Friday, March 22, 2019

Stars Struggle to Bury Chances in 4-1 Loss to Wolves

The Texas Stars fell to the Chicago Wolves on Friday night in a 4-1 contest. Power forward Michael Mersch scored the lone goal for the Stars as the team struggled to capitalize on several golden chances throughout the contest.

“Probably the difference in the game is [Chicago] buried on a couple of their chances,” said head coach Derek Laxdal. “They had a couple lucky bounces, but we didn’t bury our chances. I thought [Chicago goaltender] Oscar Dansk played pretty well. That’s twice he’s come in here this year when we’ve had some good looks, but they ended up winning.”

(credit: Andy Nietupski)
Chicago defenseman Dylan Coghlan got the Wolves on the board within the first five minutes of play with a power play goal from the high slot. In reaction to a check he didn’t like, Texas blueliner Ben Gleason took an undisciplined cross-checking minor to set the Wolves up with the man advantage.

Mersch answered just over a minute later with one of his signature goals from in front of the crease. Stars captain Justin Dowling recorded the primary assist on the play and was the best player for Texas. His line drove play throughout the contest and threatened to tilt the ice at any given moment.

“I thought Justin Dowling was absolutely outstanding tonight. [The top line is] showing their leadership and showing their will to get in the playoffs, to push this team and drive the team. Every five-on-five shift they were a threat.”

Mersch’s marker was a continuation of his strong play against the Wolves this season. The tally gives him ten points in his last ten games and seven points in his last eight games against Chicago. His line combination with Dowling and Erik Condra will be critical going forward as the Stars continue to incorporate their recently acquired young players into the lineup.

“Probably our best line was our most mature line with Dowling, Mersch, and Condra. After that, we had three rookie centers down the middle. I thought it was a little rich for them tonight. But that’s part of the process of the learning curve for these kids.”

In the last five minutes of the first period, the Stars broke a stick, which led to extended zone time for the Wolves. Ryan Wagner scored to give the Wolves a lead they would never relinquish.

The Wolves added an even strength goal from Keegan Kolesar less than four minutes into the second period and an empty netter from Tomas Hyka with two minutes remaining in regulation to seal the Stars’ fate. Again, the chances were there for the Stars, but the bounces didn’t go their way.

“Give our guys a lot of credit. We had a good push in the third period. We had a couple of good looks. I think [Colin] Markison had the empty net, hit the post. We had some good looks in the first period and hit the post. That’s an experienced team over there, and we had a lot of young guys in the lineup tonight.”

One player who could’ve helped the Stars keep the puck out of their net was lockdown defender Dillon Heatherington who missed the game due to an illness that has affected several Texas players.

“We missed Dillon Heatherington tonight. We missed him shutting down the cycle down low. He’s a big part of our back end, and you can see how much smaller we got without him in the lineup. At the end of the day, they have their injuries, they have their sicknesses, so do we. They took advantage of their opportunities tonight.”

Dowling agreed with Laxdal’s assessments after the game. “I thought we had our chances tonight to tie the game up in the third,” he said. “It’s a game of inches out there. We bury a couple of those, who knows what happens? Maybe we come out on top, get to overtime or something. But give credit to them. They played well.”

The Stars play against the Griffins tomorrow night in Cedar Park.

Tonight's lines:
Mersch-Dowling-Condra
Gurianov-Melnick-Markison
Mascherin-Dellandrea-Caamano
Gardner-Cuglietta-Hargrove

Bayreuther-Hanley
Hanna-Hansson
Cecconi-Gleason

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Laberge (upper body)
Caamano (lower body)
Morin, Heatherington (illness)
Nyberg, Calderone, McClure, Point (scratch)

Tonight’s attendance was 4,816.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Chicago - March 22 2019

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Chicago Wolves

Texas Stars
32-27-4-3, 71 pts
#5 Central Division
v.Chicago Wolves
37-19-4-3, 82 pts
#1 Central Division
March 22nd at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

Only one point out of a playoff spot, the Texas Stars have been buoyed by an injection of youth and energy with the recent ATO acquisitions, and they can sense an opportunity. After beating Grand Rapids on Wednesday, they've got another upper echelon team on the docket in the Chicago Wolves.

"We’ve got another big test coming Friday and then on Saturday," said head coach Derek Laxdal after Wednesday's win. "We talked about our eleven games left. We have eight at home, and just try and win our home games."

