[Editor's note: As the Dallas Stars got back to hockey as normal, so are we. At DBD, we're going to get back to more of our regularly-scheduled coverage . We'll obviously keep you updated on Rich Peverley, Alex Chiasson, Kari Lehtonen and any other fallout from the events of the past several days as soon as we know anything.]
Five years ago, an unknown group of free agents and a just few actual Dallas draft picks walked into the Cedar Park Center and won over the city with a run at the Calder Cup. One of those actual draft picks was Francis Wathier. Now, he is on his way out of the organization, leaving the club with just three remaining original Stars.
Wathier was a 2003 draft pick for the Dallas organization. By the time he hit the ice in Cedar Park, he had already played for the Iowa Stars for three seasons before that club disbanded in anticipation of the move to central Texas. In 2007, he spent some time in Boise as well, winning a Kelly Cup with the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads. Wathier stayed in Des Moines, Iowa, to play for the Iowa Chops, officially the Anaheim Ducks' affiliate.
In that first season in Austin, Wathier was on the top line for the club. Playing opposite Aaron Gagnon and Greg Rallo, he racked up 19 goals and 21 assists. He was tenacious on the forecheck his entire career. Never was that more evident than in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals at home against the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals). Wathier forced a misplay of the puck by goalie Michal Neuvirth and deposited the puck for one of the most memorable goals of the playoff run.
Over the ensuing years, Wathier's role changed from top line and top callup to veteran presence and calming influence. He was never one to shy away from physical play and took up the cause for many teammates over the years. This year he has had trouble getting into the lineup thanks to the AHL's veteran rule, which limits the number of players on the ice with more than 320 games of professional experience.
Wathier was facing healthy scratches as Colton Sceviour, Travis Morin, Dustin Jeffrey, Maxime Fortunus, Chris Mueller and Derek Meech ate up the six allowed veteran spots. Given the production and value of those six, it was a hard decision to argue with from a hockey side. However, it was definitely a tough one to take for long-time fans who remembered top-line Wathier and had trouble accepting his limited role on this year's club.
Texas Stars general manager Scott White had discussions with Wathier in the past about his situation in Texas but not specifically about this transaction. "It's one of those where I know the player enough, know he wants a chance to play," White told 100 Degree Hockey. "He wasn't getting an opportunity to play with us, based on our vet status. This gives him a chance."
The Dallas Stars retain Wathier's NHL contract for the rest of the season but he will now play for the Nashville Predators' affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. Texas receives Kevin Henderson in return from the Nashville organization, which will also retain his NHL contract. Wathier and Henderson will both get chances to play with their new organizations as the Admirals do not have a veteran rule issue, and Henderson is not an veteran.
According to many fans, Wathier's legacy is as much on the ice as off. He, his wife and kids were a big part of the hockey community in Austin. Francis was a youth hockey coach along with Toby Petersen and Maxime Fortunus. All three have sons in the league. The Wathiers recently built a house in Cedar Park so his family will likely stay in Texas until the end of the season. Wathier is a free agent at the end of the season and this move likely signals that he will be finding a new professional home after this season.
Texas fans will miss him.
Texas had just one game on the schedule this week. In his first home start since December, Jack Campbell delighted the hometown fans with a 23 save shutout of the Charlotte Checkers. The club in front of him put up three goals to make sure his effort ensured a win for the Stars.
"I was really looking forward to playing at home," said Campbell. "The fans never disappoint so it's good to get two points for them."
Texas distributed their scoring evenly, putting in a goal each period. Additionally, each goal came from a different line with the top three lines each potting one.
"At the beginning of the year I was worried because we were getting all of our scoring out of one line and the power play," said coach Willie Desjardins. "You can't win in the playoffs with that. Now we're playing way better and getting more from the other lines. That gives us a way better chance moving forward."
While Texas did limit shots against their second-year goalie, Campbell was strong in net on his own to keep the goose egg on the sheet.
"[Charlotte] had good scoring chances," said Campbell. "The boys played tremendously in front of me. It just ramps up this time of the year. You're getting ready for the playoffs and we're trying to get first place. Our team has really come along."
Dustin Jeffrey scored his third in three games, and Patrik Nemeth tallied his first of the season in the game. The power play activated in the second with Colton Sceviour's 32nd of the year. The win also put Texas back in first with 80 points.
Texas signed center Chris Culligan out of the CIS yesterday as their first amateur tryout contract of the season. Culligan just finished his collegiate hockey career for the University of New Brunswick, where he was better than a point per game player and captained the club his last two seasons. He also won the league's sportsmanship trophy two years running.
The Week Ahead
Texas will play the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) tonight at the Cedar Park Center before heading out on the road for a back-to-back against the recently hot Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues).
Toby Petersen is the only player out for Texas right now. He could return before the end of the month.