Monday, August 5, 2019

After Ten Years, Travis Morin Retires as the Face of the Texas Stars Franchise

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
After originally joining the Texas Stars on a tryout contract in 2009, Travis Morin announced his retirement last week after ten years in Cedar Park and a career arc that now makes his name synonymous with Texas Stars hockey. A 25-game PTO turned into three visits to the Finals, a Calder Cup championship, an MVP trophy and a playoff MVP trophy for the now 35-year old Minnesota native.

“I’ve been thinking about it the last few years trying to figure out how long I would want to play and how I would want things to go,” Morin told 100 Degree Hockey when reached by phone on vacation in Minnesota late last week.

“At the end of the year, getting hurt and not being able to finish the season the way I wanted, I kind of wanted to come back for another year. But as the summer wore on, the more and more I thought about it, the internal dialogue was that I was ready for it to all be done.”

Morin noted that even if the Stars had won the championship in 2018, he probably would have returned to make it an even ten years in Texas. After this season, an influx of new prospects shuffled Morin out of Texas’s plans and he had a decision to make. There was interest this summer for Morin to head out elsewhere in the league, if he had wanted. His pedigree is well established as both a veteran leader and a scoresheet contributor.

“In the end, I wasn't going to move my family, and I wasn’t going to leave them for a year just to go play another year. I was ready for it to be done. [Texas] offered me the job with them, and it seemed like the perfect thing for me and my family.”

That mantra of thinking about his family first was a huge part of what kept Morin in Cedar Park for ten years. His two younger boys were born in Texas and his oldest moved here as an infant, and every new contract year, Morin considered his family first and himself second, a character trait that shines through in how he comports himself generally.

“To give myself the chance to do my best, whether it was the AHL or the NHL, was to be somewhere I was comfortable. My family loves it there, I love it there, and they kept wanting me back… I felt like if someone told me there were greener pastures, you never know how it’s going to work out. When I go somewhere new, sometimes it’s going to take me a little while to get comfortable and do what I really know I can do. I looked at it that way. My family was happy, I was happy, and there wasn’t really a good enough reason to uproot that.”

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Morin describes his new role as “fluid”, as it will have him jumping into all aspects of what it means to put together a hockey team at the AHL level. He’ll be in the coaching room with Derek Laxdal and Neil Graham and working on ice with players in practice and other coaching sessions. He’ll be there to offer advice and guidance to players off ice as well. The team is also putting him to work in the front office. With ten years of experience in Austin, Morin is the face of Texas Stars hockey to so many and will act as a team representative at events across the city. He summarizes, “Whatever I can do to keep promoting the game and the team in the Austin area.”

“They’re giving me that opportunity to see all facets of what goes into hockey. It’s giving me a lot of avenues to explore and figure out if there’s a role I want with the team moving forward that I can expand into next year and moving forward.”

Being the ‘face’ of a team and having your jersey retired are quite the career accomplishments for a player who, by his own admission, wasn’t sure he’d play more than a few years in the ECHL when he started.

“I thought maybe this was going to be a couple of year thing and then I'll be in the real world working somewhere probably in Minnesota… To see where it’s all gone has been amazing in my estimation, and I’m very proud of what I did, what I accomplished and what the team accomplished.

“Obviously I wish I had played more in the NHL and maybe scored a goal up there, but in the end, winning a few championships and playing twelve years in some of the best places in their respective leagues to play is pretty good to me.”

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Travis Morin Announces Retirement, Will Join Texas Hockey Ops

(Credit: Colin Peddle/AHL)
The only remaining member of the Texas Stars inaugural team has announced his retirement as Travis Morin, through the Texas Stars this morning, announced that he will end his professional career after ten years spent in the organization and twelve in professional hockey. The Stars will retire his #23 jersey; he is the only player in team history to wear it.

Morin did it all with the Stars, winning the scoring title, league MVP, playoff MVP and a Cup in 2014 and holding almost every meaningful offensive record in team history. He sits 8th on the AHL's list of most games played by a player on a single team at 686. He ends his career as the Stars regular season franchise leader with 686 games played, 560 points, 175 goals, and 385 assists.

The center was drafted by the Capitals in the ninth round, back in 2004 when the draft went that deep,  after four years at Minnesota State-Mankato. He got a few games in Hershey but never caught on. After leading the ECHL Stingrays in scoring in 2008-09 and winning a Kelly Cup there, Morin got a tryout invite to Texas Stars training camp in 2009. The rest is history. Shortly thereafter he was converted to a standard player contract and eventually found himself on contract with the Dallas Stars.

