Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Around the League: Affiliation Confusion and Other Summer News

(Credit: Ron Byrd)

It's been a busy day for hockey. Here we go on the catch-up from the last week:
  • With the Thrashers going to Winnipeg, the Manitoba Moose are probably moving out of the 'Peg. No one knows where yet, but rumors indicate former AHL city St. John's is in the running. Additionally, the Wolves are likely out as the AHL affiliate for the "Thrashers", since the Moose are owned by True North Sports. Meanwhile, Rochester is going with Buffalo. Syracuse is upset with Anaheim and getting interest from Tampa Bay. Portland and Florida are both out in the cold right now as well. Confused? It's OK, because so is everyone else.

  • There's not much news on the Dallas Stars head coach search, but ESPN Dallas has been covering each of the candidates in detail. Last week, Mark wrote up a little something about Texas Stars Coach Glen Gulutzan, including a great quote from Scott White. [ESPN Dallas]

  • The National Post in Canada gives both Austin and Houston credit for beating the Hamilton Bulldogs in attendance these past two years in the Western Conference Finals. Texas is #4 in playoff attendance for 2010-11. Houston is the only team that could catch Texas at this point, making them at worst #5. Take that, non-traditional market haters! [National Post]

  • Speaking of the playoffs, Houston and Binghamton start things up again tomorrow night in New York. Tied at one, the series will play the traditional three games in Bingo before shifting back to Houston if necessary on June 7th. [TheAHL.com]

  • One of our favorite blogs, The Third Intermission, actually got a chance to hop the charter to Bingo with the Aeros and is providing live coverage from NY. [The Third Intermission]

  • In case you missed it, Texas Stars head athletic trainer DJ Amadio and forward Greg Rallo are hosting an 8-week long dry land training session at the CPC this summer. Most players disappear to their hometown after the season is over, so I would put it in the category of "Good News" that Rallo is sticking in Austin through the summer. Especially good news when you consider that he is a free agent this summer. [Texas Stars Hockey]

  • Matt Fraser, who is expected to be with Texas next season, finished the Memorial Cup tied for the lead in goals at four and second in points at six. Fraser's Kootenay Ice were eliminated by the host club Mississauga St. Michaels Majors on Saturday night. [Memorial Cup]

Monday, May 23, 2011

Season Recap: Who Was The Most Improved Player?

In recapping the season, today we seek to answer the question: Who was the Texas Stars' most improved player this season? For this one, I chose players who spent most of this and last season with Texas. I'll present the case for a few different folks and let you guys fight it out in the comments, on the Twitters and on Facebook.

Luke GazdicLuke Gazdic scoring the 2nd of his nine goals on the year in a November 30th game against the Oklahoma City Barons (Credit: Ron Byrd)
Gazdic's rookie year was unfortunately marred by injury at times with shoulder issues causing him to only play 49 games of 80 and miss the playoffs after surgery. Luke played 72 games in the 2010-11 campaign and five of the six total playoff games. He improved his scoring from 3-1-4 to 9-8-17. Gazdic also scored his first home goal of his professional career this year. Surprisingly, all of last year's goals were scored on the road, robbing fans of the ability to cheer "Luuuuuuuuuke!" as the goal horn sounded. Meanwhile, he lowered his penalty minutes from 155 to 110 this season.

If you were to compare Gazdic's game between this season and last, you would see a jump in confidence and skating ability. It seems like there is still some question of where to place him. Does he go in front of the net or should he be sharpshooting? Additionally, Luke is still working on the defensive side of his game with a minus-3 this year despite 17 points.

Gazdic also picked his spots more this year in terms of dropping the gloves. As hockey fans will tell you, there is a strategy to fighting. Much to the chagrin of some of the more casual fans, Gazdic didn't always drop the gloves, but there was always the threat and that was enough to keep the other teams in check many nights.

That physical presence was enough to open up some room for other players on his line at times. When paired up with Cody Chupp and Sean Backman, the trio tore a hole through teams that didn't expect scoring prowess from a fourth line matchup. Chupp and Gazdic banged bodies in the corners while Backman and the defense took advantage of the wide open space to score goal after goal.

