Tuesday, January 31, 2017

From the Bottom Up: Steelheads' Coach and GM Neil Graham A Man of Many Roles and Talents

(Credit: Creative Expressions Photography)
ECHL Week continues on 100 Degree Hockey. Today, a look at the head coach and GM of the Idaho Steelheads, Neil Graham.

The hardest working man in the Dallas Stars organization might just be in Boise, Idaho. Deep in the bowels of the CenturyLink Arena, Neil Graham sits at a computer in his office, a cinder block walled 20x20 foot space across the hall from the home team locker rooms. A couch and a few comfortable chairs are available for guests, but this morning in mid-January finds Graham behind the desk. He's not even done with the 2016-17 season and already he's started lists of players to look at for next season. Not to mention the fact that there's a game tonight, the second of a three-game set against divisional rival Colorado. After the team's 5-3 win on Wednesday, Graham is expecting a push from the visitors. Making those "tweaks and adjustments" to respond is another thing to add to his plate for the morning routine.

But this is the life of an ECHL coach/GM. The dual name doesn't even fully capture the breadth of the role that Graham must play for the Steelheads. Without the same support staff as NHL teams, Graham regularly manages coaching, GM duties, and other complex topics usually handed off to support staff, such as player immigration status.

The 31-year old coach came into the role eyes wide open, however. After a four-year career at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA, Graham had a winding road to get to Idaho. After a few years in the SPHL, then Steelheads head coach Brad Ralph, who knew him from his own time in the SPHL, asked Graham to come on as a player-coach, a rarity in the modern pro landscape.

"On paper it was player-coach," said Graham. "But at that point I was invested in coaching and wanted to transition into it. It was more coach first, player second."

That season, Graham played just eight games but earned the assistant coach moniker by mid-season. He officially retired before the 2013-14 season and took over team travel, living arrangements and instructional camps along with on-ice duties.

"My first three years as an assistant coach, Ralph asked me to handle player arrangements, moving companies, the in and out of furniture to start the season. I was doing team travel and immigration, and I had my own budgets. It was good for me as an assistant coach to learn to work within a budget and with time restraints. It helped me prepare for salary caps and weekly rosters as a head coach."

Always a bright-sider, Graham notes that he was able to complete his own US green card application thanks to his immigration experience. "You can take a lesson from anything, and in this league you get a lot of them."

When Brad Ralph moved on to the WHL in the summer of 2015, Graham was suddenly a 29-year old head coach.

ABC: Always Be Calling
If you thought your phone bill was out of control, you certainly don't want to see the bill for the recruiter-in-chief of the Idaho Steelheads.

"It’s important to always be recruiting at this level. With the volatility of callups and the fact you don’t carry a huge roster and have a lot of roster limitations, it’s important to always be recruiting and calling."

Even in January, lists are being compiled. Without the luxury of multi-year deals, which are not allowed in the ECHL, every season starts from a blank page. This, of course creates an incredible conflict with the goals of developing players for higher levels of hockey. It turns out that's also part of the sales pitch.

"You have to bring in the players that have potential to move up. When you take care of business at this level, typically you see more contracts signed at the higher level the next year. From there, let’s say we lose 7 guys. We just lost 7 guys but now when I call the next group of free agents and NCAA players, I can say we had this many callups to our affiliate, this many to the AHL, this many to Europe and this many on one ways, it can build a cycle and develop a reputation as a team that wins and a team that develops players for the next level, wherever that opportunity may be.

"Take care of business for Idaho, and we help to advance you up the hockey ladder."

Graham is pretty cagey not to reveal too much of the sales pitch that continues to bring quality players to Idaho every season. He starts, "We have multiple..." Before trailing off, laughing and admitting, "I don’t want to say too much!" He sells the chance to advance your career and also has the benefit of selling an excellent city and organization. "When people come here to Idaho, I haven’t heard too many upset with their decision. Everyone knows in this organization that you have to earn it and work hard. The guys who fight for every inch are the guys who are going to make a difference. The character, work ethic and attitude are the three things I recruit. That’s obviously a complete package with the skill."

Travis Ewanyk, who was recruited over the summer, chatted for an hour with the head coach. Ewanyk recalled, "He sold the city and the team very well, the players and the coaching staff. His enthusiasm really rubbed off on me. We talked about everything from their winning team record here. They win playoffs; they win Kelly Cups."

The roster in Idaho seems dotted with college players, perhaps owing to Graham's own background as a collegiate player. Graham noted, "I have built good relationships with a lot of schools, some I lean on more than others. When you start to build a relationship, you see a similar product out of certain schools."

The role of recruiting becomes even more important perhaps the better you are at it. If you recruit well, those players will perform well for you and likely get callups to the AHL, putting the head coach right back on the phone to see if he can get someone to fill a newly opened spot. For example, players like Austin Fyten, Caleb Herbert and Bryce Van Brabant were all expected to be in the ECHL this season.

"The difference at our level is that we can lose guys to our affiliate, but we can also lose guys to the other 29 teams in the AHL. There are no restrictions on that. It’s something we pride ourselves on. If you’re winning hockey games, they’ll get an opportunity at the next level. Part of our job is to make sure we are prepared. We have a lot of watch lists and agents we keep in contact with to make sure if we do lose a guy to the next level, we have someone ready to step in."

(Credit: Steve Conner)
Keeping up the tradition
The challenge of recruiting underlines the impressiveness of what the Steelheads have accomplished in the ECHL. Since entering the league in 2003, they've won two Kelly Cups and never missed the playoffs, a 13-year streak.

"It’s something we take pride in, and we know what’s at stake. It comes with added pressure, but it also comes with a lot of pride to know that we do things the right way in this organization."

Part of building that winning team is being a place that players want to play. And part of that is being a coach that connects with your players and brings out the best in them. Top to bottom, Graham gets praise from his players for his diligence and care for his players.

"He has an open door policy to come talk about whatever is going on in your life, hockey or not," says vet forward Kellan Lain. "The guys love playing for him, putting in the work for him. I’ve never had a coach like that before. It’s fun to be a part of."

Travis Ewanyk expanded, "Guys want to play for a coach like that. Sometimes you get coaches who don't have that connection with the players. You can walk into Graham’s office to have a conversation about anything."

Being a recently retired player who bounced around the minors a bit, Graham took some of his experiences, good and bad, into consideration when starting out in Boise.

"The biggest thing is player management, how you talk to players and how you treat them. I learned some positive things and I also learned some things I don’t want to repeat in the ways I deal with my players. You’re not always going to be delivering good news. There’s still a way to do things professionally, and that’s something that I pride myself on, having a professional program here in Idaho. I want people to speak highly of our program in terms of the way they were treated on this team."

The results on the ice are speaking for themselves. Last year's team finished at the top of the division but fell in the first round to eventual champions Allen in Game 7 OT. Coach Graham finished fifth in the league in Coach of the Year voting, despite his rookie status. This year, the Steelheads are fighting for the top spot in the division again and certainly angling for a 14th straight playoff berth.

What's next?
Graham has earned praise from his colleagues at the AHL level for his work with the Steelheads. Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal understands the challenge of the ECHL very well, having been in Boise for five years. He calls it one of the toughest leagues to coach in. The connection that Laxdal has with the team in Idaho has proven invaluable to the success of the Texas Stars.

"I talk to Neil 3 or 4 times a week and that’s a lot. There’s some other affiliates that don’t even talk to their ECHL teams. We have a lot of respect for Neil and the Steelheads. I think it’s important to talk to the coach up here. Not only do you get a feel for how your players are doing, you also get a feel for how the league is going, the pace and style of play. I have a lot of confidence in what Neil does with our affiliated players that are sent down."

Laxdal further views Graham's youth as a huge asset to his future development as a coach, "He got into coaching at a young age, and there’s a lot of upside for him. He’s confident and has grown in his confidence. For him, to be a young coach, he’s going to have a lot more opportunity than I did. I’m a little bit of an older coach, but I’m still learning every day. He’s 31, and he’s still got a lot of years ahead of him."

Those years ahead involve a key decision: whether the road leads to coaching or general management.

The typical deflection of 'I'm not thinking about that right now' doesn't come off cliched as Graham tilts back in his office chair to contemplate his future a bit.

"That’s a funny question," he starts. "I’m 31 and it’s my second year as a coach."

