When Colton Sceviour raced down the ice on a breakaway on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche, slipping the puck between J.S. Giguere's pads for the game-winning goal with time running out, it was a huge moment for the Dallas Stars.
Taking two points out of a game against the Avalanche, a division rival and a team that the Stars are trailing in the playoff race, was certainly important, especially after being dominated by the Avs 6-2 the night before. But the way that the Stars won, with which players were involved, is something special in its own right.
Sceviour, playing in only his third game this season since being called up from the Texas Stars on December 9th, was the hero, breaking the 2-2 tie with only 2:52 remaining in the third, his second goal already. He wasn't the only recent call-up from Texas to make an impact in the game, however, as defenceman Cameron Gaunce also shone, playing 12:52 of ice time (3:49 of which came on the penalty kill) as he helped to stabilize an injury-riddled Stars blueline that has been very shaky as of late.
If the story of two Texas Stars players shipping up to Dallas and making an impact sounds familiar, well, that's because it is. In the last few seasons numerous players have made that jump, with most of them sticking around and earning regular roster spots.
As observed by the venerable Brandon Worley last night:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Garbutt, Roussel, Gaunce, Connauton, Chiasson, Benn, Dillon, Sceviour, Eakin... Texas Stars development pipeline on full display tonight.</p>— Brandon Worley (@brandonworley) <a href="https://twitter.com/brandonworley/statuses/413124350808973312">December 18, 2013</a></blockquote>
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That's quite a list, and it serves as a shining example of the growing relationship between the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate.
With the Texas Stars only forming prior to the 2009-2010 season, the relationship between the two clubs is still relatively young, but has already seen its fair share of ups and downs. Loaded with veteran journeymen for their inaugural year, Texas found instant chemistry under the tutelage of Glen Gulutzan, making it all the way to the AHL championship Calder Cup Finals before falling to the dynastic Hershey Bears in six games. After a 1st round playoff exit in 2010-2011, the Stars plummeted in year 2011-2012, finishing 29th overall in the league with a 31-40-5 record.
It was then that Dallas and Texas made a joint decision that could end up being a pivotal moment in the history of both franchises: after two years behind the bench in Dallas as an associate coach, Willie Desjardins left the position to take the job of head coach for the Texas Stars, replacing one-year tryout Jeff Pyle.
The move paid immediate dividends as Texas completely turned their fortunes around, finishing 1st in the AHL's Western Conference and 3rd overall in the league. Desjardins was honored for the turnaround by winning the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL's most outstanding coach.
Some notables names from that team? Brenden Dillon, Alex Chiasson, Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, and Jordie Benn, all of whom have now cemented themselves as roster regulars in Dallas.
And it's only just beginning, as other Texas Stars standouts are already making cases for more ice time in the NHL.
Sceviour and Kevin Connauton are starting to look more and more like they belong in Dallas long-term. Jamie Oleksiak might not be ready just yet, but probably will be in the near future. If Gaunce can continue to play like he did against Colorado then he'll really be involved in that conversation.
Behind them? Scott Glennie, Jack Campbell, Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie and other youngsters are developing well with Texas, and might not be too far off. Next year top prospects like Radek Faksa, John Klingberg and Alex Guptill will join the team and start that stage of their careers.
With Desjardins preaching the same style of hockey as Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff - that of speed, transition game and hard work - making the jump from the AHL to the NHL becomes a lot easier. A prime example, Sceviour, who led the AHL in goals at the time he was called up, looks like he hasn't lost a step going from the small league to the big.
Depth, as been seen lately as the Stars face mounting injuries, is crucially important. Having players like Sceviour, Roussel and Garbutt stepping in and occasionally scoring momentum-changing goals can go a long way over the course of a season. With all due respect to Tom Wandell, Toby Petersen, Krys Barch and others that have filled in on Dallas' bottom lines the last few seasons, few of those players ever made an impact like the Stars' depth players have been making so far this year.
For comparison's sake, Dallas' "4th line" (if you can call it that) against Colorado consisted of Ray Whitney, Shawn Horcoff and Alex Chiasson. Yeah, that's a mammoth leap compared to a trio of Wandell, Adam Burish and Jake Dowell. Thanks in large parts to guys that came up through Texas, Ruff has options up and down the lineup, and that gives him the ability to move things around to find the best fits.
Stars general manager Jim Nill acquires the prospects, Desjardins gets them acclimated to the professional level, and Ruff gets to work with the end result. It's an effective process.
Desjardins isn't the only crucial personnel tie between Dallas and Texas. The man primarily tasked with overseeing the relationship is Scott White, who has been Texas' general manager since their inception, and was also given the role of Dallas' director of hockey operations by Nill this summer. Having a successful hockey mind like White directly involved with both clubs immensely strengthens the relationship between the two.
It's a relationship that is already showing its strength, and it's one that could conceivably continue into the future. Thanks to new GM Nill, former GM Joe Nieuwendyk, and Dallas' fantastic team of scouts, the Stars' prospects cupboards are filled to the brim, giving the organization multiple options once those players start filtering through the AHL. With deep rosters comes fierce competition; if one prospect doesn't pan out, there are two or three other guys ready to seize the opportunity.
Dallas' rebuild is now in full swing, and fans are already beginning to see the results. Patience, as this season's mantra goes, is still very important, as the Stars still have some needs to address and their top prospects are still a long way away from their prime playing years. But the systems, such as the relationship between the Lone Star State's two Stars hockey clubs, are firmly in place and set up for success, and that provides a lot of hope for the future.