(credit: Texas Stars)
Something to pay attention to in the coming games is how Laxdal handles the lineup. As the team was dealing with a couple illnesses, he dressed eleven forwards and seven defenseman against Grand Rapids. As players get healthy, it'll be interesting to see who rounds out the lineup. Forwards Robbie Payne and James Phelan have been sent to Idaho to make room.

"We had one new defenseman on the back end [in Cecconi]. We dressed seven D just to protect us that way. We’ve had some guys going through the flu here the last couple days including myself. And then bringing in three new centermen who have never played in the league, give the group a lot of credit in buying in and managing the situation."

They'll have their hands full with the division-leading Wolves who are coming off an overtime win against fourth place Rockford. But defenseman Gavin Bayreuther has a positive perception about his team's chances in any upcoming contest.

"We’re finally finding our stride," he said. "When guys start to play with confidence, good things happen. The first thing I noticed is last year we had a moment like this. We were kind of a bubble team, and all of a sudden we found our stride and started buzzing. I hope to continue that this year."

The puck drops at 7:00 PM CDT.

Stars injury/call up report:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Laberge (upper body)
Caamano (lower body)
Morin (illness)
L'Esperance (call up)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Texas Assigns Robbie Payne and James Phelan to Idaho

Robbie Payne (Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
Sufficiently satisfied with their new amateur tryout additions, the Texas Stars have assigned two forwards, James Phelan and Robbie Payne, to the Idaho Steelheads. According to the league transaction list, Phelan was technically assigned before the game last night, and Payne was assigned today.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced today that center James Phelan and right wing Robbie Payne have been returned on loan to the club’s ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads.

Payne, 25, has recorded six points (2-4=6) in 29 games with the Texas Stars scoring his first pro goal on Feb. 15 against the Tucson Roadrunners in a 2-0 win. The first-year forward skated in six games at the end of the 2017-18 season and recorded a pair of assists for the Stars before signing with the club during the offseason. The 5-foot-11 rookie from Gaylord, Michigan also logged nine games in the ECHL with the Steelheads, earning nine points (5-4=9).

The undrafted winger played four years at Northern Michigan University prior to turning pro and was named team co-captain as a senior in 2017-18. In 158 NCAA games with the Wildcats, Payne notched 94 points (54-40=94).

Phelan, 22, entered his first professional season this year and has since accrued five points (3-2=5) in 27 games with the Stars. The 5-foot-11 forward made his pro debut on Oct. 5, 2018 against Grand Rapids and notched his first goal eight days later against the Rockford IceHogs.

The undrafted skater from Laval, Quebec played five seasons in the QMJHL before turning pro. Across 321 games with Shawinigan, Victoriaville, and Moncton, Phelan earned 191 points (86-105=191) in his junior hockey career.

Prospect Report: Promising First Outing Despite No Points

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars integrated four new players into the lineup last night, from highly touted first rounders to college free agent signings. While none of the four picked up points in the 6-3 win over Grand Rapids, there were promising first steps for the group.

With Travis Morin sick with the flu and Colton Hargrove transitioning back to wing, the Stars elected to roll three brand new centers down the middle. Captain Justin Dowling was the only player on the faceoff dot not in his first pro game.

"I thought they got through the first rotation of shifts and probably had some butterflies," said Coach Laxdal postgame. "It was important to get through the first three or four shifts and feel like 'I can play in this league.' It was a good chance for these guys to get their feet wet. And the next time they play we know we can put them in different situations and try and grow their game a little bit."

After Thursday's practice, these players should be even more integrated into the team, including systems and even special teams. ATO winger Diego Cuglietta, who was at the game last night but didn't get there in time to play, is also a potential player for Friday as well.

Let's go down the slate of players and see what we can see.

Ty Dellandrea

Ty Dellandrea, Dallas's top pick in 2018, made a mark on the game even if he didn't score. Late in the first, he went straight at Chris Terry on a hit. Perfectly legal though it was, Terry took exception and knocked Dellandrea back, shoving him in the chest, at the benches. That generated Texas's first power play of the night.

"I thought Ty Dellandrea was really solid early on. He got under the other team’s skin a little bit. They were chasing him around, and he drew a penalty."

Dellandrea even had a few chances to set up Colton Hargrove for the eventual hat trick, Hargrove noted. It should be interesting to see if Dellandrea figures into the power play on Friday after a day to practice with the team today.