The line was eventually broken up, but it showed a glimmer of possibility. Can Gazdic continue to grow to become the sort of player who opens the ice for skill guys? Would a line with Gazdic, Rallo and Morin be on the table? It depends on Gazdic's ability to keep up the pace as well. He took large steps in his skating and passing ability but still needs more. Continuing to work on his defensive game will make him even more indispensable.

Colton Sceviour
Colton Sceviour in the Stars December 7th game against the Manitoba Moose (Credit: Ron Byrd)
After the unsuccessful campaign for the Calder Cup in 2010, Colton Sceviour was one of many Texas Stars at the Stars' development camp in early July. I managed to catch up with him there and ask him what he wanted to do in his sophomore year. Sceviour wanted to be the kind of player who was trusted to be on the ice in every situation, whether even, up a man, or down a man.

That is exactly what Sceviour was to Coach Gulutzan this year. The second year pro was out on the penalty kill and the power play regularly for the Stars. He upped his offensive numbers by 10 points from 9-22-31 to 16-25-41 and appears to have more to give. Colton centered a crash-and-bang energy line for Texas with Tousignant and Sawada for much of the year. His plus-minus dropped, but this is because he was called upon to take more defensive zone faceoffs and placed in more critical situations. He was still positive at plus-4, so it's a good sign regardless.

The optics were just good on the young forward, who is officially listed as a right winger but played center for Texas most of the year. He appeared more confident and really had his game going toward the end of the year, earning a callup to Dallas to play against the Flyers amid an 11 point March campaign.

What's next for Colton? Dallas has told him that they don't expect him to be a top-six guy for them when he comes up. He will continue to work on that defensive game for sure with more penalty kill responsibilities and tough D-zone faceoffs. The importance of a gritty 3rd liner who can kill penalties is pretty large as shown through current Dallas Stars such as Steve Ott and Adam Burish.

So what do you think? Agree or disagree? Did I miss someone? Let me know in the comments, @100degreehockey on Twitter or on the Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Around the League: Houston One Game From Finals

Coach Gulutzan, shown here talking to Sean Backman in a December 20th game against Oklahoma City, is a strong candidate for the Dallas head coaching job. (Credit: Texas Stars)

The Houston Aeros and Binghamton Senators are both each one game away from representing their respective conferences in the Calder Cup Finals. The two teams could seal up sweeps in the conference finals and move on to the Calder Cup round as early as tonight when both teams play Game 4 of their series. Follow our friends The Third Intermission (@3rdIntermission) on Twitter for more updates.

Elsewhere, here are the stories that have been percolating and moving across my newsfeed over the past few days:
  • Things are starting to heat up out East in terms of affiliation agreements. The Rochester Americans, former affiliated with the Florida Panthers, have signed a non-binding letter of intent to partner with the Buffalo Sabres for next season. This is a bit of a problem with the Portland Pirates still under contract with Buffalo. However, this was a previous affiliation and community ties are deep in Rochester. [Democrat and Chronicle]

  • Former Texas Stars Ivan Vishnevskiy has reportedly signed a contract with the KHL's Atlant for next season. With this move, the verdict most definitely moves in the Stars' favor interms of who won the Lehtonen-for-Vishnevskiy trade. [Chicago Now]

  • GM Joe Nieuwendyk is still working on the coaching search, and Texas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan's name is in the mix. News reports have indicated that Gulutzan is under contract with the club for next year in the minor league coaching capacity. Coaching contracts, especially at the minor league level, are much less well-known, so this is a good bit of info to learn. [ESPN Dallas]

  • Speaking of contracts, the Statesman dropped an interesting article entitled, "Did Cedar Park dodge a bullet in pulling out of 2005 arena deal?". It's an interesting and quick read praising the Stars attendance and the success of the CPC in general while noting the lack of success that the potential owners of the hypothetical IceBats arena have had elsewhere. Interested what if analysis. [Statesman]

  • The Memorial Cup is about to get under way and the Stars will have Matt Fraser representing them there. Mark Stepneski and Mike Heika both did great write-ups of the young forward. [ESPN Dallas, DMN]

  • Defending Big B expands on a story from the Port Huron Times about Jack Campbell setting his sights on the Texas Stars next season. Campbell would be eligible to play in the AHL despite playing in the Canadian juniors because he was drafted out of the US National Development Program, similarly to John Carlson or Jeremy Morin. [Defending Big D]
With all that said, who's up for a roadtrip to Houston next week?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You Should Learn to Play Hockey

My mixed league team after winning the Winter 2010 Mixed League Championship. I scored the game-winning shootout goal.

