-five first round. Only one team has come back from an 0-2 deficit at all. That would be the 2013 P-Bruins, who lost their home games to Hershey but stole both in the GIANT Center and finished the job on home ice in Game 5.

Stars injury/call up report:
Faksa (season-ending injury)

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Idaho Steelheads Report: End of the Line

(Credit: Allan Picard/Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern recaps the final game of the Steelheads playoff run...

Just like that everything came to a screeching halt. Ryan Hayes had just scored his fifth goal of the postseason at the 17:12 mark of the third period to extend Utah’s lead out to 3-0, and any realistic chance of a comeback went away with that shot.

Igor Bobkov once again made save after save and got some help from the posts in turning aside all 41 shots directed towards him as the Utah Grizzlies defeated the Idaho Steelheads 3-0 to take the first round playoff series by a count of 4-2.

First and foremost, you have to tip your hat to the Grizzlies. When a team is held to as few chances as they had over the course of the six games and find ways to capitalize on a bunch of them, they are doing something right. Make no mistake about it though, outside of maybe Game 2 of this series, the Idaho Steelheads had more chances and better chances. They just lacked a bit of finish, and they had to contend with Igor Bobkov.

The thought coming into the series was that Olivier Roy and Bobkov both had the potential to steal a game or two each. I don’t think anyone saw either one stealing the entire series, which is what ultimately happened here.

It does bear some repeating however, that Idaho didn’t do themselves a bunch of favors in the defensive zone for the better part of this series. At times it was forwards not coming all the way back, other times it was a very aggressive Utah fore-check causing a bad turnover into a high percentage scoring area which would end up in the back of Idaho’s net. Idaho didn’t lack chances in this series. I can think of six direct hits on posts or crossbars over the final three games of the series and a handful of saves that Bobkov made where he literally didn’t see the puck.

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against you and is playing a weird joke just to see if you can continue to get up off the mat and keep driving forward. Two seasons ago Olivier Roy decided that Idaho would not be able to go to the Kelly Cup Finals. Last season Roy was a part of the Aces team which eliminated the Steelheads, and this year Igor Bobkov, easily a top 3 goaltender in the ECHL this year, decided that Idaho needed to go home early. I’m not one to think that there aren’t going to be challenges getting to a championship, but come on, can’t a team catch a bit of a break once in a while?

The Steelheads power play didn’t help them in this series as they were only able to muster one goal with the man advantage. The penalty kill served them well as Utah only ended up with three power play goals. So special teams, one could argue, was a wash in the series. (I know it’s a two goal difference, but it wasn’t like one team ran ahead and hid because of power play goals).

I’m finding this very therapeutic at the moment.

Now that we got that out of the way, Idaho still had a great regular season and while that is hard to put into perspective at the moment, it can’t be thrown out with the bath water as part of an unsuccessful season just because it didn’t end with a Kelly Cup.

Idaho’s 48 wins ties the most in ECHL history, their 102 points was only the second time they hit that mark in the ECHL history. Add in a Pacific Division Championship and that’s not a bad year. There were some individual accomplishments as well. Wade MacCleod was second in league scoring this season and was named to the All-ECHL First Team. Jason Bast was named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team. Plus countless mentions in the weekly and monthly player wards. The entire team had no players that were worse than -5 when it came to plus/minus for the regular season. That at any level is outstanding.

I’m sure I am missing a whole other host of accomplishments for this team for the 2014-15 ECHL season, but when all is said and done, I think this group of players will be remembered as a close knit team, that truly cared about each other right up until the final horn. They never quit, they never mailed it in, and they always continued to fight.

All season long the guys in the room have talked about this being a special group and that they thought they could do something special this season. I don’t know if any of them read this, but if so, you guys did do something special. You brought along, on average, over 4,000 fans per home game on an incredible ride, whether it was putting up 5 goals in a game, or having to pull a win out in overtime. From some (although not many) frustrating losses to exhilarating victories. Whether it was a postgame autograph session, or just taking the time to chat with a couple of fans after the game. This group of guys should be remembered as a fun relaxed group that knew that when the puck dropped it was time to get serious and give 100 percent; and they always did.

The business of minor league sports tells us that we won’t ever see this group of guys skate together again, but man, I wish there was a way to get one more season out of that group in the locker room.

Congratulations to Brad Ralph, Neil Graham and everyone else in the Steelheads organization for a great regular season and thank you for allowing me to be a part of the journey. I’m already looking forward to next season and I can’t wait to see what is in store for the 2015-16 edition of the Idaho Steelheads. The ECHL has already released the schedule and for Idaho, the next season starts on October 16, 2015 with a visit from Rapid City.

Until next season...

John Mulhern is the arena emcee for CenturyLink Arena, home of the Idaho Steelheads, and does on-air work for the Steelheads broadcast in addition to his own Two Sports Nuts podcast. You can also follow John on Twitter @mulhern4.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Idaho Steelheads Report: On the Brink Thanks to Clutch Utah Goalie

(Credit: Steve Conner)
John Mulhern returns once again for his immediate reactions to tonight’s Game 5 between the Idaho Steelheads and the Utah Grizzlies.

Utah behind a four goal outburst in the third period and another brilliant outing by goaltender Igor Bobkov won tonight’s Game 5 by a score of 5-2 to take a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 set for Monday back in Utah.

First Period

Not the worse start for the Idaho Steelheads tonight and really outside of having to kill a couple of penalties and one shift, Idaho had the exact start to the game they needed.

Two penalties early in the game gave Utah some 5-3 power play time plus extended 5-4 time as well, but Steelheads goaltender Chris Rawlings, who was getting his first ECHL playoff start, as well as the penalty killers did their job and help Utah off the board on those chances.

Idaho would get the first goal of the game for the fourth time in the series as Colton Beck would finish a nice transition passing play as Martin Lee forced a turnover at the center ice redline and Jefferson Dahl was able find a streaking Beck who was able to bury the shot at 10:48 of the frame.

One issue that Idaho has had in the series is the quick equalizer goal from the Grizzlies and that happened once again as just 17 second after the Steelheads took the lead, Connor Hardowa was able to get loose at the tip of the right wing circle and beat Rawlings to even the game at one goal apiece.

Another Slow Start Puts Texas Down 0-2 in Series with Rockford

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Two games into the Calder Cup defense and the Stars will face elimination on Wednesday in Rockford. A flat first period compounded into an overall flat effort in general as the IceHogs pasted Texas 4-1 in their own building.

"We have to come out stronger," said captain Maxime Fortunus. "We have to respond better in that aspect of the game."

Texas was already down 2-0 on the scoreboard by the first intermission after volleying just four shots at Rockford's Michael Leighton in the frame. The IceHogs sent 11 shots toward Jack Campbell, who was pierced by two.

The most curious aspect of the game was the depth left in the seats to wear suits and watch the game instead of playing. Scott Valentine, Kevin Henderson and Matej Stransky all saw their names in the scratch column this evening. Instead, Mattias Janmark played just his ninth North American pro game, and Mattias Backman drew in as the seventh defenseman.

Now the Stars have no choice but to sweep in Rockford or be eliminated in the first round for the first time in five years.

Here's the release:
Michael Leighton's 34 saves smothered the offense for the Texas Stars and led the Rockford IceHogs to a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win on Saturday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in front of 4,978 at Cedar Park Center.

Brett Ritchie scored the only goal for Texas off a rebound at 11:58 of the third to close the Stars deficit to 2-1, but Peter Regin buried a power play goal less than five minutes later to pull the IceHogs away for good. Jack Campbell suffered the loss in net, stopping 24 of 27 shots.

The series shifts to Rockford, Ill for Game 3 on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

Garret Ross opened up the game's scoring midway through the first, fighting through a scrum of players and chipping in a puck that slipped through Campbell for his first of the playoffs. With two minutes remaining in the first, Tanner Kero sprung free down the left side and ripped a goal from the circle to make it 2-0 IceHogs.

