Friday, May 31, 2013

Texas Stars GM Scott White Named Dallas Director of Hockey Operations

Scott White (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The Dallas Stars announced today that Texas Stars general manager Scott White will be adding a new position to his business card this coming season, Director of Hockey Operations. He will retain his position as Texas Stars general manager. With the new role, White will also be leaving Cedar Park and moving to the Dallas Stars' Frisco offices.

White has been with the Dallas Stars organization since the 2005-06 season, when he started with the org as the Iowa Stars GM. I talked to White at length about his time in the ECHL and the Dallas organization in this feature article from earlier this season. He has spent all four years of Texas's existence as its general manager.

For the Texas Stars, the move is a positive one in a few ways. First of all, it brings the good work that the team is doing down in Cedar Park into even finer focus for those in Dallas. Second, it allows White to have a closer relationship with those potentially holding the purse strings. White and I have discussed for several years the need for NHL clubs to pay for a few of those top level players in the AHL (like Travis Morin in Texas or Garrett Stafford in OKC, for example). If White is there everyday, he can better advocate for those players and their importance to the team. Overall, this move implies that Dallas GM Jim Nill is placing a very high value on minor league player development.

The Stars are not the first organization to have a setup like this. Most of those organizations only have the general manager and no assistant in the AHL city. It remains to be seen if Dallas could be hiring an assistant general manager for the Texas Stars or if the organization will continue with just White at the helm.

Here's the release:
Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill announced a series of changes to the structure of the team's Hockey Operations Department today. Scott White will join Dallas as director of hockey operations and will also retain his role as general manager of the Texas Stars, Dallas' development affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL). Les Jackson, assistant general manager, and Mark Janko, director of hockey administration, remain with the organization in their respective roles. The club also announced that they will not renew Frank Provenzano's contract. Provenzano previously served as the club's assistant general manager for the past seven seasons.

White has been promoted to director of hockey operations and is retaining his role as general manager of the Texas Stars after serving in that role since 2008. He was instrumental in building the Texas Stars 2009-10 inaugural team, which made a run to the 2010 Calder Cup Finals. A member of the Dallas Stars organization since 2005, White previously served as a professional scout and director of minor league operations. He headed up the hockey department for the Iowa Stars, Dallas' then-primary affiliate, for three seasons. Prior to joining the Stars organization, he served as head coach of the Columbia Inferno of the ECHL for four seasons, qualifying for a playoff berth each year. He also guided Columbia to a Kelly Cup Finals appearance in 2003 and finished with a 165-87-36 record (.635) in over four seasons with the Inferno.

Jackson just completed his 25th season with the Stars, dating back to the club's days in Minnesota. His role consists of managing and overseeing the club's scouting program, as well as monitoring the development of all amateur and professional prospects. He is widely respected as one of the best talent evaluators in hockey, having helped build the Stars into the consistently competitive hockey club that it has become over the last two decades. During Jackson's tenure, the Stars have drafted future NHL stars such as Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher, Jere Lehtinen, Jarome Iginla, Marty Turco, Brenden Morrow, Jamie Benn, and Loui Eriksson, among others.

Janko is in his 14th year with the Stars and his fifth in hockey operations. Prior to joining Hockey Operations, Janko spent eight seasons in the Stars Public Relations Department, most recently as its director from 2005-2008. Now as director of hockey administration, Janko assists the Hockey Operations Department in the areas of player development, cap management, contract negotiations and research, salary arbitration, and strategic planning. He also works closely with Dallas' scouting staff, with an emphasis on the professional level and serves as the team's liaison for all player transactions with NHL's Central Registry.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Looking Ahead to Texas Stars 2013-14 Contracts

Francis Wathier (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
The AHL season isn't over yet and contracts have already started being signed for the 2013-14 season. Some are for the AHL, like last week's PTO for Brendan Randford with the Texas Stars, and others are for the KHL or SEL, such as Tom Wandell and Spartak Moscow.

It's a big swath of information to wade through, but here are the contract statuses of everyone who suited up for at least one game as a Texas Star this season (and a few extras). I've removed some players who aren't likely to come back for Texas (like Eakin, Roussel and Dillon).
Signed to Dallas: Campbell, Chiasson, Faksa, Glennie, Jokipakka, King, Klingberg, Labrie, Lagace, McKenzie, Molin, Morrow, Nemeth, Oleksiak, Peters, Petersen, Ritchie, Smith, A., Smith, R. and Wathier 
Signed to Texas: Boutet, Montgomery, Ranford (PTO)
Dallas unrestricted free agents: Benn, Fortunus, Morin, Nilstorp, Sloan and Sneep 
Dallas restricted free agents: Bachman, Beskorowany, Connauton, Coyle, Fraser, Gaunce, Gazdic, Sceviour, Tousignant and Wandell 
Texas unrestricted free agents: Baldwin, Cameron, Dowling, Hedden, Robinson, Ryder, Vause and Wrenn 
Texas PTOs and ATOs: Barker, Commodore, Fyten, Jones, Martin and Todd
A couple that jump out as high priority to me are Dowling, Hedden and Morin. Who are the big important names on that list for you?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Texas Signs PTO with LW Brendan Ranford

(Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars announced today their first signing for 2013-14, left Wing Brendan Ranford out of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers.

Ranford is better than a point per game player in his WHL career (357 points in 348 games) and is the Blazers' all-time leader in games played. He was picked up late in the 2009 draft by Philadephia but was not signed and became a free agent.

Note that Ranford signed on a PTO, which means he will definitely be in camp but the Stars will have the opportunity to make a decision on his playing future with the team as the season progresses.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars announced today that left wing Brendan Ranford has signed a professional tryout contract for the upcoming 2013-14 season.

Ranford, 21, completed his fifth and final season of major junior hockey with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, where he recorded 87 points (22 goals, 65 assists) and 28 penalty minutes in 70 games played. The Edmonton, Alberta native finished the regular season tied for the team lead in assists, ranked second in games played, fourth in points and tied for fourth in goals. Ranford also appeared in 15 post-season games, scoring 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists) as he helped Kamloops reach the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 WHL Playoffs before losing to the eventual WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks in five games.

The 5-foot-10, 181-pound left wing appeared in 348 career WHL games for Kamloops, tallying 357 points (137 goals, 220 assists) and 298 penalty minutes. The Blazers are owned by Tom Gaglardi, owner of the Dallas Stars. Ranford was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh round (209th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, but did not sign with the club by the June 1, 2012 deadline and has since become a free agent. He won a silver medal at the 2009 World Hockey Challenge U-17 tournament playing for Canada Pacific, scoring seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in six games. Ranford’s uncle Bill Ranford was a former NHL star goaltender, two-time Stanley Cup winner and is the current goalie coach for the Los Angeles Kings.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Texas Stars Reveal New Look for Next Season, Including Green Road Jerseys

Francis Wathier and Toby Petersen model the new jerseys. (Credit: Mike Connell/Texas Stars)
In conjunction with their fifth season in the AHL, the Texas Stars announced today their new look for the 2013-14 season including redesigned home and away jerseys. The most significant change is the road jersey. Texas will sport green as their base color and use the "TEXAS" logo which replaces the X with a star as the front crest. The jersey also incorporates a lace up collar. The home jersey will be the same as the 2011-13 alternate jersey.

As previously mentioned, the team did not coordinate with the Dallas Stars on these changes. Dallas is expected to change both their jersey and logo this summer with the announcement planned for June 4th.

More pictures and the full release below. Click on the pictures to expand them.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars introduced today their new jerseys for the 2013-14 season, which will be the team’s fifth anniversary season in the American Hockey League.