"What excites me right now is the team we have with this team and the opportunity we have right now. It’s fun to fantasize and think about it, but it’s important not to. There’s a lot of things that can happen in between. Just like I tell our players, it’s important for me and Everett too, we’re in a learning process and developing as coaches. I have a strong belief that everything happens for a reason. I came in as a coach player and now I’m the head coach. It’s important to stay in the present. When opportunities arise, explore them, But until those arise, it’s important to stay grounded and stay focused on the task at hand."

Before packing up his bag to head home briefly before the game to his wife and 7-month old son, Graham adds, "I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given. It’s important that my focus is here, putting together a team that our organization and fans can be proud of."

Monday, January 30, 2017

Texas Star Matej Stransky With a Pair of Assists in All-Star Tournament

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Pacific Division did not have the best of night, going 0-3 and getting outscored 17-7. Matej Stransky had two assists in the game against the Central Division, who were the ultimate champions of the tournament.

Former Star Jack Campbell played in each game for the Pacific as well.

Texas gets a bit of an extended All-Star Break with no game action until Friday. Practice will resume in Cedar Park on Wednesday regardless.

Idaho's CenturyLink Arena a Gem for New and Old Hockey Fans Alike

(Credit: Steven Conner)
Today's post begins ECHL Week on 100 Degree Hockey, a series of stories that came from my weekend visit to Boise from January 12-15. Today's article will cover the arena experience in Boise. Tomorrow I'll be doing a long-form bio of coach and GM Neil Graham. I'll round out the week with a profile of emergency backup goalie Doug Melvin, some insight on playing in the ECHL when you're only experience has been in the AHL and finally the economics of actually being an ECHL team.

I won't claim to be a connoisseur of arenas across even the AHL. In fact, my visit to CenturyLink Arena in Boise was only the second building I've visited in the ECHL. Even with that said, I believe that the arena and the experience that the team puts together for its fans are both high quality and well-matched to the audience in the building.

The first thing to know about the arena is that it is in downtown Boise. Similar to what the Dallas Stars have in Victory Park, the arena is surrounded by restaurants and bars that provide opportunities for both pre- and post-game revelry. The arena is actually connected to the Grove Hotel, arguably the best hotel in the city, and the team is owned by the same group that owns the hotel. As you walk into the hotel from the valet parking area, there isn't much indication that there is an entire ice sheet hiding right behind the lobby. However, once you step through the doors to the rink, you can basically see everything there is to see in one glance. I don't mean this as a sleight, to be sure. The compactness of the arena is what makes it work. The arena seats nearly exactly 5000 people, and the Steelheads pack the barn regularly. Their 80% capacity mark of around 4,000 would be the equivalent of approximately 5,500 at the H-E-B Center, a mark the Stars have never hit for a full season.



There are a few elements that make the arena unique. First of all, the connection to the hotel makes for some interesting cross-promotion opportunities. Toward the top of the arena, there are several balcony-type private suites. It turns out these are connected to suites in the hotel, allowing you to combine your hotel and evening entertainment in one neat package. Another interesting layout item is that the arena does not have a concourse. After the initial rows of seats, there is a landing where all of the concessions take place. You can stand in line for your beer and watch the game live, not on the TV screen. Above the press area, there is a bar with a direct view down to the ice surface. In fact, many times the announced attendance looks off from the butts in seats because season ticket holders post up in the bar for the game. Speaking of season ticket holders, the team treats all season ticket holders to free dinner each night in their season ticket holder lounge. This overlooks the plaza behind the hotel, not the ice, but it's still a very nice bonus of being a season ticket holder.

Idaho has an excellent social engagement strategy that is reinforced by their in-arena promotions. Using their hashtag, this year #FeeltheSteel, in a photo post on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook will likely put you on the big video board that runs constantly throughout the game. This is a dedicated board for social media engagement, and it works. Next time there is a Steelheads home game, punch in the #FeeltheSteel hashtag to get a live look at all the folks at the game on social media. As with any social engagement, this creates a great connection to the team for casual fans and encourages repeat visits to the arena.

My final word on the arena experience was that the people were all wonderful. I got a chance to meet a number of folks who have been reading the site for years. I really appreciate your readership, and it was great to meet each of you. I even earned at least one new reader after a season ticket holder saw the 100 Degree Hockey seat in the press area and looked up my site Friday night and told me all about it on Saturday.

Tomorrow: a long-form look at the duality of the ECHL head coach/GM role and Idaho's man in that role, Neil Graham.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Massive 46-17 Shot Differential Doesn't Tell The Story as Texas Falls to Condors 4-2

Condors goalie Nick Ellis stopped 44 of 46 shots.
(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
In front of a sellout home crowd, Texas arguably played one of their best games of the year in every aspect but the final score. Unfortunately for them, that's the only measure that matters. Despite a 46-17 shots differential, the Stars fell tonight by a 4-2 margin, setting their losing skid at four games as they hit the All-Star break.

"I really thought the guys put a solid effort in start to finish, probably our best 60 minutes of the year," said Coach Laxdal. "We had a few breakdowns, but we cleaned up a lot of areas. The guys deserved a better fate tonight."

The team spent 45 minutes in video sessions this morning to clean up last night's issues. The result was a contest that saw them give up just 17 shots and only seven scoring chances. Given the stout defense, it is imperative that the Stars get a solid effort from their goaltenders and they did not get that tonight. Including tonight's game, both of Texas's goalies now sport identical .894 save percentages.

Laxdal intoned, "Our goaltending has to get better. If you don't have a goaltender in any league, you're not going to win many games. We have to get some better performance [from our goaltenders]."

Texas came out firing with a 10-2 shots advantage in just the first 8 minutes of the game. The period turned on a disallowed goal by Austin Fyten. Branden Troock went hard to the net while Fyten collected a rebound for the seemingly-good goal. "I thought it was a weak call. The stick was there, but it didn't interfere with the goalie's push. [Condors' goalie Nick Ellis had] already pushed across, and Fyten came in for the rebound."

There was no review at all on the play and the score stayed at 0-0. A few minutes later, Bakersfield caught two breaks. On the power play for a delay of game call, Scott Allen broke open the scoring with just the third Condors shot of the game. Their 5th shot was also a goal and it was 2-0 in a hurry.

Brandon DeFazio noted the bench reaction after the turn of events, "It was really disheartening considering how hard we were working. Everything seemed to be going our way. You feel like you're going to come back and things are going to be fine, but obviously we fell short."

Denis Gurianov would score on the power play off a nice tip play on the shot from Mattias Backman, setting things at 2-1 after twenty.

The second period was a repeat, with two goals for Bakersfield and one for Texas. Josh Currie cut across the ice right to left and beat Bow for the 3-1 lead. The Stars got distracted after taking the body a bit too much up ice and didn't have anyone covering the forward.

Texas earned another chance on the weekend at their 5-on-3, this time for 69 seconds. Brandon DeFazio lit the lamp to cut the lead in half at 3-2. However, the captain, Ryan Hamilton, answered back with a tip on a point shot for the 4-2 score.

In the final frame, the Stars held Bakersfield to a single shot on goal while pelting Nick Ellis with 15 of their own. Despite numerous chances, Ellis stymied each. "He's a really quick goalie side to side and he competed well," said DeFazio.

Postgame, Coach Laxdal assessed his team at the break, "Every game is a playoff game for us and we're expending a lot of energy to get back in the games. We're chasing them."

Now, the Stars can add another team to the chase as Bakersfield's win pushes them to 6th place in the Pacific. Just behind them in seventh is Texas.

Tonight's lines:
DeFazio-Dickinson-Gurianov
Ranford-Morin-Stransky
Ully-Smith-Elie
Troock-Fyten-Werek

Bodnarchuk-Ebert
Stevenson-Bystrom
Backman-Mangene

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Honka (call up)
Herbert, Anselmini, Van Brabant (scratch)
Dowling (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 6,863, the first sellout of the season for the Texas Stars.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Bakersfield - January 28 2017

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Bakersfield Condors

Texas Stars
20-18-1-2, 43 pts, 0.524
#6 Pacific Division
v.Bakersfield Condors
16-16-4-1, 37 pts, 0.500
#8 Pacific Division
January 28th at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Texas looks to hit the All-Star Break with some momentum, angling for a win tonight to salvage the weekend set against Bakersfield. After getting pulled last night, Landon Bow is set to go again tonight.

