Off Day Chat with Neil Graham: Banged-up Blue Line, Timely Timeouts and Matej Blumel's Luck

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

I had a chance to speak with Stars head coach Neil Graham the afternoon as Texas prepares to host Milwaukee for Game 3 of their best-of-five series. We hit several different points, and I'll cover them in a round-up type fashion here.

Injuries and ice time on the blue line

The Stars lost Oskari Laaksonen after Game 3 against Rockford and Will Butcher in Game 1 against Milwaukee. Texas pressed Dawson Barteaux and Artem Grushnikov into service for the two defenders, respectively.

Both injured players are currently game-time decisions for Game 3 Wednesday. 

With Barteaux and Grushnikov in, Ryan Shea and Alex Petrovic played heavy minutes. Typically, they would average 24-26 minutes in a game each but both played over 30 on Sunday. Graham felt confident with that decision given that the team would have three days off to recover before playing again. "We knew the back-to-back [for Games 1 and 2] would be taxing and that we had to push through. We knew we’d have a three day gap to recover before Game 3."

Dawson Barteaux played approximately seven minutes on Saturday and just over twelve on Sunday.  Graham noted that Barteaux is a well-known commodity for the Texas staff, as he's played part of three seasons with them. 

Grushnikov had just under four minutes. Graham commented that Grushnikov kept things "simple and efficient" in his limited minutes.

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)

Timely timeouts

For whatever reason, the league doesn't record timeouts taken anywhere in the official game sheets or scoring information. I believe they used to, but I digress.

Texas took a late timeout in Game 2 after Milwaukee scored twice in 69 seconds to tie things at 3. I asked Graham what the strategy was there and how he handled the chat at the bench.

"I didn’t feel like we had too much stress or panic, but I still felt like it was necessary to change the flow. I wanted us to recognize that there was still time left in that period to finish strong."

Of course, finish strong they did with a power play goal that was the eventual game-winner.

(Credit: Ross Bonander/Texas Stars)

When will Matej bloom?

One player who has been a bit unlucky so far this postseason is Matej Blumel. With 15 shots, he is tied for second on the team but has no goals and only one assist, a primary in transition on McKenzie's opening goal Sunday.

Graham noted that Blumel is doing the right things away from the puck, calling his "hunt and tenacity" excellent in the first round. Blumel had two great shots saved by Askarov in Game 2 and missed the net on a third. "He had some nice opportunities inside the dots. We know he has a good shot. It’s a matter of time for Blumel."

Black ace bonanza

Graham confirmed that Texas has added three more black aces who are not currently going to appear on the gamesheet or transaction report: Christian Kyrou, Justin Ertel and Kyle McDonald. Kyrou, a 2022 draft selection, and McDonald, an undrafted pickup, are both under contract with Dallas. Ertel, drafted in 2021, has not yet signed an ELC.

The Stars have enough black aces with ATOs and Dallas signees that they have been able to run a full separate practice after the playing group finishes. Graham commented about how important this time is for the young players, many of whom will be Texas Stars in the fall: "You can’t replicate it. They see the commitment [from the team]."