L'Esperance Scores Twice as Texas Stars Earn "Gutsy" 4-2 Win Over Iowa

(Credit: Taylor Sammarco/Texas Stars)
After tonight's 4-2 win at home, the Texas Stars are the best team in the division. While the standings might not show it, they've got the best points percentage in the group and three games in hand on first place.

"It was a solid team effort from start to finish," said Coach Laxdal, who pushed off any thoughts of the points percentage lead, looking ahead. "We've got a long ways to go here, but our guys are battling."

Texas had a chance to get knocked out of the contest mentally early as a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit within 60 seconds of game clock. "That was tough. Both times we had possession of the puck on dumps and they just had a good forecheck. we were a little sleepy. I was on the bench telling guys to wake up."

Colton Hargrove, who scored the opening goal for Texas, said the team got a bit "complacent" after the first score.

The top line of Joel L'Esperance, Michael Mersch and Travis Morin starred again with two goals for L'Esperance and a tally for Mersch, the game winner. They drove the offense in the second period, which was all the scoring they needed to put the game in the win column for the Stars.

Phil Desrosiers got the start and stopped 25 of 27 against him.

The scoring was fast and furious in the opening frame. Texas opened the scoring but then saw their lead evaporate and flip to trail in less than a minute. Colton Hargrove's eighth of the year came just 2:14 into the contest, and the depth scoring seemed to have put Texas on a good footing for the first stanza. Almost before the goal could be announced, Sam Anas had marched down the ice to beat Philippe Desrosiers for the tie at 2:41. Twenty-one seconds later, Matt Read would push Desrosiers' glove over the goal line for the 2-1 lead. The goal did go to review but stood up.

"I think the message on the bench was to wake up," said Hargrove.

Texas had a scary moment late in the frame as Travis Morin got a puck to the left leg and left the ice gingerly. While he played point on the power play shortly thereafter, he left the ice around five minute remaining for the locker room. He would return after the intermission.

The second period saw Texas jump ahead on the strength of the Morin-L'Esperance-Mersch line. Dillon Heatherington just sent a puck into the slot on the rush. A bad bounce off an Iowa defender put it on L'Esperance's stick for his 21st of the season.

The home squad went up 3-2 halfway through the game on a swooping move by Michael Mersch. Joel L'Esperance dished to Mersch, and the vet cut left to right across the crease before roofing one over Kahkonen.

The penalty kill came out strong in the game tonight, stopped all three Iowa chances. That included an extended set in the second period where Texas was locked in their zone for nearly the full two minutes.

Mersch was one of the forward stuck out there, "Once it got to a minute, we just held tight and let them pass around the outside, hoping they'd shoot it and get a whistle or a clear. Once it gets that long, you try to hold it tight and get the whistle."

Laxdal laughed about the kill, noting "Mersch couldn't even skate, just swinging around his stick."

Texas is in the middle of a huge stretch of game, 10 in 18 days to make it to the All-Star Break. Tonight's game, their third win in a row, was a momentous one to send them on the road with a streak in tact. Colton Hargrove added, "It's draining mentally and physically, but I think the boys did a good job battling through everything.

Texas tacked on an empty net goal from L'Esperance to ice the game. It was his 22nd of the season.

The Stars hit the road to play San Diego on Wednesday, the start of a five game road trip.

Tonight's lines:



Injuries, scratches, and notes:
Scarlett (season-ending ACL injury)
Nyberg, Calderone (scratch)

Tonight’s attendance was 5,720.

AHL Gamesheet - Texas v. Iowa - January 12 2019