Jason Dickinson is going to take warmups, but it seems like the team would prefer him to get more rest on his injury before testing him again in game action. Nick Ebert will check into the lineup as Laxdal attempts to make his lineup heavier. Last night, he criticized the defense as playing too lightly. This morning, the team had a 45-minute long video session going over last night's game. The mistakes of last night were well-analyzed, and Texas is prepped to ensure they don't happen again tonight.

Stars injury/call up report:
Honka (call up)
Dowling (injury)
Dickinson (questionable)

Condors Web Resources:
Website: bakersfieldcondors.com
Blog (Official): Inside the Condors
Twitter: @Condors
Twitter: @CondorsHolty (PBP)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Frenetic First Dooms Texas Stars As Bakersfield Condors Triumph 6-3

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
A madcap first period constituted most of the scoring in tonight's game as the Texas Stars fell to the visiting Bakersfield Condors by a 6-3 final. Despite opening the scoring, Texas found itself down 3-2 after the first period thanks to a pair of goals in the final two minutes of the period.

"We knew they played fast," said Coach Laxdal. "Their speed caught our D off-guard a little bit in the first period and set the tone for the game. It was 3-2 going in after the first and we knew we could play better."

Landon Bow started the game but gave up three goals on just 13 shots. He was relieved by Lagace in the second, an attempt to kick the team into gear for the middle frame.

"I didn't think our backend was very hard tonight. They played light and small. We didn't have a great game there and didn't give our goaltender much help."

The Stars responded to the goalie change in every way but with a goal. They earned a 5-on-3 power play, which they could not convert, and had numerous strong chances from every line. Especially notable was the play of Gemel Smith's line in the frame.

"We had a solid second," said Stars' captain Travis Morin. "We locked it down defensively and limited the chances. Obviously we didn't capitalize on a few power plays that really could have changed the momentum."

In the first, Texas seemingly came out on fire with Travis Morin scoring just 72 seconds in on an against-the-grain effort five hole on Gustavsson. Bakersfield answered as Griffin Reinhart tipped in a Greg Chase shot for the tie. All-Star Matej Stransky was in the right place with a paunchy rebound and managed to manipulate the puck into the net behind Gustavsson for the 2-1 lead.

Patrick Russell scored the tying goal on a 2-on-1 with Dillon Simpson. Texas looked like it would escape the period with a 2-2 score until Joey LaLeggia broke in alone after the Stars got caught trying to do too much up ice. The goal with 23.7 seconds in the first effectively ended Bow's night. While you do want to see your goaltender make those saves, you've also got to note the circumstances: odd-man rushes that put him on the back heel to begin with.

The aforementioned second period found Texas on the right side of the puck in nearly every way but the way that matters: on the scoreboard. The defeating second led to a deflated third, where Texas ceded two power play goals in rapid succession to start the period.

Coach Laxdal explained, "Our team is a little frustrated right now. We don't score on the power play and that frustration carries over to 5-on-5. When you get the chances 5-on-5 and you don't bury them, the frustration builds more and more. This is a growing experience for our hockey club. We have to battle adversity."

Morin continued, "It's a little bit of [gripping the stick] and a little bit of puck luck, where they're not bouncing the right way."

Two power play goals on "light" penalties, according to Laxdal, gave the Condors a 5-2 lead in the third. An empty net goal set the Bakersfield mark at six while Caleb Herbert scored off the assist of Branden Troock with less than ten seconds left to make it a 6-3 final.

These two teams face off again tomorrow night.

Tonight's lines:
DeFazio-Werek-Gurianov
Ranford-Morin-Stransky
Ully-Smith-Elie
Van Brabant-Herbert-Troock

Bodnarchuk-Backman
Stevenson-Bystrom
Anselmini-Mangene

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Honka (call up)
Fyten (suspended)
Ebert (scratch)
Dowling, Dickinson (injury)

Jason Dickinson is injured and set at "day-to-day" according to Laxdal. They would like to rest him again tomorrow to give him a full week off, including the All-Star Break, to recoup the injury. Austin Fyten and Nick Ebert are expected back in tomorrow, and Branden Troock is expected to stay in the lineup as well.

Tonight's attendance was 4,350.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Bakersfield - January 27 2017

Report: Albany Devils Relocating to Binghamton

Literally the closest I can come to finding a picture of the Albany Devils. Luke Gazdic, a former Star, now plays in the Devils organization. (Credit: Steven Christy)
As has been rumored for a while, it is expected that the AHL will vote this weekend to approve to relocation of the Albany Devils to Binghamton, NY. The Senators, Binghamton's current tenant, will be moving to Belleville, Ontario next season. The Times Union broke the story of Albany's move.

With this move, we are looking at 3 total relocations in the AHL next year:
St. John's IceCaps become Laval Rocket.
Binghamton Senators become Belleville Senators.
Albany Devils become Binghamton "Devils".
I'm guessing that the team will retain the Devils moniker. The Binghamton market has a penchant to take on whatever name their NHL club has. Binghamton has hosted the AHL's Rangers, Whalers, and now Senators.

The Devils have had the worst attendance in the AHL this season and have fallen in the bottom five of attendance for several years running. The Daily Gazette out of Albany notes that this move is certainly not the team's fault, placing blame squarely on the fans. Executive Sports Editor Mark McGuire compares it to the loss of their AA baseball team and notes, "Too many empty seats means filled moving vans."

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Bakersfield Condors

Texas Stars
20-17-1-2, 43 pts, 0.538
#6 Pacific Division
v.Bakersfield Condors
15-16-4-1, 35 pts, 0.486
#8 Pacific Division
January 27th at 7:30 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

The Stars have a great chance to beat up on a weaker opponent with the All-Star Break in sight. A weekend pair against the Condors will be a chance to up their points percentage with just under half the schedule remaining.

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
This will be the first visit to Texas for the Condors, who are not having an excellent season. At a game under .500, they're in last place in the Pacific Division. Further, Texas has had excellent success against the Oilers farm club in their iteration in California. The Condors' win earlier this season on November 5th was their first ever against Texas. The Stars swept the season series last year at a perfect 6-0, all regulation wins.

Despite their rough record, the Condors feature a top five scorer in Taylor Beck, who has 12-29=41 in just 27 games this year. Beck has faced the Stars most commonly as a Milwaukee Admiral. In three season there, he topped out at 49 points, a high mark he hit in 65 games in the 13-14 season. He is on pace for approximately 90 points if everything holds. Twelve of those points have come on the power play, so the Stars will be wise to watch #41.

The Stars will be without Austin Fyten this evening after his suspension for an illegal check to the head on Tuesday. Branden Troock has been recalled and could join the lineup to see if he can replicate his scoring ways in Cedar Park.

Stars injury/call up report:
Honka (call up)
Dowling (injury)
Fyten (suspension)

Condors Web Resources:
Website: bakersfieldcondors.com
Blog (Official): Inside the Condors
Twitter: @Condors
Twitter: @CondorsHolty (PBP)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Texas Stars' Austin Fyten Suspended One Game

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Austin Fyten has been suspended one game by the league for an illegal check to the head against Manitoba. He'll miss Friday's game against Bakersfield. Branden Troock's recall makes a lot more sense in light of this news. Here's the release:
The American Hockey League announced Thursday forward Austin Fyten has been suspended for one (1) game as a consequence of an illegal check to the head of an opponent in a game vs. Manitoba on Jan. 24.

Fyten was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 28.1 (supplementary discipline). He will miss Texas’s game Friday (Jan. 27) vs. Bakersfield.

Forward Branden Troock Recalled From Idaho Steelheads

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars are recalling Branden Troock from the Idaho Steelheads ahead of this weekend's game against Bakersfield. Troock started the season in Texas but has been tuning up his game in Idaho. He's scored seven goals in the ECHL across 15 games, playing on power play and penalty kill as well.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced Thursday the club has recalled forward Branden Troock from their ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads.

Troock, 22, has appeared in eight games this season with Texas and tallied three assists. In 15 games with the Steelheads this season, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound forward has recorded seven goals and nine points overall. Troock has appeared in 96 games over his AHL career with the Stars with 29 points (9-20=29).

The Edmonton, Alberta native was a fifth-round pick of Dallas in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Texas Stars Drop Tight Game to Manitoba Moose 2-1

Eric Comrie stops another puck (Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The penalty kill continued to dog the Stars this evening as two PPGs from the visiting Moose downed Texas in a 2-1 final. Texas, which has the worst penalty kill in the league at 75.8%, has allowed at least one power play goal per game on average this season. The Stars managed ot keep shots under 30 but the high danger shots on the power play were the difference.