In preparation for the fifth season of AHL hockey in Cedar Park, the Stars will make a significant shift in their road jersey colors. Texas is replacing the all-black away uniform with a primarily dark green jersey, the same dark green that is featured in the team’s logo, and the crest patch will feature the team’s secondary logo. The shoulder cap is white with a primary logo patch on each side. The collar is gold and includes a white lace tie-up. The sweater will also have thick white bands on each sleeve and along the bottom hem, trimmed with black and gold. The matching socks will be principally dark green with three bands of black, gold and white just below the knee.

Texas’ new home jersey is a jersey that was unveiled initially as the team’s alternate jersey prior to the 2011-12 season. The jersey is a predominately white jersey trimmed in dark green and gold, emblazoned with the Texas Stars primary logo on the front crest. The shoulders are dark green and have small patches featuring the Stars’ secondary logo. During the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons the team wore the alternate jersey with the original home socks, which were half white, half dark green, bisected by a thick gold band. The 2013-14 home uniforms will feature a newly designed sock of all white with bands of dark green and gold.

“We are very excited about our new jersey designs and we believe they will help our continuous efforts to strengthen the Texas Stars brand and team identity,” said Stars president Rick McLaughlin. “We have enjoyed tremendous success on and off the ice over the past four seasons and we are really looking forward to initiating our fifth anniversary celebration with this great new look.”

The new jerseys were designed by the Texas Stars in conjunction with Reebok, the official and exclusive jersey supplier to the American Hockey League. The jerseys will be available in both replica and authentic versions at the Texas Stars merchandise stands beginning this Fall.

Texas Stars to Announce New Home and Road Jerseys Later Today

According to sources, the Texas Stars are expected to release details today on new home and road jerseys for the 2013-14 season. The Stars are expected to stay with white as the base color at home but change their base color for the road jersey. The new look will reportedly remove the "TEXAS" and "STARS" wordmarks and player numbers from the front of the jersey.

The changes were not coordinated with the Dallas Stars jersey and logo changes, which are expected to be revealed on June 4th, and do not reflect the changes that are expected there. Remember that the Texas Stars are no longer owned by the same group as the Dallas Stars, so neither front office has worked with the other on these jersey changes.

The process to change the jerseys started before the 2012-13 season even began, given the approvals required from the AHL to change the primary home and away jerseys.

Texas Players, Coaches Looking Forward to Next Year, Wherever They May Be

Alex Chiasson (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
As we round out the week, there are a few odds and ends left over from the end of season interviews, mostly concerning plans for the summer and next year, that I wanted to get out there.

Alex Chiasson is obviously a player the Dallas Stars have their eye on and many anticipate he won't play another game in Cedar Park, given his end of season heroics in Big D.

"For me it's a big summer," said Chiasson. "You can't take anything for granted. You have to come in and be a player that can play. [Dallas Stars GM] Jim Nill told me yesterday, 'If you're in my top 12, you're going come to Dallas and play. If not, you'll be in [Cedar Park].'"

Chiasson had some shoulder issues during the season, twice missing time due to injury. He told me Monday that he will not be needing offseason surgery. Last summer, he spent time with nutrition and strength guru Gary Roberts. He is undecided as to whether he will be working with Roberts again this summer.

Colton Sceviour was among many players tweeting their thanks to the fans and cleaning out their apartment yesterday. Sceviour got into his second NHL game this season and is looking for more this coming season (something he can finally have a comeback for when his dad pokes fun at him). It seemed that, for whatever reason, he had been passed over for callups. No question the new GM and coaching staff in Dallas will give him a chance to prove his worth anew.

In his time with Dallas, he learned a lot about what it takes to be an everyday NHLer.

"There's a big jump from this level to that level," he said. "You see up there that even the big skill guys, you try to knock them off the puck, and you can't. Everyone is so solid on their skates. I want to work on that, get in the corners and be able to hold off guys and gain possession. I just want to get stronger and more solid on the puck to the point that I can make a statement in training camp."

All signs point to camp being pretty wide open. If Sceviour can make his point in training camp, he might not return to Cedar Park either.

Maxime Fortunus (Credit: Steven Christy)
Another player who has been with Texas all four years, captain Maxime Fortunus, was on a one-year, two-way contract this year to Dallas. When it expires on June 30th, it's still pretty up in the air what the next step will be.

"I've been thinking a lot about it, but I still don't know what's going to happen," said Fortunus. "Coming back here is a good option. It's a good option and one of the best places in the league. You have to think about family and what's best for me as a player. I don't know right now, but I should know more in the next couple of weeks."

And speaking of location changes, the Dallas Stars are looking to fill their head coaching position and coach Desjardins has been guaranteed an interview. As of Monday, Desjardins and Nill hadn't discussed anything regarding the job or the interview.

"There's a lot of things going on up there and right now I'm focused on here," said Desjardins. "We'll see what happens."

Regardless of what happens, Desjardins is extremely grateful for the season that he had here in Texas and is already thinking about how to improve the club for next season.

"The fans and the team have done such a great job here," he concluded. "I was so fortunate to walk into the group that I did this year."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stars Staying Positive, Looking for More Next Year

Mike Hedden (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
If you were to go back and tell the Texas Stars in early November that they would finish the regular season in first place, I think they would probably have been pretty happy with that. If you remember, the Stars were fair to middling to start the year, sporting a record of 3-6 after a shutout loss to the Marlies on November 9th at home.

Colton Sceviour, who has played with Texas all four years of his pro career, put things in perspective a bit, "If you look at the season overall, coming off what happened last year, I think we were projected to finish 24th or so in the league and we ended up finishing 2nd in the league record wise. In the big picture, it was a successful year, but right now it stings that we're not playing."

Looking back at the year that was, the Stars had a pretty remarkable season. Their leader through it all, captain Maxime Fortunus, saw all three phases these Stars went through on the season.

"It was weird," Fortunus remarked. "We've said that we had three teams this year. All year long we've managed to battle hard and win games to finish first. We had a lot of confidence. We knew we had a good team and after the trade deadline we had to gel as fast as possible."

A lot of that gelling and overall hardnosed play can be attributed to the coaching of Willie Desjardins, who was awarded the Pieri Coach of the Year Award for his efforts. It was really quite remarkable to see how the Stars played the same way in game 1 as they did in game 76. No matter who was on the ice, it was Willie Desjardins hockey.

"They demanded hard work," said Sceviour. "From day 1, practices weren't overly long, but they were quick. You always had to have your feet moving. That's one thing they stressed: if we work hard in practice, we'll work down teams in the third period. That was our mentality. We tried to make teams play at our pace and keep up with us."

"They were consistent," he added. "When you were on the ice, it was time to work. If you aren't ready to work, you aren't going to play."

Radek Faksa (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
That work ethic is a big plus to grow on for Texas, who will return many of the same players as they had this past year.

"There's a good nucleus and we know what we want to do," said Desjardins. "It's exciting for next year. We want more. That's our slogan coming out of playoffs. We're committed to finding a way to be better next year."

Of course, much of that nucleus is still up in the air. However, some of the black ace players from this postseason will be coming back next year, including John Klingberg and Jyrki Jokipakka. The team believes that time with the team provides invaluable experience, even if it is off the ice.

"They said they enjoyed their time," said Coach Lidster regarding the defensemen. "It's good to see how hard the guys approach the game and how hard they work. In some ways, the AHL is more of a grind than the NHL with three-in-threes and bus travel."

Others who will be here eventually but maybe not next year also spent time in Cedar Park, including Radek Faksa, Troy Vance and Emil Molin.

Captain Max Fortunus continued, "They showed they care about the team and they are willing to come here and work hard. I think for guys it's fun to come over and get used to how things work so when they come next year it isn't a surprise. The closer you are here, the closer you are to playing in the NHL. You never know what's going to happen."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How You Can Help Oklahoma Today

(Credit: Tim Lauzon/Texas Stars)
Oklahomans, surely including many Barons' fans, have had a rather unlucky and downright horrible week with the number of devastating tornadoes that have hit the area. I'm sure many of you, like me, are wondering how you can help those affected by the storms.