After a scoreless second, Ritchie added his first of the postseason to cut into the Rockford lead, but that was the only offense the Stars could muster as Leighton settled in to make 30 of his 34 saves in the final two periods overall. Regin's power play strike was from the left circle at 16:17, and Brandon Mashinter added an empty-net goal with just under two minutes to play for his first of the playoffs and third point of the game.

The IceHogs finished 1-for-4 on the power play while the Stars went 0-for-3.

Tonight's lines:
Hulak-Morin-Rallo
McKenzie-Dowling-Ritchie
Ranford-Shore-Glennie
Dickinson-Janmark

Fortunus-Nemeth
Oleksiak-Gaunce
Meech-Honka
Backman

Campbell

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Henderson, Troock, Smith, Ully, Valentine, Mangene, Stransky, Bystrom, Kiviaho (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 4,978.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - April 24 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Idaho Steelheads Report: Utah's Bobkov Steals Game 4 from Steelheads

Jesse Root (Credit: Steve Conner/Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern is back with his almost live article as the Idaho Steelheads returned home for Game 4 against the Utah Grizzlies in the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Friday night. Coming into the game, Idaho held a 2-1 lead in the series off the strength of a Jason Bast overtime goal in game one and a Patrick Cullity overtime goal in game 3.

The Utah Grizzlies defeated the Idaho Steelheads by a final score of 4-1 on the strength of superb goaltending from Igor Bobkov and timely scoring as the Idaho Steelheads directed 43 shots on net to Utah’s 20. The series is now tied at 2-2 with Game 5 set for Saturday night in Idaho.

First Period

The first period ended well for Idaho, but that’s not how it started. Just 1:20 into the first period, the Utah Grizzlies got in on a solid fore-check and caused a turnover and with the quick transition, Ryan Hayes was able to find himself all alone in front of Olivier Roy and he made no mistake burying the chance into the back of the net for a 1-0 Utah lead.

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 2

Texas Stars
40-22-13-1, 94 pts
#4 Western Conference
v.Rockford IceHogs
46-23-5-2, 99 pts
#5 Western Conference
Rockford leads 1-0

April 25th at 7:00 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Texas pretty much has to win this game for a chance to advance to the second round. Last night's third period put the Stars in this hole and they will be looking to improve their discipline and overall composure to even the series at one.

“This is a huge one tonight. We pretty much have to win this one,” Brett Ritchie told Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday morning. “I think we’re looking at this one as a do-or-die, and we’ll give it our best shot.”

As promised, Jack Campbell will get the start for Texas. It looks like Mattias Backman will shuffle out of the lineup for Derek Meech.

Stars injury/call up report:
Faksa (season-ending injury)

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Third Period Letdown Hands Rockford Game 1 Over Stars

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Unfortunately, the third period has been a bugaboo for the Stars agasint the IceHogs this season. That trend continued into the playoffs tonight as Texas ceded three goals in the final frame to lose by a 4-2 mark in the first game of their opening round playoff series.

Spencer Abbott, who has collected a point per game against Texas in his playoff career, continued that trend with two goals tonight at the Cedar Park Center. A third period 5-on-3 goal tied things up and set the stage for a game-winning tally by defensive D-man Kirill Gotovets, only his second career AHL goal of either the regular season or postseason.

The Stars gave the IceHogs two 2-man advantages in the final frame and were really just asking for trouble by putting themselves in that position for a total of over a minute in the frame.

Texas has one last shot at home against the Hogs Saturday before three in Rockford. If they leave Texas down 0-2, they may not make it back to the ice in Cedar Park until October.

Here's the release:
Three third period goals for the Rockford IceHogs was the difference in a comeback win over the Texas Stars to take Game 1 by a 4-2 final on Friday night in front of 4,375 in attendance at Cedar Park Center.

Spencer Abbott scored a pair of power play goals for the IceHogs, including the game-tying marker. Texas picked up goals from Curtis McKenzie and Julius Honka. Jussi Rynnas stopped 33 shots in net for Texas, while Michael Leighton made 33 saves in the win for Rockford.

Game 2 is Saturday night at Cedar Park Center at 7 p.m.

Abbott opened up the game’s scoring with the only goal of the first, snapping a wrist from the slot at 6:23 for his first of the playoffs.

In period two, Curtis McKenzie knotted things up for the Stars at 16:37, finishing off a rebound goal in a scrum at the front of the net with assists from Greg Rallo and Honka.

Honka put Texas in front, 2-1, burying a slap shot from the top of the right circle at 4:24 of the third for his first of the postseason, but the IceHogs would score three straight to overtake the Stars in the win. Abbott added his second of the night from the bottom of the left circle during a two-man advantage at 8:31. Kirill Gotovets tallied the game-winner on a one-timer at 12:19 from a behind-the-net pass by Phillip Danault.

Ryan Hartman added an empty-net goal for the 4-2 final.

The Stars went 1-for-4 on the power play while the IceHogs finished 2-for-6. The win snapped an eight-game playoff losing streak for Rockford.

Tonight's lines:
McKenzie-Morin-Rallo
Ranford-Dowling-Ritchie
Hulak-Shore-Glennie
Henderson-Dickinson-Stransky

Fortunus-Oleksiak
Nemeth-Gaunce
Backman-Honka

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Meech, Troock, Smith, Ully, Valentine, Mangene, Bystrom, Janmark, Kiviaho (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 4,375.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Rockford - April 24 2015

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Rockford IceHogs, Game 1

Texas Stars
40-22-13-1, 94 pts
#4 Western Conference
v.Rockford IceHogs
46-23-5-2, 99 pts
#5 Western Conference
Series tied 0-0

April 24th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

The Texas Stars welcome you to what Coach Laxdal calls "the best time of the year."

For the fifth time in six years, the Stars make the march to the postseason. With their hashtag as #DefendTheCup, Texas has a target on its back. Rockford is looking to claim the title of giant-killer by knocking off last year's champ in the first round.

With the series distance of 950 miles as the crow flies, Texas will start a best-of-five at home for the first time since the rule change came about. Texas missed the playoffs in 2011-12 and then was the top seed the past two seasons. As has been discussed here each of the past two years, it's paramount for the Stars to take these first two games.

If you want a case study in how important it is to win your home games, look no further than last year's debacle in Manchester. The top-seeded Monarchs decided to give up home-ice advantage and start at home. Norfolk managed to steal one game in New Hampshire and then take two in Virginia. With that, the top seed was out. It was shocking, but it showed how important home ice is. Texas needs to leave for Rockford on Monday with a 2-0 lead. That starts tonight.

The Stars have one unanswered question before morning skate and that's who will start in net. Jussi Rynnas and Jack Campbell both finished the year hot, but Coach Laxdal was mum on who will start Game 1 up to this point. He made his decision yesterday and told the starter last night. More will be known at morning skate.

The IceHogs and Stars are going to be a really tough battle. I spent a lot of time earlier this week talking about Texas peaking at the right time. In actuality, both teams are on incredible runs to end the season. Since March 15th, both teams are 13-4. One thing to note for the Hogs is the loss of a few players to black ace duty in Chicago. Goalie Antii Raanta and defenseman Kyle Cumiskey are both with the parent Blackhawks.

The fact that Raanta and Cumiskey are eating popcorn in the United Center press box instead of lacing up against Texas is a big benefit. Michael Leighton is no slouch, but Raanta was 8-1-1 this year with Rockford. If he were available, you'd have to imagine he'd be starting given he's a future NHL goalie for the Hawks.

Stars injury/call up report:
Hulak (probable)
Faksa (season-ending injury)

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

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jussi Rynnas Named Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week

Rynnas sets franchise record for saves with 52 stops in San Antonio
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Every Thursday, 100 Degree Hockey will name the Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week. Lone Star Grille features classic comfort food and Southern dishes less than five minutes from the Cedar Park Center. If you mention the Player of the Week or 100 Degree Hockey on your next visit to Lone Star Grille, your server will take $5 off your order of any two entrees.