He made his way into 13 NHL games, collecting just one point among those contests. However, Morin's impact on the Dallas Stars is not in his own personal score line. It's in the score line of Jamie Benn and the score line of Roope Hintz. It's how Radek Faksa or Jason Dickinson take a defensive zone faceoff. It's how Denis Gurianov sets up on the power play for a quick goal from the half wall. It's how he taught others to prepare everyday to win and ultimately to win.

Morin will continue to have an impact on the organization as he moves into a hockey operations role with the Texas Stars this coming season. He is expected to act as a skills coach for the club and have a role in business development and community outreach as well.

The Stars will retire Morin's jersey in a ceremony at their October 19th game against Grand Rapids. It will be the first time the organization has retired a jersey.

Read the press release after the break:

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Texas Stars Announce Pair of Preseason Games Against San Antonio

(Credit: Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars announced their pre-season schedule, which is exactly what you would expect if you've been paying attention to the Stars for the last 10 years. The Stars will play San Antonio in a home-and-home series the weekend before the season starts. Texas will go to San Antonio on Thursday the 26th and the Rampage will make the return trip on Friday night.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced the team’s preseason schedule Thursday. The team will take the ice in a home-and-home exhibition series against the San Antonio Rampage prior to the 2019-20 season.

Texas will travel to AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX on Thursday, Sept. 26 for a 7:00 p.m. puck drop against the Rampage. The two teams will then complete their preseason battle at H-E-B Center at Cedar Park on Friday, Sept. 27 at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets for both the preseason game in Cedar Park on Sept. 27 and the full 38-game regular season home schedule will go on sale at a later date.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Texas Stars Sign AHL Players Tanner Jago and Anthony Nellis

The Texas Stars bolstered their depth for next season with a pair of AHL contract signings. Both are rookies coming off 4-year collegiate careers. Tanner Jago is a defenseman out of Bentley University who picked up 28 points in 37 games last season. Anthony Nellis is a center out of Superior State, nominated for the Hobey Baker Award and picking up an ATO contract with Fort Wayne last season. He picked up eight points in ten games.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced Wednesday that defenseman Tanner Jago and center Anthony Nellis have been signed to AHL contracts for the 2019-20 season.

Jago, 25, prepares for his first pro action after captaining Bentley University in 2018-19. The blue liner completed his senior season with 28 points (9-19=28) in 37 games and ranked among the top-five defensemen in the Atlantic Hockey Conference for each of the last two seasons. Jago was named to the 2016 Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie team as a freshman. In four years with the Falcons, spanning from 2015 to 2019, the 6-foot skater logged 86 points (19-67=86) across 151 NCAA games.

Prior to enrolling at Bentley, the Brandon, Manitoba native skated with the Portage Terriers and Winkler Flyers of the MJHL and the Fargo Force of the USHL from 2011 to 2015.

Nellis, 24, turned pro at the end of the 2018-19 season, joining the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL. Nellis recorded eight points (5-3=8) in his first 10 games and was second on the roster in scoring across that stretch. Before turning pro, the 5-foot-11 center spent four years at Lake Superior State University. During his senior season, Nellis was tied for second on the team with 33 points (15-18=33) and 18 assists and earned a nomination for the 2019 Hobey Baker Award. The forward turned in 91 points (40-51=91) in 148 NCAA games and was among the team’s top-four scorers in each of his four seasons with the Lakers.

The Breakeyville, Quebec native produced 80 points (32-48=80) in 58 games with the Pembroke Lumber Kings and was third in scoring in the CCHL before enrolling at Lake Superior State.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Texas Stars 2019-20 Schedule Adds Toronto, WBS, Foregoes Most of Pacific Division

(Credit: Texas Stars)
The American Hockey League announced their full season schedule for 2019-20 this afternoon with big shifts in the opponents that Texas will face. The Stars will not see the majority of the Pacific Division, playing only Colorado and Tucson. In return, Texas gets four matchups each against Toronto and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. This will be the first meeting between Texas and Colorado as well as Texas and WBS.

The rest of the schedule is made up of the Central Division with 12 games against San Antonio and eight each against the remainder of the Central Division.

Traditionally, the Stars have not crossed over the conference line very often, especially in the last six years or so. A few select games against Syracuse were the lone exception, aside from the Stars three visits to the Calder Cup Final. In that regard, Texas will get a rematch of the 2018 CCF with two games in November in Ontario and two more in January in Cedar Park. The Stars head to Pennsylvania in December for two in WBS and the Penguins make the return trip in January.