Neal Livingston, who covers the Oklahoma City Barons at Tend the Farm, has written a post about how you can help. Please follow that link and do what you can.

I wanted to specifically call out Neal's description of the tornadoes in the post.
Living in Oklahoma, tornadoes are a part of the deal. Although not listed in your renters agreement, hotel paperwork, or home closing documents, enduring tornado season is the life of an Oklahoman.

In May of 1999, a week before I graduated from high school, I survived one of the most horrific natural disasters my eyes had ever seen. I still think of those moments, and my brain can’t fully compute what my eyes saw.

Almost 15 years later, my eyes saw a similar scene, and again I struggle to accurately process what I’ve seen first hand, watched on television, and digested through phone calls, emails, and social media. It’s 1999 all over again, and it’s horrifying. 
So follow the link and do what you can. Thanks.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Injuries, Veteran Scoring and Puck Luck Contributed to Stars' Early Exit

(Credit: Steven Christy)
The Stars had exit interviews Sunday with Les Jackson, Jim Nill and Scott White and started leaving for points north Monday. A few players and the coaching staff were around for questions on Monday. With the weekend to collect their thoughts and process the games in OKC, it was a good opportunity to talk about the series in general. There were a few common threads running through the team's thoughts on the series, among them the effects of injuries, impact of veteran scoring and the often-elusive puck luck.


Texas had some significant injuries to deal with in the playoffs that came out today now that the season is over.

"Morin's line was great during the regular season, and that line was beat up in the playoffs," said Coach Desjardins. "[Fraser] breaks a finger [in Game 1] and you think, 'How bad can that be?', but when you're a shooter, that's about the worst thing you can have. Morin's banged up, and Sceviour is banged up too."

"All the sudden a group that's instrumental can play hard but isn't as effective. That's just how it was, and it hurt us. You can't change it though."

Some level of alarm was raised as well that the team was seeking to move Alex Chiasson to center, a move they made with Jamie Benn in Dallas. Chiasson allayed any concern that they had moved him from his natural winger position. The move was due to injury.

(Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)

"Dowling had a finger issue and couldn't take faceoffs," said Chiasson. "So I rotated in there. Going into playoffs, I felt comfortable there. It wasn't a switch; they needed someone to win faceoffs."

As to who played the position of center, especially in the defensive zone, that was less clear.

"Dowling and I switched on the ice a lot, but that probably hurt us. [OKC] knew what we were doing. I didn't do much that series; they're a good faceoff team. It's good for me as a player though. You want more in your bag."

With many of their key players injured, the Stars struggled to generate offense. Colton Sceviour had a shoulder issue; Travis Morin was still not 100% after the puck to the head against Milwaukee. Mike Hedden was similarly banged up as well.

"We had guys banged up who we would rely on for goal scoring," said Coach Lidster. "We have to develop secondary scoring."

(Lidster also noted that the Stars were very close to shutting down Patrik Nemeth for the season after his re-injury.)

Veteran Scoring

Part of that desired secondary scoring needs to be of the veteran variety, according to Lidster. He felt that OKC's veteran scoring and playoff experience was a big difference in the series.

"You look at their team. When the NHL went back to work, there was a transition. I know [OKC's coaches] were happy with their team because they thought they were stronger and more cohesive unit. They had guys like Arcobello who've been in the trenches and in the wars. It's not often that you go into the playoff without a lot of experience [like we did]. I think that was a difference."

Sceviour was one of only two top six forwards with AHL playoff experience. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
Among the Stars' top 6, only two had AHL playoff experience, Sceviour and Morin. On the other side, OKC had players like Jonathan Cheechoo, Mark Arcobello and Josh Green just to name a few.

"They're a good team," said Chiasson. "Whoever gets out of the other series, they're going to give them a good shot. They have some experienced guys. You can't take the 50 goals [in the NHL] away from Cheechoo; those are guys that you have to watch."

Both coaches said that they felt OKC played a little bit smarter than Texas in the series with Lidster comparing it to Texas Hold 'Em.

"They had their cards, and they knew when to go all in. When they didn't, they knew when to fold them. They played a smart game. Goaltender was excellent, and we didn't challenge him enough. We have to work on that. Some of their key guys came through."

Puck Luck

The often-elusive puck luck played a big part in the series for the Stars, who had clearly spent some time over the weekend thinking about the chances that could have been.

"There were plays that we just didn't score on," said Desjardins. "Pucks were just laying there. We're up 3-2 in Game 4. We have two breakaways, and we didn't score. Those go in, and it's a different series. That said, they didn't go in, and we have to learn from that."

Colton Sceviour added, "If you give them chances, they can score 3 goals on 3 chances. They have those kinds of guys that can bury pucks given the opportunity.  We couldn't score on our chances and ended up giving them too many."

"We just didn't capitalize on our grade A chances. There were tons of chances where you look at it and say, 'If that goes in, it changes the game'."

Coach Desjardins had some sage words on the whole playoff series though, as closing thoughts.

"[In the playoffs,] opposing teams get better, and you either get better yourself or fall by the wayside. I have no complaint about whether our guys wanted it. Playoffs bring out the best in you. Before the last game, I said, 'A diamond is just a chunk of coal that made good under pressure.' That's what the playoffs are. Right at the start you don't always turn into that diamond. It doesn't mean we can't but just not this year."

Reports: Dallas and Edmonton to Play Preseason Game in OKC

Justin Schultz will be back and no doubt get a very nice reception from the Barons' faithful. (Credit: Steven Christy)
According to reports, the Dallas Stars will play the Edmonton Oilers in Oklahoma City during the NHL preseason next year. Friend of the site, Neal Livingston, broke the news, which had been swirling as a rumour for a while.

The game will no doubt feature many players expected on the Texas and OKC rosters next season, as have many preseason games in the past. It will be the first time Dallas has played a preseason tilt in a minor league barn since the unofficial Stars v. Stars friendly match during the inaugural season in Cedar Park. The Minnesota Wild were scheduled to play Dallas last year in Boise as part of their training camp in Idaho, but those plans were scuttled by the NHL lockout.

The elephant in the room here is no doubt the attendance issue. The series against Oklahoma City averaged just under 1,900 fans. Livingston did point out in an earlier post that those fans in attendance were very passionate and knowledgeable. The Barons were competing for much of the series with the Oklahoma City Thunder playoffs, both home and away dates. They should see a big bump from the obvious marketing appeal of an NHL team, especially one that had a lot of players in OKC last season. There's also the benefit of the Stars being the closest team to OKC, which may bring the travelers from the Metroplex and even Dalls or NHL fans in general who now live in Oklahoma.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Two Future Texas Stars Start Memorial Cup Battle Tonight

Current Star Matt Fraser had six points in five Memorial Cup games in 2010-11. (Credit: Steven Christy)
While the current Texas Stars may have bowed out of the playoffs last night in OKC, some future Texas Stars are getting ready for the annual battle for the Memorial Cup, starting this weekend in Saskatoon.

For those unfamiliar, the Memorial Cup pits the winner of each of the three Canadian major junior leagues and the host city's club against each other after the playoffs are over for each league. This year, the Saskatoon Blades lost in the first round of the WHL playoffs but earned a berth due to hosting the tournament.  The other competitors are the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, the OHL's London Knights, and the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads.

For Stars' fans, the two players to watch are forward Taylor Peters of the WHL's Portland Winterhawks and right wing Matej Stransky of the WHL's Saskatoon Blades. 

Taylor Peters is in his final, over age season in the WHL and was undrafted in the NHL. He was signed to an entry level contract by Dallas in early March. While he was in Portland, the club won three Western Conference championships and finally broke through to will the Chynoweth Cup this year. He is expected to join the Texas Stars next season.