So much for easing back in from injury. Despite playing just one game this week, Jussi Rynnas earned the Lone Stars Grille/Player of the Week  honors based on his Friday performance alone. Rynnas got a full workout on Friday, stopping a franchise record 52 shots against the Rampage. He added a win, his 22nd of the season, with the effort.

Rynnas was an unknown for the Stars at the beginning of the season. After the Finn spent a year in Europe, Jim Nill saw fit to pit him against Anders Lindback for the Dallas Stars' backup job. On a one-way deal, Rynnas ended up being the unlucky one, getting sent down to Texas after training camp. He didn't pout or mope like some who've been sent down in the past. On the season, he picked up a 22-6-8 record, which powered the Stars to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.

Now Rynnas is in an interesting spot. In his absence, Jack Campbell played some of his best hockey in his pro career and is giving head coach Derek Laxdal a tough choice of who to start in the playoffs. Rynnas is in a unique situation as well of being on contract for a second year with Dallas also. Jack Campbell is viewed by many as the goalie of the future for the NHL squad. If Rynnas can grab the reins, can he ride that into the NHL backup job this coming season, ceding the Texas net to Campbell as well?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Media Day: Texas Stars Look to Forget Past Woes Against Hogs in Playoff Prep

File photo (Credit: Michael Connell/Texas Stars)
Yesterday's media day brought out the throng of television cameras to the Cedar Park Center, putting the hot lights and wireless mics on the Texas Stars to quiz them about their first round matchup with Rockford.

Much of the conversation obviously centered around the Stars less-than-ideal record against the IceHogs in the season series, 0-3-1.

"Playoffs are a different season," Coach Laxdal reminded everyone. "I've been a part of teams where you don't beat a team in the regular season, and you end up beating them in the playoffs. There are going to be peaks and valleys."

Another reason that the Stars aren't worried about the regular season record is the circumstances of those four games against Rockford. In Laxdal's estimation, this is the first time that the Stars have really had "any depth" against the club. Texas played shorthanded with just 17 skaters in the first game between the two in November. February saw a lineup depleted by callups.

"Right now we're practicing with ten defenseman, so we can plug anyone we want. If we need a physical game, we can plug Scott Valentine in. If we need a puck-moving game, we can plug Matt Mangene in. If you look up front, the addition of Dickinson, Shore [and others], it gives you four lines you can play solidly and allows you to run your bench a little harder if you need to."

To a man, the Stars have put that regular season record behind them. Greg Rallo added, "We've played them tough every game; it's a new battle. Going forward it's a new series and we're going to have to give them our best foot because they are a quality team."

Laxdal believes that adversity the team faced in the early season made them stronger for the playoff battle they are about to face.

Peaking at the right time
Texas is ending the regular season on the upswing of one of the peaks that Laxdal mentioned. Since the All-Star break, when the Stars sat in 10th place in the conference, something clicked for this team that propelled them into playoff position.

"Some teams get together at a certain point of the season," said captain Maxime Fortunus. "Sometimes it happens at the start of the season, sometimes at the end. You know if you do a good thing once, you can do it twice. We've won some games by working hard and that's what we have to do to win."

One of the players that the Stars will need to continue his hot second-half play is Greg Rallo. After a slow start to the season, Rallo set a new personal record for AHL goals at 27 this season.

Rallo said, "Getting back here and re-establishing myself on the power play and playing big minutes that went away from me last year with the way the organization was going in San Antonio and getting that scoring touch back. There is something to that."

He added that a chance to win a cup is exactly the reason why he signed with Texas and the first thing he told Texas GM Scott White last summer.

Laxdal's winning tradition
Derek Laxdal has won everywhere he's been, never missing the playoffs and winning championships in the ECHL and WHL along with the Memorial Cup. "It's like being in the playoffs anywhere else. You have to give them the best advantage to win. You have to be calm because they feed off you."

Rallo recalled his time with Laxdal when they won the Kelly Cup in 2007, "Laxdal hasn't changed much, same sarcasm, same good guy. He's a championship coach. We won in the ECHL and then he won in juniors. He's looking to win here. It's fun playing for him. He keeps you on your toes and I think guys have started to get him and buy into what he's selling."

Who starts in net?
Laxdal was coy about his Game 1 choice, saying he would name the starting tender on Thursday.

Jack Campbell, whose recent great play has made the start a big question mark for Texas, was ready for either to start or for alternating starts.

"Jussi's played great all season and given us a chance to win all season. I feel good in my game and it's a luxury to have two goalies. It gives both goalies a chance to rest. It's nice to get in the groove, but it's a luxury to have two guys who can go in. You never know if someone might get hurt. You always have to be ready."

Skater lineup notes
  • Derek Hulak, who missed both games last weekend, will play this weekend.
  • Mattias Backman appears to be in for at least one game this weekend.
  • Jason Dickinson will play this weekend.
  • Branden Troock looks to be the odd-man out right now.
Practice lines today
McKenzie-Morin-Rallo
Ranford-Dowling-Ritchie
Dickinson-Shore-Glennie
Henderson-Smith-Stransky
Troock-Hulak
Fortunus-Oleksiak
Nemeth-Gaunce
Backman-Honka
Meech-Bystrom
Mangene-Valentine

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tell Me All About It in 100 Degree Hockey 2015 Reader Survey

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
In the few days off between the regular season and the postseason, I wanted to take a few minutes (if you'd please) to get some information from you, the readers, about what you do and don't like about the site and what content I write here.

I've created a pretty short Google form, and I'd love you get your feedback.

Vote in the 100 Degree Hockey Spring 2015 Reader Survey...

Chirp me all you want in the free text boxes! Thanks.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Texas Stars to Face Rockford in Round 1 Starting Friday

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
With only one playoff slot yet to be filled on this last day of the season, Texas already knows who it will play and when. The Stars' cup defense will start against the Rockford IceHogs this Friday.

The IceHogs finished as the fourth seed and will open on the road, as is the rule for teams more than 300 road miles apart in best-of-five AHL series. For more information on that, check the glossary.

Unfortunately, the Stars hold a 0-3-1 record against the Hogs this season. The two clubs have faced each other once before in the playoffs with Texas sweeping Rockford (and goalie Corey Crawford) 4-0 in 2010 en route to the Calder Cup Finals.

The schedule will be as follows:
Game 1: Friday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m., at Cedar Park Center
Game 2: Saturday, April 25 at 7 p.m., at Cedar Park Center
Game 3: Wednesday, April 29 at 7 p.m., at BMO Harris Bank Center
Game 4: Friday, May 1 at 7 p.m., at BMO Harris Bank Center*
Game 5: Saturday, May 2 at 7 p.m., at BMO Harris Bank Center*
*if necessary

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Stars Close Regular Season With 4-3 OT Victory, Look to Playoffs Ahead

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
In a game that was ultimately meaningless in the standings, the Texas Stars boosted their confidence heading into the playoffs with a 4-3 OT victory over division-rival San Antonio.

"It was an exciting game for the fans," said Coach Laxdal, referring to the sellout crowd for the finale. "It was a good building and atmosphere, and hopefully we can have that in the playoffs."

With playoffs on the horizon, Texas rested many veteran players and some who were banged up. That gave a youthful vibe to the lineup. Jason Dickinson, fresh off his junior career, had two assists, each on Matej Stransky goals.

The OT hero was Brendan Ranford, a relatively seasoned player in the lineup tonight. He tallied his 18th of the year in the 3-on-3 segment of the overtime frame. It was a good goal for Ranford to get after some OT frustration this year.

Laxdal added, "[Ranford] probably missed four or five empty nets in overtime all year, so it's only fitting."

To add to the frustration, Ranford had a shot undergo a long review just a few minutes earlier in the OT, but the final call was no goal.

"I didn't really know what happened," said Ranford. "I thought it hit both posts, but it was lucky to get the next one on the next shift out."