Rhett Gardner

Gardner was less noticeable but still had a fine game for his first. The centerman, who was a fantastic faceoff specialist at UND, didn't win a bunch to start the game. Turns out the pro game is a little different. Surely he'll work on that to improve and make it a solid part of his game at the pro level.

"I thought Gardner was real simple. His game’s only gonna grow once he gets used to the speed, size, and strength of the league. So it’s a lot of promise there."

Josh Melnick

Melnick had the good fortune to be put in the middle of two speedsters with Denis Gurianov and Colin Markison. There was one particular play in the second period where it felt like all three of them went from the center line to right on top of Harri Sateri in the blink of an eye. In speaking with some folks who saw him during his USHL days, Melnick is a player to watch for Texas and at an essentially no-risk level of contract.

Joe Cecconi

Joe Cecconi was a big get for Dallas. Even though they drafted him, the fact that he signed with Dallas instead of going to free agency was huge. He was paired with Ben Gleason in a setup reminiscent of his pairings with Zach Werenski and Quinn Hughes.

"I thought Cecconi was very good tonight. He was very simple in his game, and he made a lot of good plays with the puck. Didn’t panic very much. It was promising. They’re going to have moments moving forward, and we’ll just have to grow with them and take advantage while they’re here."

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Colton Hargrove's First Career Hat Trick Paces Texas to 6-3 Win Over Grand Rapids

The Texas Stars added four new players to their lineup and beat the Grand Rapids Griffins 6-3 on Wednesday night. Immediate scoring contributions were unnecessary from the newcomers as the older players provided plenty, blowing the game open in the third period.

Colton Hargrove scored his first career hat trick to account for half of the goals. The DFW native was moved back to his natural position on the wing and made two pretty plays with the puck in the second period to confound Griffins goaltender Harri Sateri.

“I thought [Hargrove] really stepped up tonight,” said head coach Derek Laxdal after the game. “We’ve asked him to play center for us the last couple months, and he got back into his normal position. Harsy’s pretty good in tight when he gets a chance. He’s going to bury it.”

(credit: Texas Stars)
The new-look lineup for the Stars featured three new centers and one defenseman. Dallas first round pick Ty Dellandrea especially stood out to both Laxdal and Hargrove.

“I thought we had really good chemistry right out of the gate,” said Hargrove. “Our goals that we had started with good D zone play. Ty down low winning his battles, winning battles up the wall.”

Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther also helped carry the scoring load, chipping in a goal and a helper. His goal came in the second period after a choppy first for both teams. The Stars had a power play expire right before Bayreuther caught Sateri swimming.

Four minutes later, Griffins forward Turner Elson scored on the rush. Denis Gurianov answered within the final minute of the period to give the Stars the lead again. He made a slick move on the rush, hesitating just enough to get the defender to lay out, then burying the puck.

Hargrove’s first two goals in the third period were beauties. “I thought he made a great play when he got out there on the late power play and had great speed down the left side and took it to the net,” said Laxdal. Hargrove finished the play with his backhand.

Minutes later, the same look for Hargrove came at even strength, but he changed his approach in a split second. “I figured [Sateri} was going to read that and maybe cheat,” he said. “So I kind of tried to fake like I was going across again and put it short side.”

Erik Condra got in on the action eight minutes into the third period, burying a one timer to a 5-1 lead. “It kind of opened up in the third period, and I think it took the pressure off our guys and allowed them just to kind of play through the game,” said Laxdal.

Joe Hicketts scored for the Griffins two minutes later during 4-on-4 play. The goal sparked the Griffins to go with an empty net with over five minutes left in regulation, leaving the door open for Hargrove to secure the hat trick. It wasn’t easy, though. “He missed the first one, and then he shot out of a cannon on the second one.”

Griffins forward Carter Camper scored with forty ticks left for aesthetic purposes. The Stars deserve credit for integrating so many new bodies into the lineup and beating a playoff-bound team to continue their bid for that fourth and final playoff spot in the Central.

“It’s a huge two points. You have to win your games to get in that fourth spot. Doesn’t matter who we play, we have to try and get the two points.”

The Stars square off against the Wolves on Friday in Cedar Park.