"We took too many penalties in the second period and lost a little bit of our momentum," said Coach Derek Laxdal after the game. "It was one of those tight games and a frustrating game for our guys. We felt like we were the better team, but their performance obviously dictated the result."

Texas had four chances on the power play but could not come through. The 23rd ranked Stars PP is "gripping their sticks a little too tight" now in response to the dry spell, according to Travis Morin. The captain had the home side's only goal, an even-strength tally in the 3rd period.

Morin summarized the game aptly, "I think we played well 5-on-5 and limited their opportunities in that aspect of the game. Again, penalties killed us, and our lack of scoring on the power play killed us. It’s as simple as that."

Eric Comrie should have earned a star in the game, stopping all but Morin's bid and frustrating the Stars immensely in the process. Former Star Scott Glennie had two assists on the power play goals.

Texas stays in town to face Bakersfield this weekend.

Tonight's lines:
Stransky-Morin-Ranford
DeFazio-Smith-Elie
Herbert-Dickinson-Werek
Ully-Van Brabant-Fyten

Backman-Stevenson
Bodnarchuk-Ebert
Mangene-Bystrom

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Honka (call up)
Gurianov, Anselmini (scratch)
Dowling (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 3,783.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Manitoba - January 24 2017

Matej Stransky to the All-Star Game; Ethan Werek Signed to Contract

Matej Stransky (Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
A few news and notes today as the Stars take on Manitoba this evening. First, the league announced today that Matej Stransky will be taking the place of Julius Honka on the All-Star roster. Honka, who is currently in Dallas, has been marked as unavailable for the game. It is the first All-Star nod for the vet Czech forward. Former Star Jack Campbell also was named as a replacement player for the Pacific Division today.

Second, Ethan Werek was signed to an AHL standard contract this afternoon. He had been playing on a professional tryout to this point, which only lasts 25 games. The contract is a solid endorsement of what he's been able to do for the Stars this season, chipping in 3-5=8 in 18 games of mostly bottom six minutes.

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Manitoba Moose

Texas Stars
20-16-1-2, 43 pts, 0.551
#6 Pacific Division
v.Manitoba Moose
16-19-3-2, 37 pts, 0.463
#7 Central Division
January 24th at 7:30 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Thanks to the lengthy travel between Winnipeg and Austin, the Stars will play Manitoba again in quick succession. Last week's battle ended in a 4-3 victory for the home side and Texas will look to close their series against the Moose with a winning record. In their current incarnation, the Moose have yet to defeat the Stars in Cedar Park.

While Texas hopped on a plane to split two games in Des Moines, the Moose stuck around the Lone Star state, heading to San Antonio for a weekend set. They scored two goals in each game. In the first, that was enough as Eric Comrie pitched a shutout. In the second, it was not. San Antonio defeated Manitoba 4-2.

Speaking of goaltending, here's a question for Texas: when will Maxime Lagace play again? It's been 11 days since his last game, a 5-3 loss in Tucson. Since then, Texas has played five games in a breakneck 10 day span, all started by Landon Bow.

The current playoff line has dropped to .588, meaning Texas needs to rattle off 4 straight wins to get there. The Stars have had one four-game win streak this season and came close to having another last week in Iowa.

Realistically, this is a three-way race between Texas, Stockton and San Diego for the fourth spot in the playoffs. Ontario, Tucson and San Jose all look to have some cushion. Texas has just one game left against San Diego but 5 left against Stockton. There is a chance for 'four-point games' later in the season, but that doesn't mean tonight's game isn't important to getting there.

Stars injury/call up report:
Honka (call up)
Dowling (questionable)

Website: moosehockey.com
Twitter: @ManitobaMoose
Newspaper: Winnipeg Free Press
Beat writer: @pwilliamsNHL

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Texas Splits Weekend in Iowa with 3-2 Saturday Night Loss

In front of a crowd of more than 12,000, the Texas Stars fell to the home team Iowa Wild to close out a quick trip to the Hawkeye State. Travis Morin scored his 12tn and 13th of the year in the game. He was the only goal scorer for the Texas side.

Landon Bow stopped 39 of 42 shots. The Stars were unable to keep under their stated goal of 30 shots against or fewer.

Here's the release:
Travis Morin’s second goal of the game gave the Texas Stars a chance late, but the Iowa Wild held on for a 3-2 win on Saturday night in front of 12,547 fans in attendance at Wells Fargo Arena.

The Stars (20-16-1-2) and Wild (19-19-4-1) split their weekend pair of games. Morin’s two goals gives him 149 in his AHL career. Landon Bow stopped 39 of 42 shots in net in the loss for the Stars. Steve Michalek earned the win for Iowa in a 33-save performance.

The Stars return home on Tuesday to host the Manitoba Moose at 7:30 p.m. CST.

Trailing 2-1 entering the third, Iowa made it a two-goal lead with a rebound goal by Mario Lucia at 13:42. The Stars pulled Bow for the extra attacker, and a comeback push, which led to Morin’s second goal of the night with just under three minutes to play. Brandon DeFazio created a rebound chance that the Stars captain batted out of the air for his 13th of the season.

The Stars took a late penalty to prevent an empty-net goal by the Wild, which eliminated their opportunity at finding the equalizer.

Marc Hagel’s deflection goal for Iowa midway through the first opened up the scoring on the night.

Travis Morin deflected Matt Mangene’s point shot 4:48 into period two to put Texas on board, but Alex Petan tipped a shot past Bow to give Iowa the one-goal advantage again, 2-1, entering the break.

Texas finished 0-for-2 on the power play. Iowa went 0-for-1. All three power play chances in the game came in the third period.

Tonight's lines:
Stransky-Morin-Ranford
Werek-Smith-Elie
Herbert-Dickinson-DeFazio
Van Brabant-Fyten-Gurianov

Backman-Stevenson
Bodnarchuk-Ebert
Mangene-Bystrom

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Honka (call up)
Ully, Anselmini (scratch)
Dowling (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 12,547.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Iowa - January 21 2017

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars at Iowa Wild

Texas Stars
20-15-1-2, 43 pts, 0.566
#6 Pacific Division
atIowa Wild
18-19-4-1, 41 pts, 0.488
#5 Central Division
January 21st at 7:00 PM
Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA

There's always a response on the second night. We've documented here the well-known fact that Texas has trouble coming out of the gate in general. This is doubly true when the other team has motivation, such as losing in their home barn the night before after leading for most of the game. Texas did well to manage things last night, being down 1-0 and coming back to win. The win was Texas' second on the season when trailing after two periods (2-11-1-1). It was only Iowa's 4th loss of the season when leading after two periods (12-2-1-1).

Justin Dowling did not travel with the team and will still be out tonight. It seemed like all six defensemen in last night performed well, so Brandon Anselmini would only come in as a change of pace. However, if you're winning, why change the pace?

The Stars still have a mountain to climb to get into playoff contention. Despite being 5 games over .500, they trail Stockton and San Diego for the 4th spot in the division. Texas will need to extend their winning streak by four more games, including tonight, in order to get above .600, which is the current mark for 4th place.

Stars injury/call up report:
Honka (call up)
Dowling (injury)

Wild Web Resources:
Website: iowawild.com
Blog (Official): I Wild Blog
Twitter: @IAWild
Twitter: @IowaWildFish (former Stars PBP Josh Fisher)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Nick Ebert Uses Streaky Scoring to Help Texas Best Iowa 3-2 in OT

Nick Ebert continued his streaky scoring ways as Texas topped Iowa in Des Moines by a 3-2 overtime score. The defenseman has 10 points on the season but four of those have come in multi-point games. Tonight's contest was a two-goal affair as Ebert scored both the go-ahead goal and the winner.

Iowa got on the board first with a rebound goal from Kurtis Gabriel. The score stayed at 1-0 until the third period. Within 20 seconds of each other, Matt Mangene and Ebert scored to push Texas to a 2-1 lead at the halfway mark of the period. Mangene turned on the jets for his breakaway goal and Ebert used the power in his shot to thread the needle past Alex Stalock for the 2-1 advantage.

Sam Anas would tie the game with the goalie pulled and just 6 seconds left on the clock. Maxime Fortunus, former Stars captain, had the primary assist on the goal after volleying the initial shot on Landon Bow.

Nick Ebert would tip his goal past Stalock two minutes into the extra frame for the final score of 3-2. Landon Bow collected the win with 24 saves on 26 shots. Neither team scored on the power play in the game.