Texas started the game off hot with three goals in the first period. Julius Honka notched a goal from the point with Ranford on the assist. Next Matej Stransky stepped up for two. Jason Dickinson had a big hand in each, dishing out to scoring areas for the Czech winger to bury shots.

"Dickinson is a smart, headsy player," said Laxdal. "He's not afraid of traffic and almost scored in overtime. Dickinson is going to get some top 9 minutes [in the playoffs]. The big thing is trying to find chemistry. We think he can play left side or center with anyone."

Matej Stransky might be a good linemate for Dickinson after tonight's performance, but it remains to be seen if he can drum up chemistry with anyone who was scratched tonight as well.

San Antonio, a playoff-bound club, came back in the second with three goals of their own. Connor Brickley tipped a puck behind Jack Campbell for the opening tally of the second. Wade Megan scored short-handed after Julius Honka got a little too fancy in the neutral zone on a power play. Final Vincent Trocheck popped one in backhand on Campbell in tight off a pileup in front.

With the game headed to overtime after a scoreless third, Texas fans likely resigned themselves to the "OTL" mark in the standings one last time. However, the Stars responded with a strong extra frame. Patrik Nemeth and Brendan Ranford broke in 2-on-1 in the 3-on-3 portion to score the game-winner.

Tonight's game was the first season finale that the Stars have won in team history (1-5).

The Stars, who now know their first round opponent is Rockford, will have a day off Sunday and a team building activity on Monday before resuming practices Tuesday. Friday and Saturday will be games 1 and 2 of the playoffs at Cedar Park Center.

Tonight's lines:
Ranford-Dowling-Ritchie
McKenzie-Shore-Rallo
Stransky-Dickinson-Glennie
Ully-Smith-Troock

Fortunus-Oleksiak
Gaunce-Nemeth
Backman-Honka

Campbell

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Valentine, Mangene, Hulak, Henderson, Bystrom, Morin, Rynnas, Meech (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 6,863, a sellout.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. San Antonio - April 18 2015

Gameday Preview: Stars v. San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars
39-22-13-1, 92 pts
#5 Western Conference
atSan Antonio Rampage
45-23-6-1, 97 pts
#3 Western Conference
April 18th at 7:00 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

The final game of the regular season for both of these teams is ultimately meaningless for playoff standings. Texas is locked into 5th and San Antonio 3rd. They won't play each other in the first round, but could faceoff in later rounds if they both make it through.

Last night, Coach Laxdal scratched a handful of players to get them some rest ahead of the playoffs. Travis Morin, Maxime Fortunus, Derek Hulak and Jack Campbell all got the night off. With everything in order for seeding, it might make some sense to have some of the same veterans out of the lineup for Texas. However, I get the feeling 'fan appreciation night' will include their captain, leading scorer and recent-savior goalie.

Stars injury/call up report:
Faksa (injury)

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Stars Lock Down Playoff Seed With Historic Night for Jussi Rynnas

The Texas Stars set a few records en route to a 3-2 victory in San Antonio this evening. Jussi Rynnas set a Texas record for saves in a game with 52 stops on 54 shots this evening. The previous record was 49 by Cristopher Nilstorp two years ago. The Stars also collected their fastest goal in franchise history off the opening faceoff by Justin Dowling.

Jason Dickinson and Cole Ully both picked up their first pro points in their first pro game. With the win, Texas locked down the 5th seed in the West. Among the top four teams, Texas could still play Grand Rapids or Rockford in Round 1. San Antonio is guaranteed at least third place via division title, and Utica is guaranteed first or second.

Justin Dowling got things started very early for the Stars. Just 16 seconds off the opening drop, Dowling, wearing an "A" tonight, scored past Dan Ellis. It was the fastest goal in Stars' history, beating a :17 mark by Brandon Segal.

San Antonio answered back with Vincent Trocheck's 7th of the season. The Rampage are ready for their postseason run with players like Trocheck back in the fold. Trocheck, Alex Petrovic, Dan Ellis and a few others were assigned from the Florida Panthers earlier this week.

Ranford pushed the score back into Texas' favor before the end of the period. His goal from the top of the slot came off the pass from Cole Ully, who was making his professional debut in the contest. Ranford and Ully might have had an unfair advantage though, as they were teammates in Kamloops two years ago.

Matej Stransky extended the Stars lead thanks to the assist from another player making his pro debut: Jason Dickinson. The center, who was playing in the OHL a few days ago, went on a 2-on-1 breakaway with Stransky to tally his first pro point. The draft pick that Dallas used to collect Dickinson was the spoils of the trade that sent current Florida Panther Jaromir Jagr to Boston.

Coming into the third period, Jussi Rynnas was coming under heavy pressure, already with a 31-11 shot margin for San Antonio. The Rampage made all those shots matter though as they put one past Rynnas for the 3-2 score and a chance at the game-tying goal. Shots in the period were 14-3 by the halfway point and moved to 21-6 with two minutes remaining.

The final tally was 54-17, but Rynnas would not yield again in the game.

Texas will now return home to face these same Rampage tomorrow in the regular season finale.

Tonight's lines:
McKenzie-Dowling-Ritchie
Ranford-Shore-Ully
Stransky-Dickinson-Glennie
Henderson-Smith-Troock

Meech-Oleksiak
Bystrom-Nemeth
Valentine-Honka

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Fortunus, Mangene, Hulak, Rallo, Gaunce, Morin, Backman, Campbell (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 10,711.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at San Antonio - April 17 2015

Texas Media Ballot Stresses the "Valuable" Part of AHL MVP

Ty Rattie (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League is announcing the 2014-15 year-end awards. As the media representatives for the Texas Stars, Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman submitted a ballot for each award. As winners are announced, we’ll break down the choices. Today’s ballot: the Les Cunningham Award.

Keep the rule and guideline in mind from the first post: we can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.

Our ballot…
  1. Matt Murray, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
  2. Ty Rattie, Chicago Wolves
  3. Bobby Sanguinetti, Utica Comets
Stephen: This one took me by surprise a bit. Although in many ways, I suppose it shouldn’t have. The Cunningham Award has been given to the league’s leading scorer every year but two since 2006. Cory Conacher picked it up in 2011-12 thanks to being a rookie and getting the second-most points in the league. Tyler Johnson was the other exception, finishing eighth in scoring.

Our top ballot choice was much like our choices on the rest of the ballot: goalie Matt Murray.

To break down why we chose Murray for this award, you could certainly look at all we’ve written this week about him, but it comes down to more than that for the MVP award. MVP stands for ‘most valuable player’. In our estimation, that’s a player who added the most value to his team. A player without whom the team would be in a very different position.

Compare the statistics of Murray (25-9-3) to the Penguins’ other goalie, Jeff Zatkoff (16-14-4). With Zatkoff in the net for Murray’s games, do the Penguins earn home ice advantage in the East? Do they even make the postseason? That’s what we voted for. A player who made a huge difference on his team and without whom the team might have had a starkly different fate on the season.

Sean: And O’Neill clearly wasn’t his team’s “Most Valuable Player.” O’Neill played on a line with Jordan Weal, another very good player, and they led the way for Manchester as it claimed the AHL’s top record in the regular season.

However, if you took away O’Neill or Weal from Manchester that team would still be amongst the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Murray, on the other hand, is the reason the Penguins will be entering the playoffs -- as Stephen stated.

It’s also interesting that O’Neill wasn’t even a first-team All-Star. That’s not a requirement, but it’s hard to believe that the AHL’s Most Valuable Player isn’t a first-team selection. What that means is many voters who had O’Neill on their AHL ballot didn’t have him as their first-team center.

Stephen: Ty Rattie was our second choice. He’s always a solid player for the Wolves, and, unlike Manchester, Chicago really needed his 42 points this season to make it into the postseason. He didn’t lead in goals or assists, but had a balanced games (21 of each) and a positive plus-minus. He also passed the all-important eye-test for us. In some pretty rough games for the Wolves against Texas, Rattie was a bright spot and showed that he is an impactful player for the team overall.

