Stargazing: Dallas Stars news & notes

In this edition of Stargazing: Fabian Brunnstrom gets some love, Mike Modano has his sights set on the 2010 Olympics and Jamie Benn just wants to have some fun.

A reminder of some of the good times:

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Despite a rough start to his first NHL season, which included a public lashing by Dave Tippett, Fabian Brunnstrom finished the season strong and was one of the team's best players in the final month. Quite a rookie season, when all was said and done.

His final month and a half typified how the entire year went for him. After struggling through a 13-game stretch in March where he sat out as a healthy scratch six times and failed to register a point in the seven he did suit up for, Brunnstrom was outstanding in the final five contests, contributing four goals and two assists and firing 14 shots on goal. Of course, team-first player that he is, he was more consumed with disappointment that the club missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

"Yeah, I felt a little bit better the last games," noted Brunnstrom, whose 17 goals ranked fifth on the Stars and 10th among all NHL freshmen. "Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough because we’re missing the playoffs, but maybe for myself, it was a little bit better. I was trying to skate a little bit more and dig in a little bit more. I felt a little bit better and of course, I’ve learned stuff over the season."

Brunnstrom was going to struggle defensively when he came to the Stars. It was just going to have to be accepted as part of his learning process. Unfortunately, the team struggled as well and everyone came under fire. He was supposed to be able to learn and adjust and be protected by the veterans around him. Injuries and a bad start to the season derailed those plans.

What was most impressive to me was how he handles these struggles, fought to learn from his mistakes and came back to really show what he's capable of when given the opportunity. Brunnstrom will be a dangerous weapon for the Stars next season, and will be less of a defensive liability. He ended up finishing the season with the best shooting percentage on the team.

"I think I have to work on everything, but try to shoot a little bit more maybe, dig in a little bit more," the 6-foot-1, 202-pound Brunnstrom said. "It’s more physical over here too, so it’s a new part of the game for me, too, but as I said, I think I have to work on everything. I’ll try to spend the summer now to work on small things and come well-prepared for next year."

He agreed he still needs to get better defensively, although he has already made significant progress since he first arrived.

"My strength is, I think, the offensive part of the game, so defense is something I have to work on," said Brunnstrom, who finished with a plus/minus rating of -8. "But I also think it’s something I’ve been better on this year, too.  So hopefully, I can get even a little bit better next year."

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Mike Modano announced early this week that he will return next season to play for the Dallas Stars at the young age of 39. While another Stanley Cup would certainly be nice for the future hall of famer, he also has his sights set on the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. He appeared on Hockey Night in Canada's radio program, and Mark Stepneski at Andrew's Dallas Stars page has the transcription of some of his quotes:

"Obviously the Olympics is such a great stage. The hockey is amazing and being a part of the past three was a lot of fun. I enjoy playing the type of hockey that is played there," Modano told CBC Radio. "That had a little bit to do with it."

"It may be a full turning of the page. It may not," Burke said earlier this year. "I will tell you one thing, it would be grossly unfair to that group to make that determination based on age or that it's time to turn the page, so let's make a total change. We'll make it on the merits of the people involved."

"Having an outside chance of being a part of one more would be great, and being in Vancouver would be special and fun to play in front of," said Modano. "It gives me a little motivation to come into the season to work out and get ready and see if I can make it a little difficult for Brian Burke and [Team USA coach] Ron Wilson to select their team."

Be sure to check out Mark's post to hear the full audio of the interview.

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While the World Championships are over, several Dallas Stars players are still alive in the AHL playoffs.

Mark Fistric, Raymond Sawada and Maxime Fortunus are all playing for the Manitoba Moose, who will face the Houston Aeros in the Western Conference Finals. Stars prospects Matt Climie and John Lammers both play for Houston.

Sawada has two goals and three assists in 10 playoff games so far, while Fistric has a goal with three helpers. Fortunus has two goals and two assists.

Climie has appeared in three games in relief for Houston with no decisions in any of the games. He allowed zero goals in 50 minutes of ice time. Lammers has two assists in 11 games for Houston.

Here is the full schedule for the conference finals:

Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
Hershey Bears vs. Providence Bruins
Game 1 – Sat., May 16 – Providence at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 – Sun., May 17 – Providence at Hershey, 5:00
Game 3 – Fri., May 22 – Hershey at Providence, 7:05
Game 4 – Sun., May 24 – Hershey at Providence, 7:05
*Game 5 – Mon., May 25 – Hershey at Providence, 4:05
*Game 6 – Wed., May 27 – Providence at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 7 – Thu., May 28 – Providence at Hershey, 7:00

Western Conference Finals
Manitoba Moose vs. Houston Aeros
Game 1 – Fri., May 15 – Houston at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 2 – Sat., May 16 – Houston at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 3 – Mon., May 18 – Manitoba at Houston, 8:05
Game 4 – Wed., May 20 – Manitoba at Houston, 8:05
*Game 5 – Fri., May 22 – Manitoba at Houston, 8:35
*Game 6 – Mon., May 25 – Houston at Manitoba, 8:30
*Game 7 – Wed., May 27 – Houston at Manitoba, 8:30

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Jamie Benn has had an amazing year. He has one of the top statistical seasons in the WHL, he signs with the Dallas Stars, and he leads his team to the WHL Championship. The win gave the players a chance to finally relax and goof off a bit on the plane ride home, something Benn took full advantage of.

“Everyone is different,” said Benn, a Dallas Stars draft pick. “Some guys like to watch movies or listen to music. For myself and some of the other guys we like to goof off and have some fun to pass the time.”

Benn’s comments came shortly after an unsuspecting teammate, asleep with his mouth open, awoke with a grape in his mouth to the laughter of his teammates.

“I think we’re a pretty loose group,” said Benn, who missed three games in the WHL championship series but returned for the game six overtime victory over Calgary. “We like to have fun but when we have to get down to business we get down to business. Our whole team is pretty close. We have good chemistry and like to have fun together.”

Have I mentioned how much I look forward to seeing this kid in a Stars jersey next season?

The Kelowna Rockets will face the OHL champion Windsor Spitfires, the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL and the host Rimouski Oceanic in the 2009 Memorial Cup, starting Friday night.

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