Tonight's lines:
Stransky-Morin-DeFazio
Ranford-Smith-Gurianov
Herbert-Dickinson-Werek
Ully-Fyten-Elie

Backman-Bystrom
Bodnarchuk-Ebert
Mangene-Stevenson

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Honka (call up)
Van Brabant, , Anselmini (scratch)
Dowling (injury)

Tonight's attendance was 8,508.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Iowa - January 20 2017

Julius Honka Recalled to Dallas Stars

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
With Johnny Oduya going on IR, the Dallas Stars have recalled Julius Honka from the Texas Stars. This explains the recall of Brandon Anselmini yesterday.

Here's the release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the club has recalled defenseman Julius Honka from the Texas Stars, Dallas' top development affiliate in the American Hockey League. The team has also placed defenseman Johnny Oduya on Injured Reserve, retroactive to Jan. 17.

Honka, 21, has registered 21 points (5-16=21) in 30 games with Texas this season. He shares second on the club in assists (16) and ranks fourth on the club in points (21). Among team defenseman, he leads all blueliners in points, goals and assists. Honka has skated in eight games for Dallas this season, recording three assists (0-3=3) and made his NHL debut on Nov. 21 vs. Minnesota, registering an assist (0-1=1) in his first career NHL contest.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound native of Jyvaskyla, Finland was originally selected by Dallas in the first round (14th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars at Iowa Wild

Texas Stars
19-15-1-2, 41 pts, 0.554
#6 Pacific Division
atIowa Wild
18-19-3-1, 40 pts, 0.488
#5 Central Division
January 20th at 7:00 PM
Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA

UPDATE: Julius Honka has been recalled to Dallas.

The Stars make their first and only visit to the Iowa Wild this weekend for a pair of games. The Stars will come in with a win their last contest but a record of 4-5-0-1 in their last ten. The Wild are a game below .500 on the year and find themselves on a two-game losing streak among a four game homestand. Unfortunately for the Wild, they had excellent momentum coming into the homestand, winning two in Manitoba and two in San Antonio. It was their longest win streak of the season and took them all the way to .500 from four below.

You better believe the Wild will seek to put a body on Denis Gurianov, who has the Stars' last two game-winning goals. The young Russian is coming into his own in the league. On the Wild side, Teemu Pulkkinen is one that the Stars much watch. He is 12-14=26 with 31 GP and was always lethal against the Stars as a Griffin. Former Star Maxime Fortunus has played 30 games this season going 1-3=4 but with a plus-6 rating, the best on the team.

Stars injury/call up report:
Honka (call up)
Dowling (injury)

Wild Web Resources:
Website: iowawild.com
Blog (Official): I Wild Blog
Twitter: @IAWild
Twitter: @IowaWildFish (former Stars PBP Josh Fisher)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brandon Anselmini Recalled from Idaho Steelheads

The Texas Stars have recalled defenseman Brandon Anselmini ahead of their road trip to Iowa tomorrow. The team is traveling today, so Anselmini will meet the team in Des Moines. The ECHL is currently on its All-Star break.

Anselmini has 3 assists in 9 games with Texas this season.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Denis Gurianov Scores Second Straight Game Winner as Texas Tops Moose 4-3

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars used an energetic close to the second period to vault themselves past the Manitoba Moose at home tonight by a 3-2 margin. Rookie forward Denis Gurianov had a goal and an assist, contributing all over the ice as the coaching staff has elevated his role and added him to the power play. Gurianov scored the game-winner with yet another five-hole goal, almost his signature move at this point.

"It's just lucky," said Gurianov. "I wanted to score in the five hole because [I had] big speed."

Coach Laxdal expanded on Gurianov's new role, "We've elevated him in the lineup to get him more ice time. The goals [in the past two games] were great goals by him in key moments. It's nice from a coaching standpoint to see him grow his game."

Gurianov started the year in a top 9 role but is clearly cementing himself into a top 6 position. Laxdal even noted that he will be moving Gurianov onto the Stars penalty kill to take advantage of his speed.

Manitoba opened the scoring with an unfortunate mistake by Matej Stransky. On the power play, Stransky whiffed on a breakout pass, putting the puck directly on the stick of Quinton Howden. The former Rampage forward beat Bow on the blocker side for the 1-0 lead. The Stars would answer with a power play tally from Gemel Smith, a tip play for the 1-1 tie. Gurianov had the second assist.

Down 2-1 in the second after a Moose power play goal, the Stars poured on the shots and spent extended periods in the Moose zone, generating dangerous chances.

"The first 30 minutes we were a little tired and lethargic from the road trip," said Coach Laxdal. "The last 30 minutes we picked it up and played the way we were capable of."

Julius Honka got things going on the comeback with the tying goal from the point late in the second. The Stars gained the zone and had the Moose all out of sorts, chasing the puck as it whizzed from stick to stick. When Honka got it at the point with no one within 15 feet of him, the tally was good as counted.

"I think [the game] just started out a bit choppy, no flow and pucks bouncing around," said Jason Dickinson. "It took a bit to find our legs with such tough road travel. We had to create some energy."

The second period closed with the Stars driving the net repeatedly and generating good momentum for a lively third period. Texas was rewarded for their efforts with an early goal by Dickinson. The sophomore forward lofted one over Eric Comrie off the pass from Caleb Herbert behind the net.

"It was a great forecheck. Herbert made a nice play, took a look over his shoulder and saw me. I was lucky enough to be able to put it home."

Gurianov would notch his game-winner unassisted in the third. Postgame, he noted that he feels much more confident after his stint at World Juniors, "I feel better, a little bit better. I played a lot in World Juniors and I [am playing] a lot now in Texas."

Laxdal continued, "He's a first round pick with great wheels. Early in the season, he had good looks but wasn't scoring. Now he's burying those chances."

With a 6-on-5 advantage, Manitoba would come within one goal at 4-3. However, Landon Bow and the Stars would lock it down. Bow had 24 saves on 27 shots.

The Stars home stand was shortlived, however. Texas now hits the road for a pair in Des Moines Friday and Saturday night.

Tonight's lines:
Stransky-Morin-DeFazio
Ranford-Smith-Gurianov
Herbert-Dickinson-Werek
Ully-Fyten-Elie

Honka-Bystrom
Bodnarchuk-Ebert
Mangene-Backman

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Van Brabant, Stevenson (scratch)
Dowling (injury)

Justin Dowling will not make the road trip but the Stars do not anticipate it to be a long-term issue.

Tonight's attendance was 4,313.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Manitoba - January 18 2017

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Manitoba Moose

Texas Stars
18-15-1-2, 39 pts, 0.542
#6 Pacific Division
v.Manitoba Moose
15-17-3-2, 35 pts, 0.473
#6 Central Division
January 18th at 7:30 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Texas returns home for just a single game before hitting the road again this weekend. Their opponent tonight is Manitoba. The Moose just broke up a five-game losing streak with a win against Chicago at home. It was a really solid win against the Wolves as they came back from a 1-0 deficit to score four straight and stopped seven power play chances for Chicago.

The Moose will be without their starting goaltender for tonight's game though. With the Jets nearly tied with the Dallas Stars in the mediocre middle of the Central Division, they recalled Ondrej Pavelec. The team will start him against Arizona this evening. That leaves Eric Comrie in net. As of this writing, the Moose do not have any other goalies on their roster. Watch for that to change before the game. The Moose added Garrett Bartus on a PTO this morning. The one-time Steelheads has never played an AHL game. He started the year in SPHL and has risen to the ECHL and now the AHL.

This will be the first return to Texas for Scott Glennie, who played with the Stars for four full seasons, including winning the Calder Cup. After missing last year to shoulder injury, he signed an AHL deal with the Moose and has kicked in 5-10=15 in 28 GP.

One thing to watch, as it has been all season, is to watch the Stars' first period. They have one of the worst margins in the period at minus-11. Only Charlotte, Hartford and Rockford are worse at -26, -13 and -13, respectively. Texas catches up in the second period with a +4 but they don't always make it all the way back, as we saw in Tucson on Saturday.