Tonight's lines:
Mersch-Dowling-Condra
Markison-Melnick-Gurianov
Mascherin-Gardner-McClure
Hargrove-Dellandrea- Hanna

Heatherington-Hansson
Bayreuther-Hanley
Cecconi-Gleason

Bow

Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Laberge (upper body)
Caamano (lower body)
Morin (illness)
Payne, Phelan, Nyberg, Calderone (scratch)

Tonight’s attendance was 5,420.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Grand Rapids - March 20 2019

Morning Skate Report: Ty Dellandrea "Feels Good," Will Play Tonight for Texas

Ty Dellandrea (Credit: Dallas Stars)
When I first got to practice, word on the street was that Dallas Stars 2018 first round pick Ty Dellandrea would be waiting until Friday to make his pro debut. Before the zamboni hit the ice, Dellandrea's plans had changed. Tonight will mark his first pro game as he will center for Texas against Grand Rapids.

Initially, Texas was holding out Dellandrea after he went hard into the boards on Sunday in his final game with Flint. "I’m feeling good," he told 100 Degree Hockey today. "I was a little banged up in the last game, but I got a couple days to rest and I’m feeling good now."

The young center is excited to get started in Texas. After playing for a club that was virtually eliminated from the playoffs months ago, Dellandrea noted he is "excited to play some fun, competitive, high-end hockey." He's already gelling with the guys, many of whom he knows from camp, "I think I first noticed that it was a fun group of guys. They’re all laughing, enjoying each other and having a good time. It’s fun to come in and they made it easy to feel welcome. It’s fun to learn from them already."

As to what he will bring, he adds, "I’m an all-around forward. I take care of my own end first, make sure all those boxes are checked, and then I can bring some offense too."

The lineup that we saw at practice did not include Dellandrea so things will shift based on his insertion. However, Rhett Gardner, Josh Melnick and Joe Cecconi will all play. As of this morning, Melnick was set to center Denis Gurianov and Colin Markison while Gardner would center the third line. Things might shuffle around with Dellandrea at center now.

Cecconi will slide in next to Ben Gleason, which really fits his mold from college where he played opposite offensive phenom Quinn Hughes. Coach Laxdal added, "Cecconi has played with some real offensive defensemen so he has a pedigree of being a shutdown guy and defending for those offensive guys, so we put him with Gleason."

As to how these players will integrate, Coach Laxdal is just looking to keep it simple for them, "We don’t give them too much, just try to give them the basics of how we play and what we want to see. These players are coming off playoff highs of getting eliminated and now they have to change their mindset again to get ready to play. They’ve got to ramp it up a bit, but they’re going to be thrown right in."

Without a chance to work on special teams, I don't anticipate a big debut for any of them on the power play. With Thursday's practice, however, it makes sense that Gardner could be a netfront player on the PP on Friday and Dellandrea would be added to the unit as well.

Gameday Preview: Texas Stars v. Grand Rapids Griffins

Texas Stars
31-27-4-3, 69 pts
#5 Central Division
v.Grand Rapids Griffins
34-18-6-4, 78 pts
#2 Central Division
March 20th at 7:00 PM
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, Cedar Park, TX

(credit: Texas Stars)
At the very least, the Texas Stars's last eleven games will be an engaging prospect watch as the club brought in a bevy of amateur players on Tuesday, rounding out the roster with some intriguing youngsters. Among that group is Ty Dellandrea, the Dallas first round pick from 2018, who figures to play on Friday.

But there's still a playoff race to consider, and the Stars are by no means out of the picture. The Grand Rapids Griffins head into Cedar Park on Wednesday on the second night of a back-to-back. They are a lock for the top three in the Central but still have a ton to play for in terms of positioning. Perhaps the Stars will catch them at the right time with Grand Rapids playing in San Antonio on Tuesday, although they failed to take advantage of the weary Rockford IceHogs on Sunday.

Phil Desrosiers has been doing enough recently for the Stars to win their share of games. However,  Landon Bow has been reassigned and will only help stabilize the situation in net. Last time the two teams played was in early March, and Desrosiers allowed four goals on 23 shots in the loss.

It's hard to spot trends in Texas's offense in the last several games. The team will flash some serious scoring potential, as evidenced in a seven-goal explosion last week, and then follow it up with a game in which they can't buy a goal. It can be attributed to the ebbs and flows of a professional hockey team's offense, but I tend to believe that this is a team looking for a couple of depth forwards to step up and establish themselves as consistent scoring threats. Something to keep an eye on.

The puck drops at 7:00 PM CDT. 

Stars injury/call up report:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Laberge (upper body)
Caamano (lower body)
L'Esperance, Bow (call up)