|Justin Dowling (Credit: Steven Christy)|
"It's been a rollercoaster," said Dowling. "[At the start of the year,] I had high expectations about where I was going to end up in the American League. Obviously starting in the East Coast League wasn't where I wanted to be."
However, the talent level at the AHL level pushed many down the depth charts across the league. In September, Dowling signed on with Brad Ralph's Idaho Steelheads crew.
"Coming in, we knew Justin had a lot of skill and could be a top-shelf player at this level," said Will Hoenike, director of PR and broadcaster for the Idaho Steelheads. "But he was so good here. A bona-fide MVP candidate. Those kinds of players get called up quickly."
Just as Hoenike expected, when the lockout ended, Dowling was signed immediately by Texas to a standard player contract and recalled. The centerman had just been named to the ECHL All-Star team as a starter after notching thirteen goals and 33 assists in just 34 games of work. Dowling is very fond of his time in Boise and has great things to say about the team, staff and league.
"I think it helped my game a lot," he said. "I met some great people down there. Everything in the ECHL helped evolve me into who I am here."
Coach Desjardins immediately slotted him between Mike Hedden and Scott Glennie to replace the recalled Antoine Roussel on that line. A few games later, Glennie injured his hand and was replaced by Alex Chiasson, who the Stars were looking to put in a more prominent role in the top six. The line combination that ensued, Hedden-Dowling-Chiasson, played together consistently on both the power play and at even strength from January 16th until the trade deadline, totaling 28 combined goals and 34 combined assists.
"We have really good chemistry. Chiasson is obviously an unbelievable player Doing what he's doing in Dallas now is insane. He's strong on the puck and gets down low and battles back for pucks and gets them out and lets me and Hedden create. Hedden's so fast that he pushes defense back and gets them second guessing their positioning. It opens up space for me."
|Mike Hedden and Justin Dowling celebrate one of Dowling's three goals in the Stars' January 26th game against the Rampage. The hat trick was Dowling's first pro trick. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)|
"The lockout was a different year. Every level was good, and the AHL was full of NHL guys."
All three earned their spot in the top six and their ice time with their continued success. Earning your ice has been a staple of the Stars this season.
"If you play well, you'll move up. If somebody is playing well, we'll put them on the ice."
Moving players up in the lineup is dependent on having the open spots to do so. The departure of top talent at the end of the NHL lockout created a vacuum that Dowling and his linemates were able to fill. That was a luxury that Dowling didn't have in his last AHL stop, Abbotsford.
"They had good players there, and it was tough to bump out their top six. I was used more in a fourth line role, and I'm too small to be bumping guys off pucks and fighting."
Dowling continued, "A lot of it was to do with me. I wasn't putting up points, so my confidence was low."
With 30 points in 38 games, Dowling isn't worrying about his confidence now. He knows he can be an effective player at this level. When asked about moving up to the next level though, he's focused more on the here and now.
"I would love to be in Dallas or Austin. The weather's great; I've got a great sunburn here," said Dowling, pointing to his beet-red forehead and cheeks while laughing.
"I'm not looking too far into the future," he continued. "It's my first AHL playoffs. We'll see how that goes first, and hopefully I can keep producing and win a Calder Cup here."