Here's the full chart of all teams in all periods

(Click to enlarge)
Stars injury/call up report:
Dowling (questionable)

Website: moosehockey.com
Twitter: @ManitobaMoose
Newspaper: Winnipeg Free Press
Beat writer: @pwilliamsNHL

Monday, January 16, 2017

Denis Gurianov Scoops and Scores for OT Win in San Antonio

Texas needed overtime to do it, but they managed two points against San Antonio to close their road trip with a 4-3 victory. They close the road trip with 4 of 8 points but ceding five to their divisional opponents Tucson and San Antonio. Denis Gurianov was the top star for Texas, earning his fifth goal of the year completely unassisted just 9 seconds into overtime. He stole the puck from Chris Bigras and walked in unabated for the tally.

The two teams seesawed back and forth with neither leading by more than a goal at any time. San Antonio went first only to be answered by a pair from Matej Stransky, his 14th and 15th of the year. He had four goals ont he road trip. With 15 goals and 11 assists, he is on pace for his best scoring season of his pro career.

San Antonio answered back with a pair in the second. Mattias Backman tied the game at 3 late in the period on a five-hole goal from the point. There would be no scoring in the third, setting up Gurianov's OT glory.

The Stars went back to Landon Bow in net, who stopped 21 of 24 in the win. The heavy schedule for Texas continues in Cedar Park on Wednesday against the Manitoba Moose.

Tonight's lines:
Gurianov-Morin-DeFazio
Ranford-Smith-Stransky
Herbert-Dickinson-Werek
Ully-Fyten-Mangene

Honka-Bystrom
Bodnarchuk-Backman
Ebert-Stevenson

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Elie, Dowling, Van Brabant (scratch)

Today's attendance was 3,907.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at San Antonio - January 16 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tucson Bests Texas 3-2 With First Period Effort

A familiar story for Texas played out again this evening in the desert. Texas let up three goals in the first period and had to fight to get back in the game. They got to two but couldn't tie it at three. Stransky and Honka were the Stars' scorers.

Landon Bow stopped 16 of 19.

Here's the release:
For the second straight night the Texas Stars vastly outshot the Tucson Roadrunners but came up short in a 3-2 final at Tucson Arena in front of 4,825 fans in attendance on Saturday night.

Julius Honka and Matej Stransky scored for the Stars (17-15-1-2). Texas outshot the Roadrunners (18-9-4-0) 38-19 in the game after putting up 40 shots on net in Friday’s matchup. Tucson scored all three goals in period one before holding off Texas’ comeback efforts through the final 40 minutes of play.

The Stars wrap up their four-game road trip on Monday afternoon in an I-35 Rivalry matchup against the San Antonio Rampage at 3 p.m. CST.

Stefan Fournier on a breakaway at 5:14, Christian Fischer on the power play at 7:40 and Michael Bunting on an odd-man rush at 13:27 were the first period goal-scorers for Tucson to open up the 3-0 lead.

Honka’s goal was the only offense in period two on a wrist shot from the point. Honka’s fourth of the season snapped a 20-game drought for the Texas defenseman. Mattias Backman and Gemel Smith tallied the assists.

In the third, Stransky threw an innocent shot on net from the boards that slipped through Tucson netminder Adin Hill when he failed to get back in position quick enough to make a save. The Stars had a late power play opportunity in the third, but could not find the back of the net for the equalizer.

Hill earned the win with 36 saves in net. Landon Bow suffered the loss for Texas going 16 of 19.

Texas finished 0-for-4 on the power play. Tucson went 1-for-5.

Tonight's lines:
Ully-Morin-DeFazio
Ranford-Smith-Stransky
Herbert-Dickinson-Werek
Van Brabant-Fyten-Gurianov

Honka-Backman
Bodnarchuk-Ebert
Mangene-Stevenson

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Elie, Bystrom, Dowling (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 4,825.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Tucson- January 14 2017

Patrik Nemeth Recalled to Dallas Stars

Patrik Nemeth is on his way back to Dallas for tonight's game against the Wild. The defenseman was on a conditioning assignment in Texas, getting some ice time he could not find in Dallas. With the injury to Jamie Oleksiak on Thursday against the Red Wings, Nemeth was needed as the 7th man for the upcoming road trip.

Texas has been scratching Ludwig Bystrom and Nick Ebert the past several games, so they should have enough depth to not worry about recalling a forward from Idaho.

Here's the release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the club has recalled defenseman Patrik Nemeth from his conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars, Dallas' top development affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL).

Nemeth, 24, recorded three points (1-2=3) in four AHL games with Texas during his conditioning assignment. The defenseman has appeared in 16 NHL games with Dallas in 2016-17 and has registered 17 hits, 19 blocked shots and 18 shots on goal this season.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound native of Stockholm, Sweden, was originally selected by Dallas in the second round (41st overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft.

Texas Falls Short 5-3 Despite Hat Trick from DeFazio

Texas got a gargantuan goal effort out of Brandon DeFazio but couldn't keep the goals against away. The forward's power play hat trick was wasted in a 5-3 loss in Tucson this evening.

Texas never led in a game that was filled with special teams. In all, the teams combined for five power play goals on 12 chances. You can't fault Texas' power play effort at 3/8, all coming from DeFazio. However, their penalty kill, mired at last in the league, gave up two in the loss, ultimately the difference. A late empty net goal sealed the game as Texas tried for the tying tally.

The Stars kept the shots below 30, a stated goal for Coach Laxdal. However, the goaltending was not as tight, with Maxime Lagace allowing four goals on just 27 shots (.852 SV%). Texas put 40 on Adin Hill in the Roadrunners net.

These two teams meet again in Tucson tomorrow night as Texas continues its four-game road trip.

Tonight's lines:
Gurianov-Morin-DeFazio
Ranford-Smith-Stransky
Ully-Dickinson-Elie
Herbert-Fyten-Werek

Honka-Nemeth
Bodnarchuk-Backman
Mangene-Stevenson

Lagace

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Bystrom, Dowling, Ebert, Van Brabant (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 4,481.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Tucson- January 13 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars at Tucson Roadrunners

Texas Stars
17-13-1-2, 37 pts, 0.561
#5 Pacific Division
atTucson Roadrunners
16-9-4-0, 36 pts, 0.621
#4 Pacific Division
January 13th at 8:05 PM
Tucson Convention Center, Tucson, AZ

While it's not quite as high flying as they were to start the season (0.800 pts %), the Roadrunners are doing alright. While they might be in 4th place, their .621 points percentage has them in a pretty spot. Their next closest competitor for the final playoff slot in the Pacific Division has a .561, and that's tonight's opponent, the Texas Stars.

Texas comes in with a big win over division-leading Ontario. The Roadrunners are in the midst of a five-game homestand that will see them play those same Reign before they depart for a rare trip to North Carolina. Their opening game was a convincing 5-2 win over the Manitoba Moose.

For the Roadrunners, watch out for their top scorers. Some are familiar. Some are not. Of course, Chris Mueller is among them (7-23=30 in 29 GP). However, his veteran play is matched by a rookie, Kyle Wood (8-22=30 in 29 GP). Both are top twenty in the league in scoring. The Roadrunners are without Brendan Perlini, who still ranks top five in team scoring (14-5=19 in 17 GP), despite lacing them up for the club just once since December 3rd. In fact, Perlini was assigned for the game against the Moose and scored a hat trick. He was quickly recaled.

For Texas, watch for the goalie matchups as always. Maxime Lagace has now started three in a row. However, with 8 games in 14 days and 3 in this 4 day stretch, Bow would seemingly have to come in at some point.

Stars injury/call up report:
None.

Website: tucsonroadrunners.com
Twitter: @RoadrunnersAHL
Coverage: @CallahanOnAir (Tucson PBP)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Texas Earns First-Ever Road Win in Ontario by 3-1 Margin

The Reign scored first, but Texas did all the scoring that mattered in the end. The Stars defeated Ontario in California for the first time ever. Matej Stransky collected the game winner early in the 3rd and Remi Elie tacked on an empty netter to set the final score.

Former Star Jack Campbell suffered just his 4th regulation loss of the year. Maxime Lagace earned his third straight start, collecting the win with 21 of 22 stopped.

Here's the release:
Matej Stranksy buried the game-winner early in period three and the Texas Stars defense held up the rest of the way to pull out a 3-1 road win over the first-place Ontario Reign on Wednesday night in front of 7,602 fans in attendance at Citizens Business Bank Arena.

It was the Stars’ first road win over Ontario in franchise history. Maxime Lagace stopped 21 of 22 shots in net to earn his 11th win of the season for Texas (17-13-1-2). Brendan Ranford (goal, assist) and Gemel Smith (two assists) each tallied multi-point games for the Stars. With the win, Texas finished their season series taking three of four games against the Reign (17-7-6-0).