The Stars will have a season-long road trip from February 4 to 12, a total of 9 days spanning three cities. Their longest home stand will come in February as well, eight games across twenty days. Texas has just two 3-in-3 weekends this year, the same as last year.

Full release after the jump.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Dallas Stars Ink D Dillon Heatherington to One-Year Deal

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Dallas knocked out another RFA signing this afternoon, securing defenseman Dillon Heatherington for another season on a one-year, two-way deal. He was part of the caravan of defensemen that filed up 1-35 during the 18-19 season to backfill for the injured blueliners in Dallas.

Ultimately, Heatherington got five regular season games and played in one playoff game as well. He played in all but three of the Texas Stars' games this season as well. It is expected that he will be part of the Texas Stars roster to start the season but be a recall option as the season progresses.

Here's the release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced today that the club has signed defenseman Dillon Heatherington to a one year, two-way contract.

Heatherington, 24, skated in five NHL regular-season games for the Dallas Stars during the 2018-19 campaign and collected one assist (0-1=1). He made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in Game 5 of the 2019 Western Conference Second Round vs. St. Louis, recording one hit and one blocked shot in 7:56 time on ice. The blueliner also appeared in 73 regular-season games for the Texas Stars, Dallas' top development affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL), tallying 24 points (2-22=24). Heatherington ranked second on the team with 75 penalty minutes and shared third with a +8 plus/minus rating.

The blueliner has appeared in 11 career NHL contests, all with Dallas, and has recorded two assists (0-2=2) with a +7 rating and 26 penalty minutes. Heatherington has registered 75 points (11-64=75) in 254 career AHL regular-season contests over parts of six seasons with Texas, Cleveland and Springfield. He has made two appearances in the Calder Cup Playoffs, skating in 36 postseason contests and posting six assists (0-6=6).

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound native of Calgary, Alberta was originally selected by Columbus in the second round (50th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft. Heatherington was acquired via trade from Columbus in exchange for left wing Lauri Korpikoski on Oct. 10, 2016.

Neil Graham Ready for the Next Challenge in Texas

(Credit: Noah Saucerman-Pitts, Idaho Steelheads)
Sitting in his office in Boise back in January 2017, then head coach Neil Graham told me about his recruiting strategy for ECHL players, which he summarized, "Take care of business for Idaho, and we help to advance you up the hockey ladder."

The sales pitch has become reality for the salesman himself this week as Graham was announced yesterday as the Texas Stars assistant coach.

He spent last week in upstate New York with his family celebrating his father’s 70th birthday. Once the departure of Bob Jones to Ottawa became official, “things picked up” and he balanced celebrations with some conversations about his future in the AHL. It only took a few calls before Graham was cemented as the next assistant.

“I think it was more talking about the scenario than any formal phone interview. Last summer we had a lengthy interview, but we talk 3-4 times a week. To already have that relationship is what made it such a good fit.”

Texas GM Scott White mentioned the extra year of head coaching experience that Graham acquired since last summer, which White felt was key to the hiring. Combined with his familiarity with the system, it was an easy hire.

“I think that’s something that excites me. It’s not a lot of introductions. I’ve coached a lot of these players in Traverse or exhibition. I’m familiar with the roster, scouts and staff. That transition should be fast tracked so now it’s for me to work with the players and staff.”

At the ECHL level, the head coach is also the GM. Back in 2017, Graham was undecided, at least publicly, about which way he wanted to go if he moved up to the AHL. Now, he’s explicit about his passion for the coaching role.

“As much as I enjoyed the GM responsibility, I’m most excited about honing my craft on the coaching side, learning from a great coach like Derek Laxdal. Being under his tutelage is one of the things that excites me the most. To go down the coaching path is my calling.”

With Graham on staff, Texas now has two former Steelheads in its coaching ranks. Laxdal coached the ECHL club from 2005-2010. Graham notes this speaks to the strength of the affiliation overall.

Now, he, his wife Meg and their 3 year-old son are anxious get to Cedar Park and begin their time in Texas. Meetings with a Cedar Park realtor are already on the calendar for today. The young family (Graham is just 34) is looking forward to putting down roots in the community, a key aspect of his coaching philosophy.

“Something we embraced in Boise was really being a part of the community. The fans, the neighbors, our son making friends. That’s the same way we want to approach this. We want to dive in with two feet, be good members of the community and good neighbors. I believe a lot of what you accomplish in hockey stems from first being good people.”