It was a long and grinding season, but the Texas Stars came through in the end, officially clinching a spot in the 2017-2018 AHL playoffs.
The Stars skated out of Saturday night’s contest against the Rockford IceHogs, played at home in Cedar Park, with a 4-3 win, and punched their ticket into the postseason.
Forward Joel L’Esperance, who signed with Texas on an Amateur Tryout Agreement at the end of March, picked a good time to score his first ever professional goal, as he put home the game-winning tally with just 2:54 left in the third period. Roope Hintz had the game’s tying goal earlier in the period.
Texas lost close games earlier in the week — 4-3 in overtime against Stockton on Wednesday and then 3-2 in the shootout to Rockford on Friday — before successfully fighting for that slightest of edges on Saturday.
It was a strong stretch of hockey for prospect defenseman Gavin Bayreuther, who continues to take steps forward in his development as the season wages on. He had one goal, three assists, and seven shots on net in his past three games. His goal with just 1:13 remaining in the game on Friday pushed the contest into overtime.
Bayreuther's 7th goal of the season sends the game into OT!! #RFDvsTEX #txstars pic.twitter.com/BXyxqpDyda— x - Texas Stars (@TexasStars) April 7, 2018
Jason Dickinson was also all over the score sheet after being returned to Texas down from Dallas recently, scoring two goals and two assists in the three games.
Landon Bow started all three matches for Texas, and kept his team competitive in each. Denis Gurianov also produced a goal in the stretch of hockey.
Making things even better for Texas, they’ll now get Mike McKenna and Dillon Heatherington back in the lineup, with both players being assigned to the team from Dallas on Sunday.
The stockpiling of talent doesn’t stop there, either. New kid on the block Tony Calderone, who recently just signed an entry-level deal with Dallas, will join Texas for their playoff push.
The Stars still have three games left in their regular season, but currently don’t yet know who their first-round opponent will be. Their regular season wraps up on Saturday.
North American Juniors
After falling in the championship game last season, the tastes of redemption and ultimate victory must have felt oh so sweet for Riley Tufte and his University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs this past weekend. They edged Notre Dame in a 2-1 win to claim the NCAA title.
NATTY CHAMPS!!! #dogs #AC20❤️ pic.twitter.com/VAjaoFQQgi— Riley Tufte (@rileytufte27) April 8, 2018
“It’s unbelievable. This team has overcome a lot of adversity this season with its ups and downs. I’m so proud of what we came to here. There’s a lot of joy and excitement right now (in the room),” Tufte told The Athletic recently. “It’s so awesome.”
Tufte didn’t record a point in the final game, but was fighting through a lot of ankle pain after getting involved in a nasty collision in Thursday’s elimination win over Ohio State.
“I thought I broke my ankle there for a second,” Tufte said in the same article. “It stung for a while. It’s something I had to play through. Adrenaline helps…I really just battled it out and tried to leave it on the ice.”
Tufte finished his NCAA season with 29 points in 42 games, including a team-high 16 goals.
Joseph Cecconi and his University of Michigan team came close to playing against Tufte in that same championship game, but they surrendered a goal with just 27 seconds left against Notre Dame on Thursday, a painful way to end what had been an impressive season.
Calderone, Dallas’ newest prospect, played on the same Michigan team as Cecconi and had one of his team’s goals in the loss. As he reached the end of his NCAA eligibility at the end of the game and season, he had this to say about his teammates:
“You just think about all the times you’ve had at Michigan, and these are the best years of my life. I thank every one of the guys in this room for what they’ve done over the last four years.
”Every one of these guys are like my brother, and I’ll keep in touch with them forever. I love these guys so much, and that’s really all I have to say.”
CLIP: @T_Calderone puts Michigan on the board first at 8:19 of the first period! @dexterdancs95 with the assist. #DMCLine#GoBlue // #FrozenFourpic.twitter.com/rEoF7xFFmf— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) April 6, 2018
Jason Robertson added to his playoff scoring totals, as he bumped his numbers up to 12 points in eight games, but the Kingston Frontenacs still fell into a 2-1 series hole at the hands of the Barrie Colts. Game 4 comes tonight in Kingston.
Nick Caamano has nine points in eight games as the Hamilton Bulldogs hold a 2-1 edge over the Niagara IceDogs in their playoff series. He is also on an eight-game point-scoring streak, as he has picked up at least one point in every playoff contest so far. His 34 shots so far are the most on his team.
Ondrej Vala and his Everett Silvertips club are currently tied 1-1 in their series against a dangerous Portland Winterhawks team. Vala has been bumped up to the team’s top defensive pairing so far in the series, and has earned praise for his play in Game 2 - a 6-0 shutout win for Everett. Game 3 comes tonight.
Miro Heiskanen had an empty-net goal and a whopping 29:10 of ice time as HIFK took a 4-1 win on Monday, tying up their playoff series against Karpat at 2-2.
Heiskanen’s success all season hasn’t gone unnoticed to Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, who said on Monday that he wants Heiskanen to play in Dallas next season.
GM Jim Nill said the plan is to bring Miro Heiskanen to North America next season. Called him a "big part of our foundation moving forward."— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) April 9, 2018
Nill said he believes Valeri Nichushkin wants to return to Dallas next season, but he can't say that with 100 percent certainty.