Of course now he’s not even going to be able to help the Wolves in the postseason. The Blues saw his play in the minors, and he’s in the NHL playoffs now.

Sean: Bobby Sanguinetti was our pick for the Eddie Shore Award -- AHL Defenseman of the Year -- and he’s on our MVP ballot for the same reason.

He’s a solid defenseman in all three zones, a catalyst on the power play and penalty kill, gobbles up ice time, and he makes a good Utica Comets team even better. Utica is one of the AHL’s top defensive teams, even though they’ve used four goalies this season, and Sanguinetti is their leader.

Defenseman and goalies usually don’t get MVP love and that’s wrong. The game is played in three zones and, it’s terribly cliche, but defense wins championships.

Gameday Preview: Stars at San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars
38-22-13-1, 90 pts
#5 Western Conference
atSan Antonio Rampage
45-22-6-1, 97 pts
#3 Western Conference
April 17th at 7:30 PM
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

The final road game of the season isn't much of a trek for the Stars. They'll play the second of three-in-a-row against the Rampage.

After the third period that San Antonio had on Tuesday, it's clear that this team has some giddy-up. They can score at will sometimes and are lethal with the extra man. Texas needs to replicate their gameplan from Tuesday and win the first period. If they can win the first and keep up in the second and third, that'll be a win.

Don't expect new additions Jason Dickinson or Mattias Backman to lace up the skates tonight.

Stars injury/call up report:
Faksa (injury)

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Murray, Markstrom and McKenna Top Texas Media Ballot for Goalie of the Year

Jacob Markstrom (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League is announcing the 2014-15 year-end awards. As the media representatives for the Texas Stars, Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman submitted a ballot for each award. As winners are announced, we’ll break down the choices. Today’s ballot: the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award.

Keep the rule and guideline in mind from the first post: we can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.

Our ballot…
  1. Matt Murray, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
  2. Jacob Markstrom, Utica Comets
  3. Mike McKenna, Portland Pirates
Stephen: Even if you saw Murray play in person this season, you’re probably thinking this is a little bit ridiculous. As a rookie goalie, Murray has picked up All-Rookie and All-AHL honors along with the Rookie of the Year and now the Goalie of the Year awards. Is anyone honestly not expecting to see Murray’s name on the MVP trophy tomorrow? We could link you to any one of the three posts we’ve already written about him, but for everyone’s sanity, we won’t say it all again here.

Quite frankly, it’s entirely possible we’re all watching one of those seasons for Murray that will make us all say “Remember when…?” in a few decades when he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame. Then again, he could also be the AHL equivalent of Jim Carey. Only time will tell.

Sean: Jacob Markstrom was second on our ballot, and when he’s not sparring with the Binghamton Senators’ Peter Mannino he’s pretty good at stopping the puck.

We saw quite a bit of Markstrom when he was a member of the San Antonio Rampage, but he really took a step forward this season with the Utica Comets. In 30 games with Utica Markstrom posted a 20-7-2 record, a .933 save percentage, and 1.88 goals against average -- all-world numbers, but Matt Murray also resides from planet earth.

Markstom also provided NHL support for the Vancouver Canucks (and former Texas coach Willie Desjardins) when Ryan Miller was out due to injury. He likely would have played more AHL games if he didn’t spend time backing up Eddie Lack.

Stephen: Our last ballot spot goes to Mike McKenna, who looks to be heading to the AHL playoffs as Portland is primed to snatch the eighth seed out East. McKenna took the lionshare of the work in net for the Pirates, 50 games so far this year, and had really solid numbers while doing so (26-17-6, 2.24 GAA, .926 SV%).

The veteran has hundreds of AHL games under his belt but is headed to the AHL playoffs for just the third time in his career. His goals against, save percentage and wins were all career bests. It’s safe to say the Pirates wouldn’t make the playoffs without him.

McKenna is also a bit of an emotional pick. He’s a veteran in the league who is proud to note on his Twitter account, where he is very active, that he’s played in every single current AHL building in the league (and a lot of inactive ones, too). He’s great with fans and media. He represents the players with the PHPA as well. He’s an all-around good guy, and someone we’ll be keeping an eye on in the AHL postseason.

Dallas Stars Assign Mattias Backman, Jason Dickinson to Texas Stars

Two more players have been added to the black ace list this afternoon. Dallas assigned Mattias Backman and Jason Dickinson to Texas. Neither should be expected to play though.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Dallas Stars, announced today defenseman Mattias Backman and forward Jason Dickinson have been assigned to the team.

The 22-year-old Backman (muh-TIGH-uhs BAHK-man) joins Texas after completing his season in the Swedish Hockey League for Linkopings HC, recording four goals and 13 assists for 17 points in 25 games. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound defenseman was a fifth-round draft pick (146th overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in 2011. The Linkoping, Sweden native was acquired by Dallas earlier this season as part of a trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit.

Dickinson, 19, was selected by Dallas in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and recently completed his most productive junior season for the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm, scoring 71 points (27 goals, 44 assists) in 56 games. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound native of Georgetown, Ontario has 231 points in 253 games over a four-year career in the OHL, and was a gold medal winner with Team Canada at the 2013 IIHF U18 World Junior Championships.

Texas has two games remaining in their regular season before beginning the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Idaho Steelheads Take Game 1 Over Utah in OT

Jason Bast in a file photo (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
Jason Bast scored his first of the playoffs at 5:49 of OT to give the Idaho Steelheads a 3-2 Game 1 win over Utah. Olivier Roy and Igor Bobkov stole the show as both goaltenders combined made 61 saves on 66 shots. Idaho now has a 1-0 series lead as the teams will bus down to Utah for games two and three of the best of seven game series this weekend.

Below is John Mulhern’s "live" reaction to last night’s game one as after each period he sat down and gave us his impressions and recap....

The ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs got off to the typical close checking start you would expect in the first period of Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. There wasn’t a feeling out period as you would typically see because these teams have played 13 times this season including last Wednesday April 8th.

Both teams were locking things down in the defensive zone that period, and nothing made that point more clear than when after a good minute plus of offensive zone time only generated one shot for Utah early in the game.

Idaho was able to score the first goal of the game off a turnover at center ice, when Jason Bast picked up a loose puck and played give-and-go with Colton Beck who did a great job to corral an elevated pass to beat Igor Bobkov right underneath the crossbar for the 1-0 advantage just 9:36 into the first.

Greg Rallo Named Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week

Greg Rallo (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Every Thursday, 100 Degree Hockey will name the Lone Star Grille/100 Degree Hockey Player of the Week. Lone Star Grille features classic comfort food and Southern dishes less than five minutes from the Cedar Park Center. If you mention the Player of the Week or 100 Degree Hockey on your next visit to Lone Star Grille, your server will take $5 off your order of any two entrees.

Greg Rallo had a very solid week, scoring two goals, two assists and a plus-2 rating across three games. After a rough start to the season that saw him only score two goals in October and November, Rallo has now eclipsed his personal single-season record for goals (25) with 27 this year. Since February 1st, he's tallied 16 goals and added 12 assists.

Now the Stars need Rallo to continue that success into the playoffs. They need his veteran presence to serve as a rudder similar to Chris Mueller or Dustin Jeffrey last season for the Texas Calder Cup run.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tom Rowe, Travis Green Headline Texas Media Ballot for Coach of Year

Tom Rowe on the San Antonio bench (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League is announcing the 2014-15 year-end awards. As the media representatives for the Texas Stars, Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman submitted a ballot for each award. As winners are announced, we’ll break down the choices. Today’s ballot: the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award.

Keep the rule and guideline in mind from the first post: we can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.

