Texas shooting for Calder success

The Texas Stars have been the AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars for five seasons including the one currently in progress.

In their first season of operation, they made it all the way to the Calder Cup final before losing in six games to the Hershey Bears.
The next season was a first round exit in six game to Milwaukee which was followed up by a losing season, where the team failed to make the post season.
It wasn’t just a losing season though as they finished bottom of the West and 29th in the AHL.
For the 2012/13 season, Willie Desjardins was installed as head coach, having been an assistant coach for Dallas the previous year.
Before that, Desjardins had spent the last nine seasons in the WHL with Medicine Hat Tigers.
The impact was immediate as Texas went on to win the Western Conference before losing in the second round to old adversaries the Oklahoma City Barons.
There has no been no sitting on their laurels for Texas, as they became the first team in the AHL this season to claim a playoff spot.
With seven games to play, they have already matched last years points total of 95 and could well pass the magical 100 point mark. After winning their last seven games, you wouldn’t put it past them to do so.
As I’ve seen this season to the detriment of my Toronto Marlies team, Texas are an offensive force to be reckoned with. With 247 goals this year, they are clearly the most potent team in the Western Conference and only Binghamton come close to them in the East.

They have a real mix of players, with older professionals playing the best hockey of their careers, alongside rookies who are playing better than their tender age would suggest.

Travis Morin is a 30 year centreman putting up his best ever numbers in the AHL.
He’s the league leader with 80 points and is just one assist short of fifty for the season.

Colton Sceviour might well be challenging Morin for the points lead if he hadn’t received several call-ups to Dallas, where he is as I write this article.
A 2007 draft pick by Dallas in the fourth round, his 63 points in 54 games is a personal best.
After just a pair of solitary games before this season, seven goals and ten points in nineteen games for Dallas might well mean Texas doesn’t see him again for a while.

Chris Mueller is your archetypical AHL player who hasn’t quite made the NHL grade on a full-time basis. No stranger to putting up big numbers in the American league, the former Nashville Predator is almost at PPG pace through 59 starts.

Mike Hedden is perhaps the opposite of Mueller. Never really looking like hitting the high ranks of the professional game, this 29 year old left winger has improved in his third full AHL season to pass the twenty goal mark and is just two shy of fifty points.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Texas success this season is the play of their rookies.

Curtis McKenzie is a 2009, round six selection by Dallas.
Spending his NCAA career with Miami University, there were no indications from his numbers that the young man would have success in his rookie season.
Playing left wing, he’s hit twenty goals and is one shy of sixty points which currently makes him the leading rookie points scorer.

Brett Ritchie will be a name very familiar to those who follow the OHL.
The former Niagara Ice Dog was a second round pick by Dallas in 2011.
Following a forty goal OHL season, Ritchie spent the back end of last season playing for Texas and picked up three goals and an assist in five games.
He’s managed to use that experience as a springboard for this year with over forty points, including seventeen goals.

You could say that between the pipes hasn’t been the Stars strongest forte this season, but they’ve still received steady goaltending.

Cristopher Nilstorp has taken the job in just his second season and currently holds a 24-12-2 record.
The 30 year old has allowed around two and half goals per game (not surprising the way Texas plays) but his save percentage of 0.917 is perhaps a better reflection of his form.

Dallas Stars first round (11th overall) pick from 2010 was supposed to have been challenging Nilstorp heavily for the starting position this season.
Sadly for Jack Campbell, he was injured for around two months at the beginning of the season.
I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the young man play but his numbers this season, albeit a small sample size, are fantastic. A 10-1-1 record, two shutouts, 1.58GAA and 0.937SV% suggest he is starting to live up to billing that made Dallas select him.

With injuries and call-ups, Texas had to call for the services of rookie Josh Robinson, who has found life tough at his first attempt in the AHL. Still managed to record a split 6-6-0 record despite allowing forty goals in fifteen games, but to his credit has a shutout to his name.

So what of the Stars chances of finally winning the Calder Cup this season?
As good as last year but having watched the West, any team really is capable of beating another.
The final 2-3 playoff places will doubtless not be decided until the last game or so and Texas could well face the Oklahoma City Barons who put paid to their run last year.
Much may well depend on whether the Dallas Stars make the post-season, which is looking incredibly likely, and how much that will have an effect with injuries and call-ups likely.
However, no team with fancy having to take on this offensive powerhouse post April 19th.





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