|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
"We know they’re a good hockey club. We’re just going to play the brand of hockey we know how to play," said head coach Derek Laxdal. "This group is a resilient group, a tight-knit group. We have a deep group that plays hard. When they’re down, they don’t quit. When they’re up, they don’t quit. If we’re down or up, lose or win, they’re going to respond the same way."
In addition to the strong team on the ice, Texas is readying itself for the media frenzy that accompanies anything associated with the Maple Leafs. "I think it’s awesome we’re playing in a huge hockey market. Our guys will enjoy it. I’m looking forward to it as a coach. It’s exciting to get back to the Canadian market, have the odd Tim Horton’s after the game. I told the guys to have fun and embrace it."
Texas hasn't played Toronto in several years since the Marlies headed over to the Eastern Conference. Coach Laxdal has some experience from the Memorial Cup in playing a team in the championship that you haven't seen all season.
"At the pro level, it’s a little bit different than junior. Most teams play the same, systems are the same. You’ll find they might have more speed than you see watching tape. That first period is huge. Same as the Memorial Cup, it’s all about that first period."
Travis Morin agrees about that first period, "You watch as much video as you can. That first period will be a feeler out period. At this point, you have to keep playing your game. You can’t make any big changes. You just need to shut them down where possible."
Morin also reflected on the Texas Stars's previous trips to the Cup Final, comparing and contrasting: "Every time it’s different. The first year, we were defensive oriented and then we got Jamie Benn for the playoff run and he was obviously a big contributor for us. The second time when we won, we had a good team all year long and we knew we were good. We were fast and quick and teams wore down against us. It was still a battle. This year, we didn’t have the best regular season but we started clicking [in the playoffs]. We’ve never been blown out of games, and we don’t blow other guys out. It’s a battle to the end."
Those battles to the end have delivered 37 overtime games over regular season and the playoffs. Coach Laxdal joked that he was getting gray hair with all the OT, but continued, "I’ve been on a lot of championship teams but I’ve never seen a team like this. We don’t get rattled. We probably played our best hockey of the game [in OT in Game 6]."
"As a coach, you learn to take a deep breath and let the players decide. You make your adjustments, but they don’t need me yelling at them from behind the bench. I’ve never seen it before in all my playing and coaching days."
Despite heading to the hockey hotbed of Toronto, Mike McKenna is confident Texas fans will hold their own at the H-E-B Center.
"It’s going to be no different [in Toronto] from most cities when you get to this level. I’ll put our fanbase and H-E-B Center up against any arena in this league. Our fans are as passionate as anyone. We drive into the games, and we see them playing street hockey, tailgating and doing it the Texas way. We love that, and we feed off that."
Texas meets Toronto at Ricoh Coliseum for Game 1 on Saturday at 3 PM Central.