|Brenden Dillon (Credit: Steven Christy)|
If you've driven up I-35 to Dallas anytime recently, you've probably been welcomed to the Metroplex by a stern-faced Brenden Dillon, plastered on a northbound billboard as you enter the area.
"I haven't seen the billboard. Hopefully I'm looking OK in it," said Dillon, laughing.
While Dillon might not have seen the billboard, surely countless Texas Stars heading up to to Dallas this season have. For fans, it sells tickets. For players, it serves as a reminder of the success that you can enjoy if you perform well in Cedar Park.
"I think Austin is a great place to grow as a hockey player and a person," said Ryan Garbutt, who played fifty games for Texas before signing a one-way deal with the NHL club. "If you show the right perseverance there, you can definitely make it to the next level. It's pretty cool to be here now with all those guys on that next level."
The Dallas Stars have to be looking very familiar to folks who have been Texas Stars fans for the past few years. On Tuesday against Washington, ten of the twenty Dallas players in the lineup laced up their skates in Cedar Park at one point or another from Jamie Benn to Patrik Nemeth.
"I think it's awesome," Dillon continued. "It says something about how Dallas is starting to move in that direction, bringing guys up from Texas and learning the systems and the Dallas Stars culture."
The overall systems alignment between the two teams has made the transition between the two clubs seamless for the many callups this year.
Garbutt added, "As soon as they come up, they're ready to go. Even the guys who have to fly in on the same day as games like [Chris Mueller] has a few times this year, they play a great game. They're so smart with the puck, and it's pretty easy to play with guys like that."
Dillon reiterated, "That's the thing, especially this time of year with playoffs around the corner and so little time in between, you can't have a week to practice the system and get used to them. That's another credit to the American League team being so close and the teams being so similar."
It's a huge endorsement for the world-class coaching that the Dallas Stars have gotten into their system at the American League level in Willie Desjardins and Doug Lidster.
|Colton Sceviour, Jordie Benn and Brenden Dillon|
(Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
Some of the successes have taken longer than others and it's also a positive sign to see the Dallas organization taking its time with prospects where warranted. Colton Sceviour, for example, is on a one-way contract next year after five years with the Texas Stars.
"That transition [to the NHL], sometimes it takes zero years if you look at a guy like Val Nichushkin, but then if you look at a guy like Tim Thomas. He's a great example. He plays a few years in Europe, then wins a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe. Everyone has different ways to get to the NHL but at the end of the day, we're just happy to be here together."
That togetherness, sense of team and community has also been huge for Dallas. The team has been getting younger over the past few years thanks to the new blood coming up from Cedar Park. Some of the pairings and line combinations have even carried over. Last month, Sceviour and Travis Morin anchored a line with Erik Cole. Dillon currently pairs with Jordie Benn.
"This season, I've played with Jordie 30 to 40 games, and it was an easy transition. The similarities are still there."
"It's crazy to think about sometimes. When you're in the moment and just focusing on playing hockey games, the daily life of it, you don't really sit back and say, 'Hey, I'm in the NHL. I'm an NHL player.' It's pretty cool to think about, but you want to keep yourself humble. Still, it's pretty surreal."