Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Texas Stars Media Day: Getting Out of Round 1, Ontario's Physicality, Starting Goalies

(Credit: Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars seem loose and ready for their first round matchup with the Ontario Reign, kicking off Thursday night at home. The players were jovial on the ice and seemed relaxed as they talked with the assembled media about the task ahead of them. Coach Derek Laxdal, Travis Morin and Curtis McKenzie spoke in the scrum, but 100 Degree Hockey grabbed a 1-on-1 with Brian Flynn that will roll out tomorrow.

Here are some high level topics from the day.

Getting out of the first round
Texas has made the playoffs in 3 of 4 years since the Calder Cup but hasn't yet emerged from the first round. Rockford and San Diego knocked off Texas in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It is definitely something that Texas has on its collective mind, but the team is very focused on game 1.

"We’re focused on this year," said Laxdal. "Our goal is get that first win Thursday night and win the series. We’re not focused on playing a 'championship' game right now. The word 'championship' isn’t even in our vocabulary right now. Our vocabulary right now is Game 1. The focus is on Game 1, getting a win and getting up 1-0 in the series. If you don’t get that, you won’t talk about the other things, plain and simple."

Travis Morin contrasted that, noting game 1 is the first step, "It’s been our goal all year to make it to the playoffs and now we obviously want to go as far as we can. We have to use [previous years] as motivation. Everyone in there should be motivated to play as hard as we can because we want to win a championship, not just win one round."

Ontario's physical style
The Reign have always been a physical team. Texas feels that plays to their advantage for multiple reasons.

"I love it," said McKenzie. "Every game, they came physically. We know what to expect. They’re a big team, and they like to throw the weight around. I’m just going to try to get myself to the net and create what I can."
(Credit: Texas Stars)
Morin noted that the team's speed will prevail if they can be crisp in their passing, "We’re a speed team, and if you can take their overagressiveness to finish checks and make them miss and use your speed to get around them, we’ve got quite a few guys who can fly on the ice. You start backing guys off and they get tentative about stepping up, and it can open up the ice."

Coach Laxdal has been coaching against Mike Stothers for years, both in the AHL and the WHL, and noted that this is simply the way his teams play hockey. "Ontario’s a big heavy team and I can tell you exactly how they’re going to play. They’re going to be physical, finish every hit and try to frustrate you. We have to have unbelievable composure and be disciplined We need to play with speed and be physical. If they’re going to take penalties, we have to strike on the power play. They’re going to try everything. They’re going to try to slow the play down, they’re going to scrum after whistles and stick guys. We have to play through that and have thick skin. That’s the way Mike Stothers coaches. We know what we’re going to get and we’re not going to be surprised."

Veteran and championship experience
With a mix of ATOs, rookies and vets, Texas has a massive number of championship players on the roster but also some green skaters as well. Travis Morin, Justin Dowling and Curtis McKenzie were all part of the Calder Cup team. Mike McKenna and Greg Rallo have made finals trips. Andrew Bodnarchuk won a Cup with Manchester, and Dillon Heatherington got one with Cleveland (Michael Paliotta didn't play in a ton of games in the playoffs, but also won in Cleveland that year).

"The guys who have been here, if anyone needs to ask questions about what to expect, we have a lot of guys in there," said Morin. "It’s experience more to keep yourself calm where you might get panicky."

Starting goalies
Coach Laxdal has Mike McKenna, who went to the finals last year in Syrcause, and rookie Landon Bow to choose from in net. He had this to say about the choice, "We’re pretty confident saying we have a 1a and a 1b. We’ll name our goaltender tomorrow. We could start either goaltender. That’s a great thing to have in the playoffs. McKenna had a great second half of the season, and Bow did a great job when McKenna was in Dallas. The goaltending is a strong point of both teams."

Good life advice
Felt like I should also throw in this Curtis McKenzie quote about playing in the playoffs as a rookie, but it seems like good life advice as well if you generalize.

"Every shift you have to be ready to make a difference. It’s the little things in series that add up to the big things. It could be a faceoff, getting a puck deep or a shot on goal. It could change the outcome of a whole series. You have to be ready for that. If you get behind, you might feel like it’s over. If you get up, it might feel like you already won it. You just have to maintain a level presence."

The series starts Thursday. Watch for our Brian Flynn feature tomorrow.

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