Texas continues its four-game road trip on Friday when they visit the Tucson Roadrunners at 8:05 p.m. CST.

Stransky’s game-winner came 2:22 into the third off a long offensive cycle with Ranford and Smith. Smith slipped a centering feed from behind the net to set up Stransky in front for his team-leading 12th of the season. From there, Lagace turned aside the eight shots he faced in the final period to protect the Texas lead.

Ontario’s Adrian Kempe opened the scoring with a power play goal at 7:48 of the first for his eighth of the season. With just over five minutes to play in period two, Smith generated a rebound chance that Ranford stuffed home for his sixth of year to knot things back up at 1-1.

Ontario’s final push with the extra-attacker was negated when Kempe took a holding penalty with 95 seconds to play. Remi Elie added an empty-net goal for the Stars in the closing seconds to seal the win.

Both teams tallied a power play goal as Texas went 1-for-3 and Ontario finished 1-for-5.

The loss was just the fourth for Ontario in their last 15 games. Jack Campbell suffered the loss with 19 saves.

Tonight's lines:
Gurianov-Morin-DeFazio
Ranford-Smith-Stransky
Dickinson-Dowling-Elie
Herbert-Fyten-Werek

Honka-Nemeth
Bodnarchuk-Backman
Mangene-Stevenson

Lagace

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Bystrom, Ully, Ebert, Van Brabant (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 7,602.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Ontario - January 11 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars at Ontario Reign

Texas Stars
16-13-1-2, 35 pts, 0.547
#5 Pacific Division
atOntario Reign
17-6-6-0, 40 pts, 0.690
#1 Pacific Division
January 11th at 9:00 PM
Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario, CA

Sure as the sun rises in the east, the Ontario Reign are on top of the Pacific Division. It was rocky to start as the Reign were 3-3-3 out of the gate. Since then, they are 14-3-3 and just broke up a six-game winning streak with a loss to Bakersfield. That game was played outdoors in the rain. Regardless of the questionable player safety conditions, it was a curious sight to behold.

Part of the driving force behind the Reign's success: Jack Campbell. The former Star grabbed the net on December 2nd and has gotten every start since then, a streak of 14 games. He's 14-3-3 himself and sports a .908 SV%. It's the best save percentage he's had since the Stars won the Cup in 2014 (.942). Of course, remember that those numbers were achieved in limited work of just 16 games due to injury. Campbell has already outlasted his workload from 13-14. Aside from that season, Campbell is arguably having his best season of consistent work in his career. He is on pace to play the most games of his career but could have to start sharing the net relatively soon as the Kings get their goalies back to health.

Speaking of health, Texas is finally back to it. With Andrew Bodnarchuk out last game but expected to play tonight, the Stars will not have any players on the injured list for the first time in several months. It is even possible that the Stars could get another player from the NHL before the game to accommodate Jamie Benn's return to health in Dallas. With that, Texas is looking up. While the shootout loss on Saturday was a tough blow, Texas still collected three of four points from a team that was 10-2-1 coming into the building. Goalie Maxime Lagace looks to have regained some swagger and Texas held the Cleveland offense to just 54 shots in 125 minutes of work, which is below their stated goal of less than 30 shots against per game.

Stars injury/call up report:
Bodnarchuk (lower body, probable)

Website: ontarioreign.com
Twitter: @ontarioreign
Coverage: Reign coverage via Jewels from the Crown

Monday, January 9, 2017

Rookie Forward Mike McMurtry Assigned to Idaho Steelheads

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Rookie forward Mike McMurtry has been assigned to the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. The Stars are returning to health all across the lineup, and McMurtry was a scratch for both games this weekend. Since coming out of Northeastern last season, McMurtry has only played in the AHL. He signed an ATO last season and a standard contract for this year.

This is McMurtry's first ECHL assignment. The Steelheads play three games this week, all at home against the Colorado Eagles.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Dallas Stars, announced Monday the team has assigned rookie forward Mike McMurtry to their ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads.

McMurtry, 24, has tallied 10 points in 26 games this season with Texas (5-5=10). The 6-foot, 180-pound forward is currently in his rookie season after finishing up a four-year career at Northeastern University last year. The Greely, Ontario native recorded 80 points (20-60=80) in 141 collegiate games before beginning his professional career with the Stars.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fourth Line Strong for Texas in 2-1 Shootout Loss

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Texas played another tight, grinding game this evening against the Cleveland Monsters, coming out on the wrong side of the final score but with a lot of positives to count. The Stars earned a point in the shootout loss and got several parts of their game back on track in the process.

"It's good for our group to play in a game like this and grind out a game," said Coach Laxdal. "We did a good job to get a point and 3 of 4 on the weekend, especially coming off the three game losing streak."

After a week of practice and with the knowledge that Cleveland had one of the best records in the league over the past few weeks, Texas was in for a challenge. Last night's Stars' win was bound to generate a response from the Monsters.

However, it was Texas kickstarting the scoring early with the fourth line chipping in. "The fourth line was our best line tonight. If you look at work and zone chances and just on the puck, they were on the puck all night. They did a good job with the minutes they were given tonight."

The fourth line goal from Caleb Herbert came from within a few feet of the net, a backhander simply seeking to put a puck on net, beat Anton Forsberg for the 1-0 score.

"We just try to create energy and get to the net," said Herbert. "We were just trying to build each shift and play in the offensive zone, not the defensive zone."

As the game went on, Herbert, Ethan Werek and Austin Fyten saw more minutes. In the third period, as Texas was coming up empty with repeated power play chances, they were even put in for the man advantage. The line had one of the best chances of that sequence.

Coach Laxdal contrasted the play of the fourth line with the power play units and some of the play of the top nine: "When we're not scoring goals the right way, you tend to get bad habits: make extra passes and be too cute. The easiest way is to put pucks on net and that's why our fourth line was so successful. Pucks to the net, go to the hard areas and get rewarded."

Despite the power play's struggles, the Stars did lock down the Monsters power play with a 4/4 effort on the PK.

Nick Moutrey scored in the second period to tie things at one, a mark that would stand through regulation and overtime. Maxime Lagace was a big reason for that. He earned the back-to-back starts with his performance last night and stopped 28 of 29 tonight through 65 minutes.

"Lagace gave us the chance to win. His game was good and he got us 3 out of 4 points. We're going to need him down the stretch."

The shootout would be unkind to the Stars as Caleb Herbert scored in Round 3 only to be matched by Jordan Maletta's tally. Travis Morin hit the post on his Round 4 bid, and Alex Broadhurst sealed the deal for the Monsters.

Texas hits the road for three out West, starting in Ontario on Wednesday.

Tonight's lines:
Ranford-Morin-DeFazio
Ully-Smith-Stransky
Dickinson-Dowling-Elie
Herbert-Fyten-Werek

Honka-Bystrom
Nemeth-Backman
Mangene-Stevenson

Lagace

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Gurianov (World Juniors)
Bodnarchuk (lower body)
McMurtry, Ebert, Van Brabant (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 6,267.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Cleveland - January 7 2017

Friday, January 6, 2017

Patrik Nemeth Notches Two Points in 4-2 Texas Win Over Cleveland

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Patrik Nemeth's return to Central Texas couldn't have gone much better for the Swede. His first goal in 937 days tied the game up late in the second period. The last goal Nemeth scored won the Calder Cup for the Texas Stars in overtime in St. Johns on June 17, 2014.

Nemeth deflected any spotlight on his goal postgame, "It's not just that, it's the timing in the game and how you handle situations. That's more important than the two points [I had] tonight."

The defenseman was assigned for conditioning this morning and says he expects to play in Cedar Park for the full allowable length of his stint, fourteen days.

Coach Laxdal was happy to have Nemeth in the lineup, "He's an NHL quality defenseman, just a big body back there. I'm sure he's glad to get some ice. He was excited to play and I think that's important for a player that they're excited to play."

The roster was bolstered by the addition of Mattias Backman, who has missed 7 weeks with injury, and Ethan Werek at forward.

The Stars opened the scoring in this one. Remi Elie nearly knocked his head on the dasher on his first shift but didn't miss a beat. On his second shift of the game, Remi Elie was the recipient of a homerun pass from Ethan Werek. Elie buried the chance for the 1-0 lead.

Throughout the early game, Texas seemed to be all over Cleveland. Jason Dickinson noted the strong start, contrasting it to the situations Texas has found itself in often this season chasing games early. Texas didn't get into that issue tonight, staying tight with a team that came into tonight's game 8-1-1 in their last ten.