Matej Stransky was drafted by the Stars in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, 165th overall. He picked up a lot of buzz after scoring 39-42-81 in 70 games last year for the Blades. He followed that up with 40-45-85 in 72 games this season. While his club got knocked out in the first round of the WHL playoffs, you can't count them out. The home crowd and two months to rest those injuries and practice all help the cause. Last year, the Shawnigan Cataracts hosted and won the tournament.

Games may be difficult to watch in the States until the finals. The game schedule for the tournament can be found here.

After Disappointing Round 2 Exit, Thoughts on What Went Wrong

Handshakes of the disappointing variety last night in OKC. (Credit: Steven Christy)
Less than twelve hours after the Stars ended their 2013 Calder Cup run in Oklahoma City, it's still a little difficult to process what happened. With so much promise in the regular season and the top seed going into the playoffs, the season is over in a flash. It wasn't a series of close, grinding games like the Milwaukee series either; Texas was outscored 16-4 in the Barons' barn.

There are a few thoughts that spring to mind immediately and certainly more will come as the next few days give me time to mentally go through the regular and postseason.

  • The Barons' best players were their best players. I wrote about it in last night's game recap, but the Barons had phenomenal efforts from Yann Danis, Mark Arcobello, Toni Rajala and more. They also picked up solid performances from guys you might not have expected, like Taylor Fedun and CJ Stretch.

  • Texas's best players were not their best players. Matt Fraser didn't have a point in the series and had the egregious turnover in OT of Game 1 to give the Barons the win. Alex Chiasson's only point came on the inconsequential lone goal last night. He struggled with the unexplained transition to center and was minus-8 in the series. The Stars' leading scorer in round 1, Kevin Connauton, had a single assist and was minus-8 in the series as well.

  • Line shuffling last night was very confusing. Travis Morin, all-time points leader for Texas and all-time assists leader, was moved to the wing to be centered by Toby Petersen. Colton Sceviour dropped to the third line to center Glennie and Reilly Smith. Glennie had been doing well in the defensive center role in the series. While he hadn't recorded any points, coming into last night's game he was one of Texas's few plus players in the series. Also, Sceviour hasn't played center in months. It's not like you forget, but it's not the best time to make a shift and play with new linemates.

  • There were warning signs of this possible end. After the trade deadline, Texas was going great guns but then dropped back-to-back games against Hamilton and OKC, both in the last minute of the game. At the time, it was mostly written off as troubling but, due to some of the lineup changes, excusable. The team beat San Antonio convincingly three times and split against Charlotte the next week, and it was mostly forgotten. Then the team backed into the postseason with losses against Houston and Rockford.

    You can say what you will about resting starters or chemistry, but in the last month of the season, Texas only beat a playoff team once. They were 1-3 against playoff clubs in April and that one win was in OT. Most of their games were against non-playoff clubs, where they were a still-unimpressive 3-2.

  • Penalties weren't as bad as it looked on the surface if you're just looking at the numbers. Texas actually has the fewest PIMs in the playoffs, both overall and in terms of minors/game. However, the Stars allowed a power play goal in each of their games in OKC, going 10/13 on the kill overall. The penalties also seemed to come at the worst times, stopping momentum and handing it right to the Barons. There was a measure of frustration there clearly.
Now it's also time to start evaluating who will be back for next year, who's coming in from juniors and overseas, and many other future looking pieces of the puzzle, including who will be the Stars' ECHL affiliate. Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Texas Ends Season with 5-1 Game 5 Loss to Barons

Teemu Hartikainen had the Barons' first goal. (Credit: Steven Christy)
After a fantastic regular season, culminating in a top seed in the playoffs, and a tough and grinding first round series win, the Texas Stars have bowed out of the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs at the hands of the Oklahoma City Barons. After leaving Texas with a split of their home games, the Stars dropped all three games at the Cox Convention Center to fall 4-1 in the series.

Coach Desjardins attempted to change his team's luck with a lineup shift. He scratched Luke Gazdic and Joe Morrow in favor of Taylor Vause and Tyler Sloan, respectively. Toby Petersen cetnered the first line, moving Morin to right wing. Colton Sceviour centered Scott Glennie and Reilly Smith while Brett Ritchie and Francis Wathier were wingers on a line centered by Vause. Full lineup changes are included at the bottom of this article, as always.

In the end, the Barons were just too much for Texas. Something in the matchup between these two teams just didn't click for the Stars. The Barons' best players were their best players in the series. Mark Arcobello, Toni Rajala and a few others outpowered the talent on the Stars' bench. Matt Fraser didn't have a point in the series. Alex Chiasson had a single point, the secondary assist on the night's final goal in Game 5. Reilly Smith, Justin Dowling, Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour were not big enough factors to overcome the Barons outstanding netminding and firepower.

The Barons started in the first period with the offensive onslaught. Teemu Hartikainen rang one off the post and it dribbled in with 2:39 left in the opening frame. Texas outshot the Barons 12-8 in the period but left the ice for the first intermission down 1-0 and looking a bit defeated.

OKC kept it up in the second period as an early chance by the Stars turned back against them and Mark Arcobello dropped a pass for Taylor Fedun. The young defenseman backhanded the puck past Nilstorp for the 2-0 lead.

The Barons continued with a two-on-one goal by two players who started the year in the ECHL. CJ Stretch finished off the pass from Toni Rajala for the 3-0 lead. Both played extremely well in the series.

Former Star Garrett Stafford got a power play goal to open the third period with Jordie Benn in the box for delay of game. The Barons' fourth goal of the night was assisted by Brendan Davidson. Mark Arcobello added another as the team rounded out their scoring at five total goals. It was Arcobello's ninth goal of the postseason.

The Stars put a single goal on the board to end their season as Justin Dowling put up a power play tally with under three minutes left in the third period. Reilly Smith and Alex Chiasson assisted.

Texas will return to Cedar Park in the next twenty-four hours. The team will begin dispersing for Canada, Minnesota, and all their other hometowns not long after.

Tonight's lines:
R. Smith-Sceviour-Glennie



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Morrow, Gazdic, Sonne, McKenzie, Klingberg, Wrenn, Jokipakka, Cameron, Faksa, Todd, Commodore (scratch)
Nemeth (injured)

Tonight's attendance was 2,094.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Oklahoma City - May 16 2013

Gameday Preview: Stars at Oklahoma City Barons, Game 5

Texas Stars
43-22-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
atOklahoma City Barons
40-25-2-9, 91 pts
#5 Western Conference
OKC leads 3-1

May 16th at 7:00 PM
Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City, OK

It's down to this. Forty-three wins and ninety-seven points in the regular season. First seed in the West. Coach of the year. Plus-109 overall as a team. 235 goals. Tonight, none of that matters. Like that scene in "Rocky", Texas only has to do one thing: win.

It's beside the point that they also have to win on Monday and Tuesday now as well, because all that matters today is winning tonight, Thursday. If they don't, it's all for naught and the season will be quite a disappointment.

Coach Desjardins shuffled the lineup last night and it worked for a while. The first goal came with Justin Dowling out centering Reilly Smith and Brett Ritchie. Later, he shuffled power play lines, putting Petersen out with Ritchie and Hedden.

Texas just seemed to have the wind knocked out of them by the third goal. They were being outshot 12-1 halfawy through the third and were outshot 18-5 overall in the period, despite a power play and some 6-on-5 time.

Does Desjardins change up his lineup? Maybe. I don't think that Nilstorp sits. He has been a rock in the playoffs but is getting hung out to dry by his defensemen. Anything that Nilstorp has, he has. Anything that generates a rebound is fair game for a Barons' skater. Too many goals came off the rebound last night for Texas' defense to feel comfortable with the game.

What else can be said? Win or go home. It's that simple.

