If you loved Dallas Stars' away game start times from the 2000s, boy, do I have a deal for you!
The seventh season of Texas Stars hockey is sure to be an eventful one as Texas moved into a new division with five teams that didn't exist before last week. The newly-formed Pacific Division of the AHL is the centerpiece of the massive shakeup that saw five teams relocate from the eastern seaboard to sunny California.
We've discussed the moves before here but suffice to say that the main concern for these teams was proximity to their affiliates. All five teams are owned by they NHL affiliates. Those NHL teams wanted what Dallas has with a three-hour car ride separating them from their top callups in the American League.
Previously, the San Jose Sharks had to make calls to Worcester, Massachusetts for their AHL players. Five hour plane flights are not ideal for reacting quickly to injuries and other issues. Therefore, those teams were uprooted to move to CA. Texas and the San Antonio Rampage are now in a division with those five teams: Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames), Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers), Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings), San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks), and San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks).
Note that this also means there's no longer an AHL team in Oklahoma City. Every road trip Texas will take this season except for those against the Rampage will be via plane.
Another note here that takes up far too much time to discuss in this space is the game disparity. All those California teams will only play 68 games while the rest of the league, including division mates Texas and San Antonio, will play 76. More on that here.
This Season's Texas Stars
OK, with that out of the way, let's talk about this season's team. Every yaer since the beginning of the franchise the team has crept more and more toward what some would argue is the platonic ideal of an AHL team: prospect heavy with wily veterans to help the kids grow.
In the inaugural year, Texas was light on prospects. Colton Sceviour and Jamie Benn, if you want to count his Calder playoff time, were the only players to later make a run at Dallas. This season, however, the roster is littered with players expected to make stabs at the Dallas roster in the near future, if not this season.
Lines from this Saturday:
Remi Elie - Justin Dowling - Devin Shore
Brendan Ranford - Travis Morin - Jason Dickinson
Greg Rallo - Radek Faksa - Curtis McKenzie
Branden Troock - Gemel Smith - Derek Hulak
Scratched: Cory Kane, Cole Ully, Matej Stransky
Idaho: Taylor Peters, Emil Molin, Brandon Magee
Lots to discuss here. You'll notice first that every line is pretty much two prospects and a veteran, which is a really solid mix for an AHL team. The Ranford-Morin-Dickinson is going to score a lot, I think. Of course, anyone who plays with Morin generally does.
The Stars appear to have a first line with Morin, two second lines in Faksa and Dowling's lines and a third line with Smith's group. It's not a bad problem to have and it's the sort of lineup that won them the Cup in 2014.
I'm interested to see how Ully and Stransky work into this lineup. I think if McKenzie weren't here, the Stars would have Stransky in there with Faksa due to their previous work and the Czech connection.
Ludwig Bystrom - Brennan Evans
Esa Lindell - Stephen Johns
Mattias Backman - Julius Honka
Scratched: Matt Mangene, Jesse Blacker
It's early to say much about this defensive group other than, "Wow, this is a young crew." Last year's squad was anchored by Maxime Fortunus, Cameron Gaunce and Derek Meech. With all those players off elsewhere, Brennan Evans holds down the fort as a veteran presence with Jesse Blacker and Matt Mangene also available for the vet play where needed.
There's a lot of offensive talent here. Between Honka, Lindell and Johns, there's a lot of chance to jump into the rush. Each of those players will use their AHL time to continue learning how to do that responsibly and not hang their goalies out to dry... which brings us to....
Injured: Jack Campbell
Now, of course, I think everyone knows that this was supposed to be Jack Campbell's year. Texas went all-in on Campbell, selecting a backup who is serviceable but not probably a challenge for the starter's position in John Muse. Right now with Campbell's injury keeping him "in Dallas" (he's actually physically in Cedar Park), the net is split between Muse and Lagace. Muse was not impressive in his preseason outing but improved as the game went on in the first regular season match. Really, the entire team in front of him improved.
When Campbell returns, it seems preordained that Muse will be backbenching for the former first rounder.
Devin Shore had a long time to think about his late third period penalty. Tied at four, the second-year forward went to the box, giving San Antonio a chance at the go-ahead goal with a minute left in regulation.
"I was so nervous in the box. I was in there the whole [dry scrape], so lonely and very nervous. I was on an island with a pit in my stomach."
Shore made up for his transgression as he was the recipient of a high-flip pass from Stephen Johns after his teammates killed his penalties and he rejoined them in overtime.
"I had the puck on my stick, and next thing I knew we were celebrating in the corner"
After going down 3-1 after two periods, the Texas Stars came away with a 5-4 overtime victory in their season and home opener tonight in Cedar Park.
"What a third period for the kids," said coach Derek Laxdal. "They battled their butts off. It took some time to find their game. We did a good job battling back. Quite a game for the home opener."
The Week Ahead
Texas stays in their own time zone for this week's games. A trip to the Midwest will see them play that AHL oddity: the 3-in-3. Friday, Saturday and Sunday will send them to the Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues) and two against the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks). It will be the first game for Stephen Johns against his former team and the first for the two teams since Rockford eliminated Texas from the playoffs last season.
Right now, there are no injuries on Texas' roster. Jack Campbell and Brett Ritchie are both on Dallas' roster but currently physically in Cedar Park. Ritchie has been skating in a red no-contact jersey.