Our ballot…

  1. Tom Rowe, San Antonio Rampage
  2. Travis Green, Utica Comets
  3. Roy Sommer, Worcester Sharks

Stephen: Coach of the year is a tough award to vote on. How much impact does a coach have on the outcome of a team’s season? Are there certain teams that would be good no matter who the coach was? If so, the coach of the year award should go to the coach who has the most impact on their club: the coach who takes a bad to mediocre team on paper and makes it good.

We’re talking about the unexpected playoff team or the sudden division championship after missing the playoffs for many years. For example, remember the year that Texas’ Willie Desjardins won, the Stars finished last in the conference the year before. That’s the kind of performance we looked for.

Sean: We’ve seen Tom Rowe 10 times this season and we’ll see him two more times this week as Texas and San Antonio close out the regular season.

After years of mediocrity in San Antonio, Rowe has the Rampage near the top of the Western Conference and already clinched the first division title in franchise history. He’s also done it with much of the same team that missed the postseason in 2014.

He did have a couple player changes -- Dan Ellis in goal comes to mind -- but the fact San Antonio leads the AHL in goals, has one of the best records in the league, and always comes ready to play, is a reflection of their coach behind the bench.

Stephen: Travis Green was an obvious choice for us as much for what he’s done this year as what he’s done over the past twelve months with the Comets. Utica did not have a great start to their reintroduction to the AHL last season. In mid-January, the Comets were 11-20-2-3 and pretty much left for dead in the Western Conference race.

Starting on January 18th, 2014, Utica ran off a four-game winning streak that kicked off a 24-12-3-1 finish to the season. Coach Willie Desjardins praised Green, and we actually included him in the third spot on our media ballot for coach of the year last season.

Including the end of last season, Green and the Comets are 69-32-9-3, a .664 points percentage, over their last 113 games. Our top ballot choice, Tom Rowe, and Green will be battling it out for the top spot in the West over the next few days.

Sean: We didn’t see Roy Sommer coach this year. Texas, as usual, didn’t play any Eastern Conference teams.

Sommer did, however, lead Worcester to a (likely) playoff berth, and his team has been gone against the typical trend in the Eastern Conference. In a conference filled with penalty minutes, the Sharks are the disciplined team that plays solid defense.

The Sharks don’t have the star power of other Eastern Conference teams, like Jordan Weal and Brian O’Neill, that helped Mike Stothers to his coach of the year honor. Stothers also inherited a very good team from last season, anything less than tops in the east could be considered a disappointment after Manchester’s first-round playoff debacle in 2014.

Three Reasons to Root for the Vancouver Canucks This Postseason

It's the best time of year; the playoffs are here. With Dallas out of the running, you're probably trying to determine which club you should root for to hoist Lord Stanley's chalice. I've got a suggestion. How about the Vancouver Canucks?

Here's are three convincing reasons why you should pick the Canucks...

Enjoy the playoffs...

(Also, if the Canucks stay in the playoffs and the Stars play Utica, that's an advantage for Texas... but that's not the point of this post.)

(Image credit in order to Colin Peddle/AHL, Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars, Texas Stars)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Texas Opens Rampage Mini-Series with 3-2 Win in San Antonio

Texas got a strong start to an important final week of the season. Looking to solidify their playoff positioning and get into a winning groove as they make their way to the playoffs, the Stars dropped the division's top club, San Antonio, by a 3-2 score in the Alamo City.

Jussi Rynnas got the start and collected his first win since returning from injury. He stopped a total of 32 shots, including 11 in the final frame to retain the lead.

Travis Morin, familiar to the matchups between these two teams, scored the opening goal 92 seconds into the first. Brendan Ranford's initial shot rebounded straight to the stick of an uncovered Morin for the easy put-away. The Stars bombed Sam Brittain in the first period, outshooting the Rampage by a 15-6 margin.

Brendan Ranford picked up a tally just 100 seconds into the second period, as he snuck in alone to beat Brittain. The San Antonio defense just flat lost the second-year winger, and he made them pay for the 2-0 score. Kevin Henderson extended the Stars' lead to 3-0 off a bouncing shot that hit three defenders before slipping by Brittain.

Of course, the San Antonio Rampage would not go down quietly despite trailing 3-0 after forty minutes. Corban Knight broke up the shutout early in the third off the assist from John McFarland. Late in the period with Derek Meech in the box for hooking, the potent San Antonio power play notched one on the usually stalwart Stars' PK unit. Garrett Wilson found twine off a neat pass from NHL vet Dany Heatley.

The final minutes were robbed of much of their drama as San Antonio took two penalties to sap their chances at an equalizing goal.

Texas will play the Rampage twice more this season, once in San Antonio on Friday and Saturday at home, the season finale.

Tonight's lines:
Ranford-Morin-Rallo
McKenzie-Dowling-Ritchie
Stransky-Shore-Glennie
Henderson-Smith-Troock

Meech-Oleksiak
Mangene-Nemeth
Valentine-Honka

Rynnas

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Fortunus, Bystrom, Hulak, Ully, Gaunce (scratch)
Faksa (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 8,205.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at San Antonio - April 14 2015

Matt Murray the Obvious Choice for Rookie of the Year, But Who's Next?

Charles Hudon (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League is announcing the 2014-15 year-end awards. As the media representatives for the Texas Stars, Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman submitted a ballot for each award. As winners are announced, we’ll break down the choices. Today’s ballot: the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award.

Keep the rule and guideline in mind from the first post: we can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.

Our ballot...
  1. Matt Murray, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
  2. Charles Hudon, Hamilton Bulldogs
  3. Viktor Arvidsson, Milwaukee Admirals
Sean: We’re two-for-two this week. After nailing it on the Hunt Award yesterday we, like the rest of the voters, had Matt Murray on the top of our ballot for Rookie of the Year.

Matt Murray
Stephen: Murray’s numbers put him in the conversation for every award he’s eligible for this postseason from All-Rookie up to MVP. As the AHL press release notes, his season for the Penguins essentially rewrote the AHL record book for goaltending. He had 12 shutouts, a rookie record and beat out Barry Brust’s shutout streak with a 304 minute long clean sheet. He’s won Player of the Week and Goalie of the month twice each. It’s no contest.

Sean: So, we all agree, Matt Murray is the outstanding rookie in the AHL.

Let’s look at the rest of our ballot, starting with Charles Hudon from the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Hudon is second in rookie scoring with 55 points (17 goals, 38 assists), and he showed flashes of brilliance this past weekend when Hamilton visited Texas -- which was after our ballot had already been filed. He also impressed us more than Toronto Marlies’ forward Connor Brown, who leads the league in rookie scoring.

Brown’s numbers were impressive, but his overall play didn’t leave too much of an impact in our minds. And either way you slice it, no one was going to catch Murray on top of this ballot.

Stephen: It is too bad that we didn’t get a chance to see Hudon until the late season after ballots were due. The Bulldogs had a lackluster weekend overall against the Stars, and Hudon was held scoreless with a minus-3 rating. If we’d seen that Hudon, we might have swapped him down the ballot for our third choice, Milwaukee’s Viktor Arvidsson.

Sean: Remember, we can’t vote for Texas players, but I would like to take a moment to point out what Derek Hulak achieved this year. Hulak is currently seventh in rookie scoring with 44 points, and those who have seen him play are well aware of his impact in all three zones.

It’s also interesting to note that of the top-10 rookie scorers, Hulak is the only one not currently on an NHL contract.

Stephen: Voting for this award past spot #1 was difficult, probably similar to what other voters felt about last year’s race, when Curtis McKenzie led all rookies in scoring through the entire season and helped to lead Texas to the Kilpatrick Trophy. Of course, we couldn’t vote for McKenzie. We picked Ty Rattie instead, but it was a foregone conclusion for McKenzie.

Wrapping up the ballot was Arvidsson, who we also voted onto the All-Rookie team. In addition to finishing 3rd in rookie scoring, he looked very good in his games at the Cedar Park Center against Texas. We also noted the fact that Arvidsson contributed so much of the Admirals’ offense this season with 53 points, eleven higher than the next closest player.