Stars injury/call up report:
Nemeth (injury)

Blog (unofficial): NewsOK's Barons Hockey
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stars Allow Five Goal Third Period, Lose 7-3 and Face Elimination

Yann Danis stopped 26 of 29 shots tonight and kept his team in it until they could explode offensively late. (Credit: Steven Christy)
It's down to the last chance now as Texas led the game 3-2 in the second intermission and then gave up five goals in the third period to lose 7-3. Special teams dogged the team tonight in a different way as the Stars allowed two goals to Mark Arcobello as he departed the penalty box. Texas squandered two one-goal leads in the game and fell apart in the final six minutes of the third period, allowing the eventual game winner and then failing to capitalize on a must-score power play.

Cristopher Nilstorp got positively shelled by the Barons as he stopped 39 of 45 shots against him. Coach Desjardins started with the same lineup and then began shuffling his centermen madly throughout the second and third periods. One of Texas' goals came with one of those shuffled lines on the ice as Dowling centered Reilly Smith and Brett Ritchie.

Texas was lucky to get out of the first period with a scoreless tie. They yielded two power plays to the Barons, ultimately fruitless, and were outshot 16-10 in the frame.

CJ Stretch opened the scoring in the second minute of the second period. His five-hole tally was the third of the season from the third line winger who spent much of the season in ECHL.

Brett Ritchie evened up the score five minutes later off a nice pass from Reilly Smith. That line, which saw its centerman shuffle a few times on the night, had Dowling at center for that play, and he picked up the secondary assist.

After surviving the power play onslaught in the first, Texas got some power play luck of their own. The Barons were on the power play and took two successive penalties to put the Stars on the 4-on-3 power play. On that man advantage, Jordie Benn's point shot was tapped home by Colton Sceviour for the 2-1 lead.

The Stars didn't have that lead for long as Philippe Cornet had a heads-up play to find Mark Arcobello out of the penalty box, giving one of OKC's top scorers a clean breakaway on Nilstorp. The resulting goal was Arcobello's 7th of the playoffs and came just seven seconds after his penalty expired.

Before the period ended, Joe Morrow regained the Stars' one goal lead with a delayed penalty underway. Travis Morin dished over to Joe Morrow, who snuck down from the point to beat Danis for the 3-2 lead.

Texas would outshoot the Barons 14-12 in the middle frame and take their one goal lead to the second intermission.

Oklahoma City erased that lead early in the third. As a Stars' penalty ended, a long shot on Nilstorp from Ben Eager generated a juicy rebound, which Antti Tyrvainen put home for the three all tie.

As time wound down in regulation, the Stars fell apart. Taylor Fedun got the go-ahead goal through traffic with just over five minutes left in the period. Cristopher Nilstorp never saw it coming. Texas had a golden chance on the power play with four minutes left, only down by one. When they needed it most, they couldn't get it done. As Arcobello came out of the box, he generated a fifth goal for the Barons with a two-on-one with Cheechoo.

Texas gave it one last go, pulling Cristopher Nilstorp and giving up an empty net goal. To add insult to injury, Garrett Stafford scored a power play goals in the dying seconds of the third period to make it 7-3.

Game 5 is tomorrow night. Texas must win to save their season.

Tonight's lines:
Ritchie-Glennie-R. Smith



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Sonne, Vause, McKenzie, Klingberg, Sloan, Wrenn, Jokipakka, Cameron, Faksa, Todd, Commodore (scratch)
Nemeth (injured)

Tonight's attendance was 1,795.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Oklahoma City - May 15 2013

Gameday Preview: Stars at Oklahoma City Barons, Game 4

Texas Stars
43-22-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
atOklahoma City Barons
40-25-2-9, 91 pts
#5 Western Conference
OKC leads 2-1

May 15th at 7:00 PM
Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City, OK

The Texas Stars are not where they want to be. They are down 2-1 in their series with the Barons and are looking at two more games in OKC ahead of them on consecutive nights. They came out strong but ultimately ended up short on Monday. What now?

If it wasn't obvious enough in Games 1 and 2, Game 3 made it very clear that Texas is lacking in offensive production compared to a team like OKC. They have high quality scorers but they are getting shutdown. After scoring two goals in the Milwaukee series, Matt Fraser has just five shots in three games and no points. Leading point scorer in the regular season Colton Sceviour is shooting a lot more (19 shots in three games) but only has an assist to show for it. Morin has six shots but no points. That line has to activate if the Stars want to advance.

Or maybe the Glennie line needs to activate. Will it still be 'his' line tonight though? Desjardins shifted Petersen in at the center spot between Ritchie and Smith in the third period Monday. That line has combined for a goal and an assist in the playoffs total. Smith had been averaging the best points pace in franchise history during the regular season. Is it time for a shakeup to change something in his game? It seems like he's getting chances but isn't getting finish. How do you fix that?

Finally on defense, does someone get switched out tonight? Jordie Benn had two bad penalties that led to OKC goals in the second period. He was on the ice for the Arcobello even-strength goal as well. Do you consider sitting him and bringing in Commodore to play opposite Oleksiak?

There are a lot of decisions for Desjardins to consider here.

OKC shouldn't see their attendance improve much as the Thunder host a home game tonight against the Grizzlies.

Stars injury/call up report:
Nemeth (injury)

Blog (unofficial): NewsOK's Barons Hockey
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Around the League: ECHL, CHL Changes Expected; SPHL Plays Wild Card

Antoine Roussel wails on Chris Bruton in the first period of the teams' December 8th matchup. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
As the Texas Stars continue their series with the Barons and the AHL marches on in general, other leagues have already begun to shift and change around them. Here's the list of changes, both confirmed and unconfirmed so far.
  • The Vancouver-owned AHL franchise (formerly the Rivermen) will not operate in 2013-14, bringing the league down to 29 teams again.
  • The Peoria Civic Center will host hockey though as the Rivermen name will come with them to the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). That was an unexpected happening. Steelheads coach Brad Ralph coached in the SPHL before joining Idaho.
  • The Bloomington Blaze will join Peoria in the SPHL, abandoning the CHL. It is rumoured that other teams, such as Quad City could also bolt from the CHL to form an SPHL 'Midwest' conference or division. That makes sense given that...
  • The CHL's Allen Americans and Rapid City Rush are widely rumoured to be heading for the ECHL this offseason.
Alright. That puts the CHL at six teams that operated this year. They expect to add two more teams via expansion but it doesn't seem like the league is financially viable with even eight teams as spread out as they would be. Brampton and Arizona are going to be really in trouble in terms of their travel costs, living on the edge of the league's area with no one they could even bus to.

Here's a few other news items and notes:
  • The Third Intermission has been doing their final goodbyes. It's pretty gut-wrenching to think about shutting down a franchise. I can't fathom writing a goodbye post for this site and hope I never have to. [The Third Intermission]
  • More locally, the Pond Hockey Club of Austin has been making some progress on their ice surface near 183 and Mopac. GM Jerry Taylor expected to start building out the ice surface, but not laying ice, by last week. [Pond Hockey Club]
  • Former Stars goalie Matt Climie has re-signed with the Chicago Wolves on an AHL deal. He had several offers from European teams but stayed in Chicago due to his loyalty to the ownership there. []
  • Finally, if you didn't read Brandon Worley's scouting report from Game 1 of this series, you should. It's always good to read about the players we see on a nightly basis from someone with an outside perspective on the team. [Defending Big D]

Monday, May 13, 2013

Barons Whitewash Texas 4-0 for 2-1 Series Lead

Yann Danis had everything Texas threw at him tonight in OKC. (Credit: Steven Christy/OKC Barons)
The power play was deadly for the Barons tonight as Oklahoma City scored one on the man advantage and another just as another expired to take the series lead 2-1 with a 4-0 victory tonight at the Cox Convention Center. It was the worst outing of the playoffs for Texas goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp, as he allowed three goals for the first time on the postseason.