Dickinson added, "In a tight game like that with back and forth, for us to come out on top shows a lot of character and drive in our game."

Despite that early drive, it would be the Monsters leaving the period with the lead. Nick Moutrey did a gargantuan job with two Stars draped on him to send the puck to an unguarded Sonny Milano for the first goal. John Ramage scored the second through traffic from the right wing half wall.

Maxime Lagace had to come up with some big saves in the seocnd period to keep Texas at a one-goal deficit. In successive shifts, Lagace was called upon to slide cross crease to stymie a Cleveland skater.

"Max settled down after the first two goals [against]," said Laxdal. "They had some good looks and max made some big saves."

Not to be outdone, Joonas Korpisalo found a combination of luck and skill as several of his efforts had the Stars looking skyward in disbelief. Korpisalo had a key mistake to hand Texas the tie though.

Nemeth's goal came on the penalty kill, Texas' league-leading 9th of the season. Korpisalo snagged the puck and went to release it quickly. Brandon DeFazio and Gemel Smith pressured the Monsters defense instantly and dished the puck over to Nemeth, who snuck down from the left point. He beat the sprawled goalie with a shot dead center in the net.

"The goal was just a juicy rebound coming out in the slot," said Nemeth. "It wasn't very hard to put it in the back of the net."

While Nemeth's goal came with intent, Jason Dickinson's game winner seemed to be on a wing and a prayer. The sophomore forward was deep in the Cleveland zone and threw the puck toward the crease from the left-wing corner. The puck caught Korpisalo's right leg pad and deflected into the net for the ultimate game-winner.

"That's a legit shot," professed Dickinson. "I'm not aiming there, I'm just trying to put it on net, funnel it."

That effort was fluky but Travis Morin's pass to Matej Stransky for the 4-2 lead was masterful. In a diving motion, Stransky fed the puck past a Monsters' defender for Stransky to go 1-on-1 with Korpisalo, besting him high for the 4-2 lead.

Texas was on the penalty kill more than they would have liked in the third, given the tight margin of the game, but came out perfect. The PK was a point of emphasis this week in practice as the team ranks 30th in the league down a man.

These two teams will face off again tomorrow night at 7:00.

Tonight's lines:
Ranford-Morin-DeFazio
Ully-Smith-Stransky
Dickinson-Dowling-Elie
Herbert-Fyten-Werek

Honka-Bystrom
Nemeth-Mangene
Backman-Bodnarchuk

Lagace

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Gurianov (World Juniors)
McMurtry, Stevenson, Ebert, Van Brabant (scratch)

Tonight's attendance was 5,054.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Cleveland - January 6 2017

Patrik Nemeth Sent to Texas for Conditioning Assignment

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The Dallas Stars have assigned Patrik Nemeth to the Texas Stars on a conditioning assignment. He is expected to be available for tonight's game against Cleveland. With eight defensemen in Dallas, there are two scratches each game. Patrik Nemeth's last game in Dallas was on December 23 and before that December 8. This is a move to get Nemeth some ice time. Nemeth came to Texas on a conditioning assignment last year and Stephen Johns came down on one earlier this year.

Conditioning assignments cannot last longer than 14 days by rule. The next 14 days for Texas includes 8 games, which is a pretty packed portion of the schedule.

Here's the release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the club has loaned defenseman Patrik Nemeth to the Texas Stars, Dallas' top development affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL), on a conditioning assignment.

Nemeth, 24, has appeared in 16 games with Dallas in 2016-17 and has yet to record a point. The defenseman has posted 17 hits and 19 blocked shots, as well as 18 shots on goal this season. Nemeth has skated in 84 career regular-season NHL contests, all with Dallas, and has registered 11 points (0-11=11).

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound native of Stockholm, Sweden, was originally selected by Dallas in the second round (41st overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft.

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Cleveland Monsters

Texas Stars
15-13-1-1, 32 pts, 0.533
#6 Pacific Division
v.Cleveland Monsters
16-12-1-2, 35 pts, 0.565
#4 Central Division
January 6th at 7:30 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

UPDATE: Patrik Nemeth is expected in the lineup tonight after being assigned on conditioning this morning.

If you're getting technical, the Texas Stars have never faced the Cleveland Monsters before... but let's not be so pedantic. The team formerly known as the "Lake Erie" Monsters comes to town for the first time this season. The Monsters, regardless of name, are the reigning Calder Cup champions after defeating the team most expected to go to the finals, Ontario, and then topping Hershey in the Final last year.

As with any Cup team, there was turnover. However, perhaps where it matters the most, there was not. Both Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo returned in net this season. Forsberg had a flawless 9-0 record in the postseason and Korpisalo was 6-2. This season, they are splitting the net again. In fact, they have alternated starts every game going back to November 19th. If the pattern holds, Korpisalo should be in net tonight and Forsberg tomorrow.

The skater ranks were also hit. You may recognize the name Zach Werenski from the on-going Columbus Blue Jackets streak in the NHL. He was the 3rd leading scorer on the playoff squad with 14 points in 17 games. Oliver Bjorkstrand is off the pace from his playoff numbers, but still ranks in the top 5 of scorers.

The Monsters are on quite a run at the moment. After dropping to 4 games below .500 in late November, the club is 10-2-0-1 since. Each of their losses in the past ten games has been by just one goal. Safe to say this is a formidable opponent for Texas.

The Stars are mired in a 3 game losing streak and find themselves in 6th place in the division after a pair of losses to the team that was then directly below them, San Diego. These two games close out a "home" stand that hasn't seen the Stars leave the state in 5 weeks. On that stand, they are 4-5-0. Once they hit the road next week, things won't be getting any easier. They'll fly to Ontario and Tucson, two of the best in the division, for three games total.

Texas will get Mattias Backman in the lineup for the first time since late November.

Stars injury/call up report:
Backman (injury, expected)
Werek (injury)
Gurianov (World Juniors)

Website: lakeeriemonsters.com
Blog (unofficial): Cleveland Plain Dealer
Twitter: @monstershockey

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Julius Honka Selected for AHL All-Star Game

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Julius Honka has been selected as the Texas Stars representative to the AHL All-Star Game in Allentown later this month. Honka has 16 points in 23 games with the Stars this season. It is his first AHL All-Star selection.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Dallas Stars, announced today that defenseman Julius Honka been selected to represent the team at the AHL's 2017 All-Star Classic, presented by Capital BlueCross.

Honka, 21, will be making the first All-Star Game appearance of his career. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound defenseman has tallied 16 points (3-13=16) in 23 games this season with Texas. Honka (HAHN-kuh) also tallied three assists in eight games on his first career NHL call-up with the Dallas Stars earlier this season.

The Jyvaskyla, Finland native was selected in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (14th overall).

The 2017 AHL All-Star Classic will be hosted in Lehigh Valley, Penn. this season. The event will begin on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET with the 2017 AHL All-Star Skills Competition. All-Stars from the Eastern Conference will square off against All-Stars from the Western Conference in seven skills events, including hardest shot, fastest skater and accuracy shooting.

Denis Gurianov Shines in World Juniors Semis Despite Russian Loss

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
While Texas has most of the week off, Denis Gurianov has been hard at work in the World Juniors. When he isn't studying with Coach Laxdal for his driver's license exam, he must be working hard on his goal celebrations. Gurianov had plenty of reason to celebrate yesterday afternoon.

The Texas Stars rookie was looking to help send Russia to the gold medal game in the World Juniors. He certainly did his part. The winger potted two goals in regulation and two more in the eventual shootout. The USA eventually triumphed in the seventh round to advance to the gold medal game. Russia will play Sweden for bronze today at 2:30 PM Central.

Gurianov spoke with Russian media after the game. The following quote comes through Google Translate, so take the general message and not the actual words.

"To anyone no complaints. They gave everything, just out of luck. What is the best match for me? We lost. Now analyze the game, we can say that already forgotten the semi-finals, we must prepare for the match for the third place. There are no victories without defeat . There is a feeling that missed from the hands of victory. it's a shame, it is difficult to pick up the words."

Experience like the above in a big game is invaluable for young players. Further, performing well in a big game, as Gurianov did, is even better news for the Dallas Stars. While the Russia squad is surely disappointed not to be playing in the gold medal game, we can all rest assured knowing Denis Gurianov is a name now familiar across the hockey world.