Gameday Preview: Stars at San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars
37-22-13-1, 88 pts
#5 Western Conference
atSan Antonio Rampage
45-21-6-1, 97 pts
#2 Western Conference
April 14th at 7:00 PM
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

UPDATE (11:15a): WHL F Cole Ully has been officially assigned to Texas by Dallas. He is not expected to play. Patrik Nemeth was on the ice for Texas in morning skate and is expected to play.

Texas begins a playoff-like mini-series against the Rampage tonight to close out the 2014-15 regular season. Texas and San Antonio both enter the game with a playoff berth secured. In fact, this weekend's games gave San Antonio their first division title in franchise history. Texas held the division title for the past two seasons.

Several months ago, this could have been a battle for that division title, but the recent strong play of the Rampage but the crown out of reach for the Stars. Further strong play from Rockford, Grand Rapids and Utica has given Texas a guaranteed lower seed in the first round. For the Rampage, there is still a chance to secure the top seed, so they'll be playing hard. Their max points, 103, is just one ahead of Utica's predicted finish. Any misstep against the Stars will mean they cannot achieve that mark.

San Antonio is coming off a two-game set that could be a late round playoffs preview. They split weekend games against Grand Rapids, winning 2-0 and losing 2-1 in overtime.

Devin Shore has never played against the Rampage, an oddity among Texas Stars. When asked what he would tell Shore about who the Rampage are and how they play, a veteran of the I35 rivalry, Curtis McKenzie, said, "Keep your head up early because they like to bring the physical play especially early. They play high tempo, so you have to match that or you'll find yourself behind."

Texas will have a chance to rest a veteran tonight, or perhaps scratch an undermotivated player, with the possible return of Patrik Nemeth to the lineup. The Swedish defender was assigned to Texas on Sunday but was still in Dallas on Monday doing locker cleanout and final interviews with Dallas.

Stars injury/call up report:
Faksa, Meech (injury)

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hoggan, MacIntyre and LaRose Headline Texas Media Ballot for Hunt Award

Hoggan (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League is announcing the 2014-15 year-end awards. As the media representatives for the Texas Stars, Stephen Meserve of 100 Degree Hockey and Sean Shapiro of the Austin American-Statesman submitted a ballot for each award. As winners are announced, we’ll break down the choices. Today’s ballot: the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award.

Keep the rule and guideline in mind from the first post: we can’t vote for Texas, and we tend to vote for Western Conference players.

The Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award is given to a player for their sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey. Because these are harder to pick off a stat line and tend to involved off-ice stories, each team’s PR team submits a few players for consideration along with a write-up of why they should be considered.

The Stars submitted Maxime Fortunus and Derek Meech as their candidates. You don’t have to vote for a player off that list; it’s just a guide post.

We voted for…

  1. Jeff Hoggan, Grand Rapids Griffins
  2. Drew MacIntyre, Charlotte Checkers
  3. Chad LaRose, Charlotte Checkers

Sean: We nailed it.

Stephen: Absolutely. We’re very happy to have voted for a Western Conference veteran, Jeff Hoggan, as our top choice for the Hunt Award. The league did a great job explaining why Hoggan deserved the award, so we’re going to let them do the talking on our first ballot selection.

We also wanted to add our thoughts on why we voted for our second and third place choices. The second spot on our ballot went to Drew MacIntyre, the journeyman goaltender currently manning the pipes in Charlotte. Texas is familiar with MacIntyre from last year’s seven-game Western Conference Final series. MacIntyre celebrated his 200th AHL win in December, just the 12th goalie in AHL history to reach that milestone.

MacIntyre suffered a season-ending injury just 11 games into his rookie season in Detroit and faced a significant obstacle in coming back: the emergence of Jimmy Howard.

"After my first three years, if you had told me I’d be playing 12 years I’d be very thankful," MacIntyre told the Checkers’ Paul Branecky in December. Charlotte is MacIntyre’s 14th different team since he debuted in 2003, but he has stuck with it and nearly carried his club to a Calder Cup berth last season.

For more, I definitely recommend you read up about MacIntyre’s history from the Charlotte Checkers story on him.

Sean: Chad LaRose has won Stanley Cup and played in 508 NHL games. But he didn’t play during the 2013-14 season after he “had just built up so much anger and hatred for the game,” that he once loved.

That started to change during the 2014 playoffs. He was interested again, started communicating with former teammates, and made the decision to continue his hockey career. He caught on with the Charlotte Checkers, and despite some early-season injury troubles, he emerged as a leader on a very young team.

Hockey was fun again, and his on-ice success has reflected that. LaRose is second on the team with 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) and he’s been reliable on special teams with six power play goals and two shorthanded tallies.

For more, I would suggest reading this story from ESPN.com’s Katie Strang.

Stephen: As a final note, this is one award I would keep my eye on for Texas’ captain Maxime Fortunus. I think he fits the mold of a player who would win this one in a future season. I’d be interested to know how many teams had him on their ballot this year given his recognition from the league at the All-Star game for his long-time service in the AHL.

Top-Seeded Idaho Steelheads Prepare for Playoffs Against Familiar Foe

Olivier Roy (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern returns to preview the Idaho Steelheads' first round playoff matchup against Utah, which starts Wednesday in Boise...

After 72 games, tying a team record of 48 wins, hitting 100 points for only the second time in the ECHL era (102) and clinching another division title, the Idaho Steelheads are ready to start the U.S. Bank ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs on Wednesday, April 15th.

Their opponent will be the Utah Grizzlies who managed to clinch the 4th seed in the Pacific Division courtesy of an overtime victory Friday night against the Colorado Eagles. This will be only the second time the Steelheads and the Grizzlies have met in the playoffs. The first was back in 2010 when the Steelheads defeated the Grizzlies four games to none on their way to winning the Western Conference.

Before we get into details about the playoff series coming up, let’s take a quick look back at some of the final numbers for Idaho this season.

Wade MacLeod led the Steelheads in total points this season with 80. His 38 goals and 42 assists were also good enough to put him in second place in all of the ECHL trailing only Chad Costello of the Allen Americas, who ended his season with 125 points. MacLeod’s 38 goals was also tops for the Idaho Steelheads; Jason Bast finished second on the team with 30 goals. After MacLeod’s 42 assists, Alex Belzile finished second on the team with 41.

A couple of postseason awards have also been handed out. Jason Bast made the ECHL All-Rookie Team (30-22=52 and plus-23) on the season in just 52 games played. When the ECHL First and Second Teams were announced, Wade MacLeod, found his name listed among the forwards of the ECHL First Team.

On to the playoffs

This season, the ECHL has set up the playoffs in a divisional format. As the one seed, the Steelheads draw the Grizzlies for round one starting Wednesday. The winner of this series will play the winner of the Ontario Reign (2) and Colorado Eagles (3) series for the right to play the winner of the Central Division, with the winner of that series playing the Eastern Conference champion for the right to raise the Kelly Cup.

By the numbers

The Steelheads had a 7-3-3 record against the Grizzlies this year, however seven of the 13 games were decided by just one goal, and five of those games went into either overtime or to a shootout. When it comes to who produced against the Grizzlies in the regular season, one can look to MacLeod (19 points), Belzile (14 points) and Patterson (11 points). Olivier Roy was 3-0 against the Grizzlies with a .924 save percentage on the season.

When you look at Utah’s performers against Idaho this year, you have to turn to Mathieu Aubin (11 points) and Alex Krushelnyski (8 points). But you also can look at guys like T.J. Syner and Michael Pelech as guys that will need to be contended with over the course of the series. Utah plays a fast, high pressure fore-checking system and a guy like Syner has created more than a handful of chances while executing the system. There will be no goaltender advantage in this series as Igor Bobkov will man the pipes for Utah. He will boast a 2.58 GAA and a .918 save percentage over the course of the season.