I don't usually like to repost, but this was an important one from back in the day. This summer marks my two year anniversary of learning to skate and starting to play hockey. Promoting not only the watching but also the playing of the game of hockey in Austin is incredibly important to me. So with that said, I give you my post on learning to play hockey in Austin. For the record, I am much better at backwards skating now and I don't fall down much anymore either. I've played three seasons now in the draft league as well.

I'm incredibly proud to say that I am a hockey player. I didn't get started when I was 3 like most professional players. I couldn't even skate before I got started last June. I took the Learn to Skate classes at the Chaparral Ice Center here in Austin for a few months and then jumped into the learn to play classes on Sunday nights at the Northcross Mall location. I have loved all of my time spent there. Hockey is an amazing game to watch and an even more amazing game to play. I've started in a mixed league, and I'm looking forward to joining the summer C league. I play drop-in hockey any time I can and go to stick and pucks as much as my schedule (and wife) will allow.

My point in this post is not to regale you with my story of hockey. It is to inspire you.

Hey you! Yea, you. I've seen you at the rink. You go to the drop-in games and just watch from behind the boards. You've even shown up to watch the learn to play class a few times. Maybe I've seen you at the public skating sessions. We might have talked even on the ice while we skated.

You asked me about how I got into hockey, and I tell you about how easy it was to learn thanks to the resources here in Austin. I tell you about how nice every single person I've ever worked with has been. And still, I don't see you on the ice at learn to play. You aren't there at drop-in. You haven't joined the league. It's not the 'right time'. You aren't sure if you're ready.

Guess what? You're ready.

I've watched too many hockey friends sit on the sidelines waiting to start playing, hovering at drop-ins and hanging out in the pro shop, waiting to enjoy the greatest game on this earth for themselves. Don't be intimidated. I'll tell you a secret. I still can't skate backwards very well. I fall down a lot, too. But no one cares. We are all on the ice to play this great game. And you should be out there, too.

Please, if you want to learn to play hockey, do it. Step up right now and say, "I'm coming to the Saturday morning learn to skate class this weekend" or "I'll be at the Sunday afternoon learn to play class". Step up and be a part of the best game on the planet, because you're ready.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dan Spang Headed to Europe Next Season

Dan Spang in an October 26th game against Peoria (Credit: Brian Hackert)
Texas Stars defenseman Dan Spang will head back to Europe next season according to reports from EuroSport.com today. Spang, who played with Nuermberg Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers in the 09-10 season, will join the Elitseiren's Vaxjo Lakers next year along with former OKC Baron Brad Moran.

Apparently, Spang was on the radar for the team in January. They tried to snipe him away but there were some visa issues. Here is a roughly translated quote from Lakers GM Henry Evertsson: "We chased him back in January when we were looking slopes before the transfer window closed. But first, there were problems with his double pass, and the price tag was too expensive."

Spang finished the season in Texas with 10 goals and 27 assists in 77 games played and added four assists in six playoff games. Spang was going to be another member of an already crowded blue line and might have seen the writing on the wall with regard to his prospects in Austin with all the Dallas D prospects coming in.

Here's an interesting quote about Dan from the Vaxjo Lakers' site, again roughly translated:
"A little inconsistent, he can be described as both a great talent and a late bloomer. Spang was drafted as a young man already in the second round of the San Jose Sharks, but was immediately after it is perhaps not quite the developments all hoped for. However, he has the past few seasons done very well, he comes to us after having responded to a real gun away season in the AHL."