Texas was not playing the same game they did last week in Cedar Park. The club looked tentative and didn't generate opportunities as well as they did in the previous games. Coach Desjardins began shuffling lines in the third period to no avail, rotating centers among the lines to attempt to generate offense.

Texas came out with a solid effort in the first period, getting the best chances of the early going. However, the Barons outshot the Stars 11-8 as the first period ended with a scoreless tie.

OKC put two on the board in the second, both as good as power play goals, though only one technically was. Toni Rajala scored first with a floater of a shot from the point that got through traffic in front. Texas had a solid penalty kill, including some shorthanded opportunities, but the goal came just after the penalty expired. Benn had just stepped onto the ice.

Jordie Benn took another penalty just a few minutes later, and Anton Lander cashed in to make it 2-0. His sniper shot was assisted by Hartikainen and Marincin.

The Stars continued their troubles in the third, allowing a goal from high-end scorer Mark Arcobello. It was an easy five-hole one-timer off the pass from Andrew Hotham. Texas squandered a four-minute high-sticking minor to Garrett Stafford, only generating a few chances.

OKC added an empty netter with 14 seconds left to make it 4-0. Game 4 is on Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

Tonight's lines:
Ritchie-Glennie-R. Smith



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Sonne, Vause, McKenzie, Klingberg, Sloan, Wrenn, Jokipakka, Cameron, Faksa, Todd, Commodore (scratch)
Nemeth (injured)

Tonight's attendance was 1,794. It was the smallest crowd Texas has ever played for.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas at Oklahoma City - May 13 2013

Gameday Preview: Stars at Oklahoma City Barons, Game 3

Texas Stars
43-22-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
atOklahoma City Barons
40-25-2-9, 91 pts
#5 Western Conference
Series tied 1-1

May 13th at 7:00 PM
Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City, OK

It's not ideal to split at home, but Texas know that the situation could have been far worse. In what was supposed to be a more wide-open series, the Barons came to play Texas Stars hockey and have seen both games end with 2-1 score lines.

Shot totals and score lines like we've seen in the first two games put a huge premium on goaltending. Cristopher Nilstorp is currently the top goalie in the AHL playoffs. He has a 1.13 GAA and .957 SV%. Only three other tenders have more minutes played than he does in the playoffs and all of those saw their first round series go to five games. Texas took care of business in four.

One of those goaltenders is the opposing netminder in this series, Yann Danis. After allowing just three goals across just over 120 minutes of work in games 1 and 2, it's no doubt that his first series was something of an aberration. OKC coach Todd Nelson had the Barons hunker down for this series and they are playing a very tight game.

That being said, the risk still exists that this club could go on a tear. The best power play in the league is not going to come up empty too many more times before scoring. The Stars have to limit their penalties. They got lucky to clear the 5-on-3 late in the first off the board. They got lucky again in the second when Scott Glennie's boarding call (marginal though it was) was counterbalanced by Josh Green's unsportsmanlike conduct minor. That could have put the Stars on another 5-on-3. This is not a PP you want to load up.

As a side note, Texas coach Willie Desjardins acknowledges that the power play is not working the way he would like it to. Top ranked during the year, the man advantage has been a tough spot for the Stars. They are scoring at times, as they did last night, but Desjardins feels more can be done to make the power play a difference maker in the series.

Texas can lean a bit on the fact that they had the league's best road record this season. It would be perhaps a bit too optimistic to think that the Stars take all three in OKC. However, I think they have a good chance to take two and then come back to the CPC on May 20 with a chance to close out the series. Though all that is quite a ways off still.

Stars injury/call up report:
Nemeth (injury)

Blog (unofficial): NewsOK's Barons Hockey
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Allen and Idaho: Happiness and Heartbreak

CenturyLink Arena in Boise (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
Last night as the Texas Stars celebrated their Game 2 win over the OKC Barons, their two farm clubs, the Idaho Steelheads and Allen Americans, both ended their seasons in drastically different ways. Allen won the CHL championship in Game 7 overtime while the Idaho Steelheads were eliminated form the ECHL playoffs in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semis.

There has been a closer connection to the Idaho Steelheads this season for the Stars' as Justin Dowling, Austin Smith, Gord Baldwin and many others who factored into Texas's lineup spent time there. Many felt that the team overachieved to get to where it was. First year head coach Brad Ralph lacked a full off-season to recruit and had the rug pulled out from under him in many ways when the NHL lockout ended. Injuries and callups plagued the lineup through the season. Somehow they kept winning.

Josh Robinson and Tyler Beskorowany were a big part of that success and it will be interesting to see what their futures will hold in the organization. The eyeball test says that they will probably be divergent paths.

Stockton goalie Olivier Roy really ended the Steelheads' season as Idaho outchanced the Thunder but couldn't outscore them. The number of almost, maybe shots from Smith, Gron, Schaber and Fyten that were snuffed out by Roy was just too much to believe. He's in the running for the playoff MVP for sure.

The Americans take the typical championship shot. (Credit: Chip Crail/CHL Photos)
On the other side of the coin, Allen had a come from behind effort to win their first league championship in their four year history. After losing in the final their first year, this was only their second trip back. It took seven games and then some, but the Americans turned an 0-2 deficit after two periods into a 3-2 OT win tonight in the Metroplex.

From a Texas Stars' fans perspective, you cannot look at these two teams in a vacuum. There are a lot of rumblings, almost deafening now, that Allen is not long for the CHL and may make the jump to the ECHL. It doesn't take too long for the consequences of such a move to get complicated from the Texas Stars' perspective...

Over the next few days, we are sure to hear from both John Mulhern, our Steelheads correspondent, and Brandon Cox, a friend of the site who has covered the Americans for several years.

Also expect that the Stars could have some black ace callups from the Steelheads.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Texas Evens Series with Tight 2-1 Win Over OKC

Mike Hedden celebrates his first period goal (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
After a deflating loss on Thursday, the Texas Stars got back to playing their game with a 2-1 win tonight in Cedar Park to even the series at one a piece.

"Thursday we were puck watching," said forward Alex Chiasson. "[Tonight] it was our tempo, our game. It was a solid team effort."

"I thought we battled harder tonight than [Thursday]," added Coach Desjardins.

The Stars led 2-0 up until the final two minutes of the third as it took a 6-on-5 effort to penetrate the Stars' defenses and get one past Cristopher Nilstorp.

"We limited their chances to perimeter shots," said defenseman Joe Morrow, who scored the game winner. "They make D men pay a price. They hit hard, and they hit often."

Even with this game having the same score as the last, it seemed that there was even less time and space for both teams tonight. Plays were getting broken up and there wasn't a lot of room to move out there.

"Every inch you can take is one you'll need," said Chiasson. "These 2-1 games are tight games."

Cristopher Nilstorp was phenomenal again, especially during Oklahoma City's four power plays. He stopped 27 of 28 on the night.

The Stars jumped out to the lead late in the first period. Justin Dowling put a relentless forecheck on the Barons' defense, forcing a turnover.

"We try to establish a forecheck, but their D are great with the puck," said Coach Desjardins. "[Dowling] made a great play to jump up."

Dowling slid the puck to Jamie Oleksiak at the right point and the ensuing Oleksiak shot was tipped past Danis by Mike Hedden for the 1-0 lead.

Texas got into penalty trouble as the period ended and had to kill a 5-on-3, which they did successfully.

"[The kill] gave us a lot of momentum," added Morrow.

Morrow would pot his first pro playoff goal in the second period on the power play.

"I came off the bench and had a little bit of speed coming into the zone. I got a nice pass [from Connauton], and it was a great screen by Chiasson."

He continued, "Coach is always telling me to shoot the puck so I shot the puck. It was definitely one of the 'seeing-eye' shots."