On the ice

The Steelheads are going to start the playoffs after getting an entire week off to rest and recover from their last regular season game. Time off is always good as it will allow the players to rest and get over some of the bumps and bruises that some of the guys may have been trying to play through at the end of the season. Idaho’s head coach Brad Ralph also took the opportunity to give some key players a night off towards the end of the season as a way to lessen the load and buy an extra day or two of rest. Utah will come into the start of the playoffs having finished their regular season on Saturday, so they should have the advantage of game legs. All I can predict is that we will find another answer to the question of which is better, rested legs, or game-tested legs.

There is also no love lost between these two teams. They played 13 times this season on top of 15 times last season. There has been a lot of carry over members of both teams that played during both seasons. Normally in the playoffs the number of power plays go down so each chance is amplified, but I have to imagine based on the way a lot of the games this season have played out, there are going to be ample chances for both sides to score on the power play and shorthanded. Both teams are very proficient when it comes to scoring goals while down a man during the regular season.

The Matchup

Let’s try to match-up both sides:

Goaltending

Igor Bobkov vs Olivier Roy – I’m calling this one even. Bobkov has 19 wins and 4 shutouts on the season and Roy brings 25 wins as well as 4 shutouts to the table. It looks like Roy would have the advantage, but with Roy being injured for all but the last 4 games of the regular season, I want to see one or two more games in the playoffs before I give the Steelheads the advantage in this match-up.

Defensemen

Advantage Idaho. Idaho over the course of the season allowed 187 total goals vs the 219 that Utah allowed this season. Neither defense has the advantage when it comes to putting the puck in the net, but one thing to keep an eye on is Utah’s ability to have 5 players drop below the circles in their own end, but quickly transition to try to take advantage of a mistake. Utah is never out of a game and only needs one or two chances to make teams pay.

Offense

Again, I have to call this one even. Idaho has the more explosive players, but Utah has a team that works hard and will always give themselves a chance to win these games. Once again refer back to how close the games between Utah and Idaho have been over the last season. Both offenses have done enough to win their fair share of games.

Conclusion

This is one of those series where you almost have to try to do your best to throw out regular season numbers. Even during the middle of the season, it doesn’t matter if a team is streaking or struggling. These two teams are going to play it tight all the way to the end. The homer in me can’t believe that the Steelheads are going to lose 4 out of 7 against the Grizzlies, but the objective person in me can totally believe this series will go 6 or 7 games, with every game being in doubt until the late minutes and even into overtime. I’ll take Idaho to win the series.

Series Schedule

  • Game 1: Utah @ Idaho (Wednesday, April 15)
  • Game 2 Idaho @ Utah (Friday, April 17)
  • Game 3 Idaho @ Utah (Saturday, April 18)
  • Game 4 Utah @ Idaho (Friday, April 24)
  • Game 5 Utah @ Idaho (Saturday, April 25) – If Necessary
  • Game 6 Idaho @ Utah (Monday, April 27) – If Necessary
  • Game 7 Utah @ Idaho (Wednesday, April 29) If Necessary

[Ed. Note: Building availability in Utah created the odd 1-2-2-1-1 format of this series]

John Mulhern is the arena emcee for CenturyLink Arena, home of the Idaho Steelheads, and does on-air work for the Steelheads broadcast in addition to his own Two Sports Nuts podcast. You can also follow John on Twitter @mulhern4.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dallas Stars Assign Patrik Nemeth to Texas for Rest of Year

Patrik Nemeth (Credit: Steven Christy)
With the Dallas Stars' season over, Patrik Nemeth has been reassigned to the Texas Stars for the remainder of the season and playoffs. Nemeth, who spent most of the year on the injured reserve in the NHL, can still gain valuable experience in the AHL playoffs just through getting more minutes under his belt. He only found the ice in 22 games this year for Dallas.

This was an expected move after Nemeth was 'papered' down to the AHL on trade deadline day. Neither Jyrki Jokipakka nor John Klingberg were papered on that day, so neither can be sent down to the AHL for the playoffs.

Nemeth will bump someone out of the lineup on defense and it's anyone's guess whom that will be. Youngster Ludwig Bystrom has been showing well but could get the scratch. Another option for the current moment would be scratching someone like Maxime Fortunus or Cameron Gaunce to give those vets some rest days before the playoffs start.

Here's the release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the club has reassigned defenseman Patrik Nemeth to the Texas Stars, Dallas' top development affiliate in the American Hockey League.

Nemeth, 23, registered three assists in 22 games played for Dallas this season. He missed 52 games to injury after suffering an arm laceration on Oct. 18 against Philadelphia. The blueliner also appeared in five games for Texas from Feb. 20 - 28, posting one assist.

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound native of Stockholm, Sweden was originally selected by Dallas in the second round (41st overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Texas Blasts Bulldogs 5-0 to Clinch Playoff Berth

Jack Campbell pitches his second AHL shutout of the year in clinching game
(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Needing just one point to secure a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs, Texas completely annihilated the Hamilton Bulldogs tonight by a 5-0 score to achieve that goal. The physical contest setup the defending champions to defend their title in the postseason.

"It doesn't matter where you coach, playoffs are tough to get into," said Coach Laxdal. "Give our guys credit, it's been a battle. We're ready for the next challenge moving forward."

The Stars answered the challenge from the opening drop with Devin Shore scoring what would be the game winner in the first three minutes of the contest. A second from Justin Dowling 90 seconds later set the tone for the night.

"Last night we didn't come out the way we wanted to," said Shore. "The good thing was we had another chance to get it back. We did the right things off the bat and got rewarded for it."

Shore's line buzzed the Hamilton zone for a long time before they scored their goal, a theme that continued all night.

"Puck management, taking care of the puck, protecting the puck and putting it on net when it was the right play. When you manage the puck, you get extra zone time and extra shots. Eventually they go in."

Coach Laxdal noted that the line could have potted "two or three" on that shift alone. The play from Shore's line, matched by the play from Dowling's line, put Texas on a path to victory this evening.

It was a physical game, probably the second most physical game of the season behind the Adirondack game on April 1. The two teams combined for 55 penalty minutes including two fights, a misconduct to Texas and a game misconduct to Hamilton.

"It was a little chippy," said Laxdal. "You get that with teams battling for the playoffs."

He noted that Brendan Ranford, not usually known for his physicality, led the way in that department tonight. Curtis McKenzie agreed, "He's a little wrecking ball out there. It was fun to see. the guys on the bench noticed for sure. When he's willing to play like that, it gets everyone else going to match that."

Gemel Smith bloodied Josiah Didier in their bout as Didier hit his head on the goal post after falling backwards into the net. Cameron Gaunce dropped the gloves with one-time Dallas Star Jake Dowell and earned an instigator for the play. A frustrated play from Hamilton put the nail in the coffin for their night though as Bobby Shea picked up a game misconduct for butt-ending and gave Texas a five minute major power play. A minor for roughing to Eric Tangradi on the same play made it a 5-on-3 power play for two minutes.

Greg Rallo pasted his chance from the left wing circle during the 5-on-3 portion and closed the second at a 3-0 lead for Texas. Matt Mangene scored from nearly the same spot to open the third period, again on the power play, and it was pretty much over.

Laxdal noted, "To get that third goal takes the pressure off and lets us protect the shutout for Jack."

Campbell was not heavily challenged through long stretch of the game but made great saves when called upon, stopping a few odd-man rushes throughout the game.

Greg Rallo finished off the scoring into a yawning cage off a brilliant passing play between Travis Morin and Jamie Oleksiak.

The Stars are off tomorrow and will hit the ice for practice on Monday ahead of their first of three games against San Antonio to end the season.

Tonight's lines:
Hulak-Morin-Rallo
McKenzie-Dowling-Ritchie
Glennie-Shore-Ranford
Stransky-Smith-Henderson

Fortunus-Oleksiak
Mangene-Bystrom
Gaunce-Honka

Campbell

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Valentine, Troock (scratch)
Faksa, Meech (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 5,404.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Hamilton - April 11 2015