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The Texas Stars Experience: A Look Into the Future

A promising season and firecracker run in the AHL playoffs so far should have fans excited for the future of the Dallas Stars AHL affiliate team.

Mike McKenna in net for the Texas Stars.
Jessica Meyer - Defending Big D contributor - @JLM_media

While the 2017-2018 season wasn’t exactly a big win in the Dallas Stars’ books, the minor teams in Dallas’ organization have had a pretty successful year. In the case of their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, the season isn’t over yet.

Located in Cedar Park, Texas, just 30 minutes north of downtown Austin, the Texas Stars will be celebrating their 10-year anniversary in the 2018-2019 season. In their nine years of operation, the Stars have won the Calder Cup in 2014, the Division Championship in 2013 and 2014, and were Conference Champions in 2010 and 2014. A pretty good showing for only having been in Texas and a part of the Stars organization for just under 10 years.

As Dallas fans, we’re all quite used to being part of the group of non-traditional market teams and the Texas Stars are no different. Though they’re located even farther south, the Stars organization has made a point to keep all of their affiliates streamlined when it comes to culture and winning traditions. They have even held their NHL training camp there for the past three seasons.

From yelling “Stars!” during the national anthem, down to the green on the jerseys that fill the stands and the ice, the Texas Stars are a thriving AHL affiliate. The multiple times that I’ve traveled down there, whether for training camp, a regular season visit, or this year’s Calder Cup playoffs, the atmosphere in Cedar Park is just as loud and proud as it is in Dallas.

The H-E-B Center at Cedar Park seats around 6,900 people and has more of a family feel during Stars games. But when everyone is cheering, it’s a loud vacuum of sound to rival any arena. The smaller building has a more intimate feel, creating the sense that you could almost touch the ice if you were to just reach out, which makes for a more intense game-watching experience. With intermission games of Sumo soccer, musical chairs, racing ice tricycles, and singing along to “Twist and Shout” and “Sweet Caroline”, Texas Stars games feel like a scaled-down version of the ones in Dallas. And when the playoffs hit, with fans and rally towels in hand spinning through the air, it’s electric.

Just this past December, the newest addition to the culture of the Texas Stars was their own mascot called Ringo. Ringo is based on the ringtail cat that dwells in central Texas. And just like Dallas’ Victor E. Green, Ringo can be seen roaming around the arena during games, pumping up the crowd with his drum, interacting with the kids in attendance, and creating general tomfoolery to boost morale.

The local fans are also fiercely loyal and invested in the team and its players. Just standing in line in front of the doors waiting to get in, one can hear plenty of conversations about the “goalie situation”, how well Travis Morin and Curtis McKenzie have captained the team, and going back and forth on which of the prospects have the potential to make the NHL jump in the next few seasons.

Some of the ones you’ll hear brought up quite often are Russian-born Denis Gurianov, defenseman Dillon Heatherington, and Finnish native Roope Hintz, along with some more familiar names to Dallas in Curtis McKenzie, Remi Elie, and Jason Dickinson.

Both drafted by the Dallas Stars, Gurianov and Hintz have been particularly exciting this season on a line together, with 34 points (19 goals, 15 assists) in 74 games and 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists) in 70 games respectively during the regular season. In the playoffs so far, Gurianov has two goals and two assists, while Hintz has one goal and four assists, both in nine games.

Heatherington was traded to Dallas in March 2017 from the Columbus Blue Jackets and has been a staple and stable defenseman for the Stars organization since. In 55 regular AHL season games, Heatherington picked up 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) and registered one assist in the six NHL games he played in Dallas.

McKenzie has been a regular up in Dallas in seasons past, but spent most of this season down with the Texas Stars with the captain’s letter on his chest. Not to mention he has been spectacular, piling up 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) in 51 regular season games and has seven points (two goals, five assists) so far in the playoffs.

While Elie was a permanent fixture in the NHL this year, the Dallas Stars made the paper transaction in order for him to join Texas in the AHL playoffs. Elie was a driving force on the third and fourth lines up in Dallas, registering 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 72 games, and gained a lot of important experience. In the AHL playoffs so far, Elie has one goal and three assists in nine games.

Dickinson played 27 games up in Dallas this season, and only picked up two assists, but had a stellar regular season down in Cedar Park with 28 points (18 goals, 10 assists) in 42 games. This season has seen Dickinson regain some of his momentum and confidence that he lost in the past year, by piling up more points and gaining more experience at center. Along with Gurianov and Hintz, look for Dickinson to be a potential regular on the Dallas Stars in the 2018-2019 season.

Adding in the rest of the lineup, the Texas Stars have been a stacked team this season, a team that continues to consistently find ways to keep winning. Watching them expand and grow has been exciting and only paints a positive future for the team itself and the entire Dallas Stars organization. If you ever have the chance, make the three-hour drive from Dallas down to Cedar Park and experience it yourself.

Round 3 of the 2018 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs continues on Thursday, May 24, with the Texas Stars taking on the Rockford IceHogs, the affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. More information on the schedule and ways to watch can be found here at the Texas Stars website.