That seeing-eye shot found the top right corner for the 2-0 lead after forty minutes.

The Barons came to play in the third period but still could not solve Nilstorp until the pulled Danis for the extra skater. Mark Arcobello scored his fifth of the playoffs with 1:55 left to put every Stars' fan in attendance on the edge of their seat.

The game ended rather anticlimactically as Jonathan Cheechoo took an interference call and forced the faceoff to his own zone with six seconds left.

With this effort, Texas moves the series to Oklahoma City where they must play at least three games over the next week.

"We came out strong and played a full sixty," said Morrow. "We do play well on the road so we're looking forward to the next few games."

Game 3 is on Monday.

Tonight's lines:
Ritchie-Glennie-R. Smith



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Sonne, Vause, McKenzie, Klingberg, Sloan, Wrenn, Jokipakka, Cameron, Faksa, Todd, Commodore (scratch)
Nemeth (injured)

Tonight's attendance was 4,683.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Oklahoma City - May 11 2013

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Oklahoma City Barons, Game 2

Texas Stars
43-22-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
v.Oklahoma City Barons
40-25-2-9, 91 pts
#5 Western Conference
OKC leads 1-0

May 11th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

This would be a good time for a rebound performance from the Stars.

"You have to be [desperate]," said Coach Desjardins, referring to the desperation the team drew on in the first series to win their home games. "You don't want to leave here down two and then go into their building where you have to play three."

Two defensive errors left Texas on the wrong end of the scoring on Thursday night in Cedar Park. The 'unforced' play by Fortunus that led to the first goal was just a strange fluke play where the puck came off the glass oddly. That was thanks to the stanchions on the left wing side only being 6 inches apart, the only place in the arena where that is the case. Wathier said postgame he'd not seen a play like that in the CPC before.

The other defensive issue was preventable. Matt Fraser, dogged for his defense all last season, has done much better this season. There is no question that he understands what he did in overtime cost the club the game. Expect a doubling down of his efforts in all aspect of the game tonight. Texas has to hope that the misplay motivates him to perform. If Fraser is clicking, that's all the better.

It was mentioned in Brandon's thoughts on the game at Defending Big D, but it bears mentioning on this site that Brett Sonne is not Travis Morin. Morin is an extremely effective puck moving center and that top line is not the same without him. If he can't go, Sonne looks to stay in but at what cost to the offensive punch of the line? Of course, who do you replace him with?

"Bottom line: it's going ot be a tough game on Saturday," said Desjardins. "It won't be an easier than it was today."

Scheduling conflicts make this a weird 24 hours at the CPC. The Killers concert last night and University of Phoenix graduation this morning means no morning skate for either team. It also moves the start of the game back 30 minutes to 7:30.

Coach Desjardins is not worried about the lack of premium morning skate ice time, "I think the games are where the premium is right now."

Stars injury/call up report:
Nemeth (injury)
Morin (questionable)

Blog (unofficial): NewsOK's Barons Hockey
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

Friday, May 10, 2013

So How 'Bout Those Allen Americans?

(Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
I've got to admit it. I've got a bit of apologizing to do.

The Allen American have a chance tonight to win the Ray Miron Cup as the CHL's league champion tonight, and I don't think that I've really written all that much about the team this season.

If you've been tracking the Stars' season though, you might understand why. After using the Americans sparingly but consistently through their first three seasons, the Texas Stars have not sent a single prospect to the CHL this season, instead preferring to use the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads. In fact, the Aeros used the Americans more consistently through the year, to the point that Houston is listed as an official affiliate of Allen on their website. As a result, I haven't been tracking their progress through the season quite as closely.

But apparently, it's gotten good.

After earning a very, let's say, 'San Jose Sharks'-like reputation in their first few seasons, Allen is one win away from the Cup. In their first season, they also went to the finals, as did Texas and Idaho. All three teams lost, including Allen by a 4-2 series score to the Rapid City Rush.

Follow Game 6 tonight on Twitter or listen or watch if you can. This could be the franchise's crowning achievement before the uncertain of another summer could cause the franchise to leave the CHL for good.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Texas Drops Game 1 on Defensive Errors 2-1 in OT

Alex Chiasson (Credit: Josh Rasmussen)
After leading the AHL in scoring in the first round, the OKC Barons managed only two goals against the Stars tonight at home. That was enough though as Anton Lander's OT tally downed Texas in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

"I thought there might be a little more open ice," said Coach Desjardins, commenting on the low score.

Both OKC goals came off defensive zone mistakes by the Stars, one a fluke and one preventable.

"It's going to be tight all series long," said Francis Wathier, who had Texas's only goal. "We have to respect their high skill players. One mistake in the D zone, and it lost us the game.

Just 88 seconds into the overtime, an extended defensive zone stay by the Stars cost the team the win as Matt Fraser attempted to clear the puck around the boards straight to Barons' forward.

"We have to be more determined," said Coach Desjardins. "The first game of the series may be one where you don't know what the other team is going to do."

Yann Danis earned first star honors with 34 saves on 35 shots. Cristopher Nilstorp stopped 24 of 26.

The Stars came out of the gate strong, racking up a 10-3 shot advantage before anything went in the net. Unfortunately for the home side, it was Barons finding the board. Maxime Fortunus attempted to clear the puck out, and it hit in the narrow double stanchions on the left wing of the home side. Philippe Cornet collected the puck and found Mark Arcobello out front for the 1-0 lead.

"We have to be tighter on the puck," said Wathier. "We can't give time and space to players like Arcobello."

That lead stuck after the full first period with shots at 11-5 for the home club.

In the second period, Texas had a chance to even things up in the 16th minute as Brett Sonne hacked and slashed the puck through Danis. However, the play was already blown dead as the puck rolled into the OKC net.

"I can't say if [the first shot] was a goal. We were hungry [on the puck] and you have to take that as a positive."

Just seven seconds later, Francis Wathier made up for the early whistle with his first of the playoffs. Just off the faceoff, Wathier rang one off the post and in.

"Any time you can score a big goal it's good," said Wathier. "Benn did a great pass and got low on the play. Our line has been successful creating those chances off the faceoff."

The pace picked up in the third period as both clubs played a bit of end-to-end hockey. Scott Glennie had the play of the period as Cristopher Nilstorp drifted out of the net on the initial save and left the net empty. Glennie went down to the butterfly and stopped the ensuing OKC shot to keep the game tied at one all.

With time ticking down, OKC had a good bit of pressure, earning the last six shots of the period, including one that just glanced off the post and out.

"We got lucky in the third period; they could have buried a couple," said Desjardins.

In the overtime period, Texas did not register a shot. Fraser's failed clear kept the Stars on defense and Anton Lander charged the net with the resulting turnover. His shot deflected off Kevin Connauton in front of a crowded crease and in under the crossbar. It was Texas's first home loss of the playoffs.

"You have to get more shots from the middle," said Desjardins. "We had some good chances that didn't go. We have to get more from our power play."

Tonight's lines:
Ritchie-Glennie-R. Smith



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Vause, McKenzie, Klingberg, Sloan, Wrenn, Jokipakka, Cameron, Faksa, Todd, Commodore (scratch)
Nemeth, Morin (injured)

Tonight's attendance was 2,840.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Oklahoma City - May 9 2013

Gameday Preview: Stars v. Oklahoma City Barons, Game 1

Texas Stars
43-22-5-6, 97 pts
#1 Western Conference
v.Oklahoma City Barons
40-25-2-9, 91 pts
#5 Western Conference
Series tied 0-0

May 9th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Texas enters the second round for just the second time in their franchise history. In their first season, the second round saw them take on a thrilling seven game series against the Chicago Wolves, which ended with this fun bit of nostalgia.

The Barons are also entering their second ever second round series. They defeated San Antonio last year en route to the Western Conference finals and a loss to the Toronto Marlies.

