After two weeks of training camp and three preseason games the Texas Stars are ready to open the 2012-13 regular season, and anticipation is high.
“We’re excited to be back,” said forward Matt Fraser, who led Texas with 37 goals in 2011-12. “Last season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, and we have a lot to prove this year.”
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the Texas Stars heading into this season. There’s a new head coach in Willie Desjardins, who instilled up-tempo, hardworking practices and put an emphasis on winning from day one of camp.
“I think Willie has just brought in a winning attitude. It sounds simple, but when you see a coach wanting to win that bad everybody strives to only win,” said goaltender Jack Campbell, Dallas’ first round pick in 2010. “I think everybody in the dressing room is ready to do whatever it takes to win.”
There are plenty of new faces on the roster, including several top Dallas draft picks and some seasoned veterans with NHL experience.
“I think we’ve got a good blend of youth and veteran players,” said Texas GM Scott White.
Adding to the upbeat mood was a strong preseason. The Stars posted a 3-0 record and outscored their opposition 14-3. And there were plenty of solid performances.
“I think our goaltending has been good, both goaltenders (Campbell and Cristopher Nilstorp) have played well,” Desjardins said. “I think both (Jamie) Oleksiak and (Patrik) Nemeth have really stepped up their game. I was unsure of both of them coming in, but they are both very good players. Then you have guys like Cody Eakin, who I didn’t see as much last year because he wasn’t in the organization. He’s certainly a good addition. A lot of the new guys coming in have certainly added. There have been a lot of good performances.”
“I was happy with the way the guys performed in the preseason,” said White. “We’ve had a competitive aura about our group all along from day one. I think it’s due to having all our guys here from day one. It’s been positive. The preseason wins are great and give you a nice positive feeling, but ultimately you’re judged on Saturday October 13 (opening night at San Antonio). We’re looking forward to it.”
And Texas is looking forward to bouncing back from a disappointing 2011-12 campaign that saw them finish last in the Western Conference and next to last in the entire AHL.
“Guys don’t want to repeat what happened last year. It was not a good season from every aspect. Guys want to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” said forward Francis Wathier. “The number one thing we didn’t have last year and we’ll have this year is that everybody will be on the same page. I think that will be the key to our success.”
Helping them get on the same page is Desjardins, who takes over as head coach after two years as associate coach in Dallas. Aiding him on the bench will be Doug Lidster, the former NHL defenseman who is in his first year as an assistant coach with Texas. Desjardins and Lidster are replacing Jeff Pyle and Jeff Truitt, who were fired after the team missed the playoffs for the first time in its three-year history.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the coaches last year, they were good to me. But they didn’t have the same system as Dallas and it’s hard to teach when you have what you want to do and Dallas has a different view,” said Wathier. “As I said, everybody will be on the same page this year and I think that will help. Pyle was more offensive and creative, and Willie is D first and then attack with speed and energy.”
The Stars believe they’ll have the lineup to play that way. There is a lot of depth at both the forward and defense positions. At forward, the Stars return their top six point producers from last season in Travis Morin, Fraser, Colton Sceviour, Wathier, Scott Glennie and Mike Hedden. Providing a boost will be likely NHL players Tomas Vincour and Eakin and NHL veteran Toby Petersen. Texas will also feature highly touted Dallas draft picks Alex Chiasson, Reilly Smith and Austin Smith, all in their first full pro seasons. AHL veterans Luke Gazdic and Antoine Roussel add some toughness and grit.
“We have good depth,” said White. “The bottom end of our group is probably better than it will ever be just because of the number of players that we have currently. It’s going to allow the coaching staff to roll four lines more comfortably. That’s how our coach wants to play and that’s good. Everybody gets time and everybody moves their game along. I like our depth.”
Brenden Dillon, who has a good shot to play in the NHL this season, Jordie Benn, who is expected to compete for NHL playing time, and Maxime Fortunus are key returning members of last season’s blue line. Joining that group is veteran Tyler Sloan, who has 99 NHL games to his credit, and NHL veteran Cam Barker, who has signed a professional tryout contract with Texas. Oleksiak and Nemeth, both highly regarded Dallas draft picks who will be in their first AHL seasons, are two other key additions.
“It will be a battle for ice time,” said White. “Normally, the coaches are only going to dress six. I like our blend. We have quality guys. I like our blend of youth and old.”
In goal, Campbell, who is in his first full season of professional hockey, is another top Dallas draft pick. He played well in a 12-game stint with Texas late last season. Nilstorp, who is coming off two stellar seasons in the Swedish Elite League, is making his AHL debut this season.
“Cristopher is in North America for the first time, but he has great experience and he is a real good goalie,” said White. “Jack, I thought, was really good in his first little tenure here last spring.”
While the Stars will be deep, so will other teams in the league. Rosters across the AHL are aided by the additions of NHL players or NHL ready players due to the NHL lockout.
“The quality of the play from our opponent is going to be good and hopefully for the Texas Stars as well,” said White. “It will be a great opportunity for players to prove they can play against the best.”
The first test will come this weekend when the Stars play at San Antonio Saturday evening and then host Charlotte Sunday evening at Cedar Park Center. And the Stars say they are ready.
“It’s a total different mentality this year,” said Fortunus. “Everybody is pulling the same way. You want to win. And that’s basically our motto: we want to win this year, and we are going to do whatever it takes.”
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