These two teams are quite familiar with each other, playing 12 games this season and 32 overall since the Barons joined the league.

“Because we play them a lot every year, it can get real chippy,” Barons' forward Teemu Hartikainen told in an interview this week.

That familiarity is there both on the ice and off, as Matt Fraser reminded us last weekend. His comment that the teams would be familiar with the hotels, among other things, is a reminder that the desire to be comfortable in your environment is definitely important. It's uncertain which team that favors more. Overall, Texas had a superior road record (25-9-3-1) to the Barons (18-14-0-6). However, the home play for Texas (18-13-2-5) wasn't as hot as OKC (22-11-2-3).

In the same interview, head coach Todd Nelson went on to compliment the Stars overall play.

"[Texas is] the No. 1 seed for a reason. They have all the parts. They have great goaltending. Their defensemen are strong. Their forwards have skill and grit. They're a complete team. But we've been playing good hockey. It should be a great series."

I previewed many of those elements yesterday in this space if you'd like to read up some more.

Overall in the series, I think the Stars have some danger of losing one at home. They also could drop one on the road. Therefore, I think Texas will get the series win in six games, closing things out at home on May 20th.

Stars injury/call up report:
Nemeth (injury)
Morin (questionable)

Blog (unofficial): NewsOK's Barons Hockey
Twitter: @OKCBaronsHockey

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

ECHL Playoffs: 'Thunder'-struck Twice in Idaho

Chase Schaber screens Stockton goalie Olivier Roy in one of this weekend's games against the Thunder.
John Mulhern is back again to fill us in on the week in Steelheads' hockey...

Stunned silence. That is how the fans left Century Link Arena this past Sunday night. Oh sure I’m willing to bet there were a few utterances made under people’s breath, but for the most part all anyone could hear was the Stockton Thunder players and staff celebrating their overtime win to take a 2-0 lead after two games in the ECHL’s Western Conference Finals. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. At worse you figured the teams would split, but not with the Idaho Steelheads losing both of their home games to start the series.

In game one on Friday, the Steelheads came out fast and furious. They were creating pressure and they were able to pick up a lot of loose pucks to create great transition chances. The only thing stopping the Steelheads from having a 3-0 lead after the first period was some outstanding play from Olivier Roy who stopped all 13 shots faced in the period. Stockton did end up with 7 shots in the period, but most of that came on the power play as they had 2 chances in the first. Josh Robinson turned aside all of those shots as it was clear, at least in the first period, that Stockton would not get a lot of great chances.

In the second, Stockton would get on the board first as the Steelheads were under to clear the puck out of their zone, and when Andrew Clark found the puck on his stick he threw a blind backhand shot on net that beat Robinson to stake Stockton to a 1-0 lead just 4:01 into the second period. Despite another 13 shots, the Steelheads remained goalless after 40 minutes.

In the third period, David de Kastrozza would knot the game at 1 just 14 seconds into the third period when he was able to take a quick pass from the behind the net from Brett Robinson and fire past Roy for his 3rd goal of the playoffs. On this night de Kastrozza was clearly the best Steelhead on the ice. He played physically and with speed all night long. The Steelheads caught a huge break about 14 second later when it appeared that Stockton took the lead right back, and after the referee called it a goal, and a lengthy discussion including the goal judge, he overturned the initial call and waved off the goal. (There is no replay in the ECHL level. It wouldn’t have mattered anyways based on the direction the camera was facing it would have been inconclusive.)

The Thunder  were not to be denied on this night. At the 13:18 mark of the period Maxime Boisclair would knock home a goal from about waist high to give Stockton a 2-1 lead. It was a shot that Robinson never really had a chance on as the puck came on a pass high through the slot area. A bit of 5 minutes later as the Steelheads were pushing for the equalizer, Ryan Hayes would drive the final nail into the coffin as he snapped home a clean shot from the top of the left wing circle to create a 3-1 score and give Stockton a 1-0 lead in the series.

Back at it on Sunday, head coach Brad Ralph kept the Idaho Steelheads line-up in-tact. Can’t blame him either as after a close game on Friday where the Stockton Thunder were just able to capitalize on a couple of defensive breakdowns to win game 1. In game two things started a little more tight checking. Neither team could really establish much in the first half of the period. A lot of stoppages early messed with the flow of the game. It wasn’t until the 14:24 mark of the period where once again Stockton jumped out to a 1-0 lead. It was once again Maxime Boisclair with the goal. The Steelheads would get a huge goal at the 19:18 mark of the period as Austin Smith got his 7th goal of the playoffs to tie the game at 1 as the teams headed for the locker rooms.

In the second, Stockton would only get 6 shots on net, but one of them found the back of the net as Matt Bergland notched his 6th of the playoffs to give Stockton a 2-1 lead at the 12:52 mark of the period. The Steelheads had 12 shots, but once again all were turned away by Olivier Roy.

The third period started with hope. Surely with 20 minutes to play the Steelheads would be able to get one goal and Josh Robinson would be able to turn away enough shots to allow the Steelheads to get the win. However, just 51 seconds into the 3rd period, the questions changed after the Thunder took a 3-1 lead when Ryan Hayes got a puck past Robinson. At this point the question that I had turned into more of a statement. The Steelheads would get the two goals to force overtime or they would lose in regulation. I just didn’t see a team capable of 3 goals in 19 minutes.

Adrian Foster would make it a 3-2 game as he was able to take a nice feed from Ben Ondrus, after Ondrus won a faceoff forward from the offensive right wing faceoff spot, split two men and slid a puck to a waiting Foster at the 6:48 mark of the period. The Steelheads would continue to push and just when you thought maybe there wouldn’t be enough left in the tank, Foster would strike again. This time on a rebound at the 14:17 mark to tie the game at 3. The teams would head to overtime with the same score.
Both the Steelheads (4-1) and the Thunder (4-0) have seen their share of overtimes this postseason. What I didn’t immediately know is that the Thunder are 11-0 in their past 11 OT playoff games and Olivier Roy is 7-0 himself.

When the overtime started, the Steelheads a couple of good chances to finish the game early as had been their trend during the playoffs, however, Roy was able to make saves and a little bit of puck luck had the Steelheads missing just high or just wide. After about 5 minutes of the overtime, the Thunder once again found their legs and did not let the Steelheads mount any chances against Roy the remainder of the game. At the 11:39 mark, Andrew Clark would bang home a rebound and gave the Thunder a 4-3 win as well as a commanding 2-0 series lead as the series now shifts to Stockton.

The ECHL Conference Finals are the first games to ever use a 2 referee system at the ECHL level. There were only 3 penalties called in game 1 as the teams didn’t try a lot of “funny stuff”. In game 2 that number jumped up to 12, but not much more than what you would normally see in a one man system. It looks like it is working well and keeping things away from the play in check.

I would expect to see a goaltender change for the Steelheads in game 3 of the playoffs. I don’t think it is because Josh Robinson has played terrible in the first 2 games, but obviously something isn’t working in the defensive zone. With Tyler Beskorowany being a big of a bigger goaltender as well as a bit better at handling the puck, I think he’ll be able to assist the defensemen a bit and allow them a bit more time to get the puck out of the zone.

I also think a shuffling of the lines could be in order as well. There have been a couple of players (Austin Smith and Tyler Gron) that could use a bit of a kick in the pants to work a bit harder defensively, and possibly having different line mates might be able to accomplish that.

I don’t think all is lost for the Steelheads. Of course you don’t like to be down 2-0 in a best of seven especially when heading to the road, but I don’t think the Thunder have clearly outplayed the Steelheads through 2 games, and I expect the Steelheads to find another gear and apply some pressure. Of course it still remains to be seen in results on the ice, but hopefully the next article will be regarding a much needed Steelheads victory.

Idaho drops the puck on Game 3 tonight at 9:00 PM Central.