CEDAR PARK, Texas- The Texas Stars open their 10th Anniversary season against Grand Rapids on Friday, beginning with a pregame ceremony to lift a banner which reads “2018 Western Conference Champions” into the rafters. The Stars closed the season on a hot streak last year, gaining points in each of their final seven games to soar into second in the Pacific. Texas was then able to defeat the Ontario Reign in four games, and the Tucson Roadrunners in five, to advance to the West Final. The Stars were then victorious in six games against the Rockford IceHogs before falling in a winners-take-all Game Seven against the Toronto Marlies in the Calder Cup Final.
Curtis McKenzie wore the “C” for the Stars and led the team in postseason scoring, while Mike McKenna held down the fort in net to pace the Stars through each series. Both are now gone, with McKenzie signing with the Vegas organization, and McKenna with Ottawa. Even with those departures, however, Texas returns several key players.
Travis Morin has been with the Stars in all but the very first season in Cedar Park, and he returns for his ninth season in the Lone Star State. Morin led the team in scoring with 61 points, and his 51 assists were tops in the AHL. Justin Dowling is also back in victory green and he tallied 41 points a year ago (13G, 28A). The Stars will turn to Landon Bow to start the year in net. The netminder split time with McKenna last year, going 20-15-5 (2.86 GAA, .903 SV%). There is depth between the pipes as well, with Philippe Desrosiers and Colton Point behind Bow. Desrosiers had a stingy 0.860 GAA and a .962 SV% in two appearances with Texas last year, while Point joins the Stars organization after a standout season with Colgate University, where he was 16-12-5 (1.74 GAA, .944 SV%).
Texas will need to improve upon its goals against from a season ago if it wishes to compete for a Central Division title. Despite finishing second in the Pacific last season, the Stars were actually outscored 231-223 (3.04-2.93/game). One major factor which contributed to the poor goals against statistics was the Texas penalty kill. The Stars ranked 27th in the league, killing just 78.9% of opponent man advantages. Texas was 23-5-8-6 in one-goal games in 2017-18, and will look to continue the clutch performances during the new campaign in tight contest. Though if they hope to have more success, they need victories with larger margins.
Nuts and Bolts:
Record: 38-24-8-6 (90 PTS, .592 PTS %)
Division/Conference Finish: 2nd in Pacific/5th in West
Playoff Finish (if applicable): Lost in seven games to the Toronto Marlies in the Calder Cup Finals
Record vs. Division: 17-17-7-3
Record vs. Conference: 38-24-8-6
Goals For Per Game: 2.93, 17th
Goals Against Per Game: 3.04, 20th
Power Play: 49/280 (17.5%), 16th
Penalty Kill: 235/298 (78.9%), 27th
Changing to Central Time
The Stars move to the Central Division for the 2018-19 season, after spending three years in the Pacific. This will be a major benefit in terms of travel, as their new divisional foes all reside within the Central timezone as well. The Stars were able to feast upon the Central from outside the division a year ago, using their 21-7-1-3 record against the Central to overcome a .500 record against the Pacific and claim the division’s second seed. Texas will hope the luck continues as these games are now against divisional rivals.
Texas was 20th in the league in goals against last season, but the defense solidified during the playoffs. The Stars blueline returns key names such as Gavin Bayreuther and Dillon Heatherington, and also brought it a couple new faces as well. John Nyberg is set for his first full year in Cedar Park after playing just eight playoff games for Texas this past spring. Ben Gleason is new to town this year, but is a name Stars fans will soon come to know well. Gleason was a plus-32 and accumulated 87 points (15G, 72A) over the last two seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL, who .
Ten Years in Texas
The 2018-19 campaign will be the 10th season of Texas Stars hockey in Cedar Park, and the story through the first ten years is one of success. The Dallas Stars moved their AHL affiliate from Des Moines, Iowa to Cedar Park, Texas in time for the 2009-10 season. Over the previous nine seasons, the Stars have had more seasons end with a Finals run (three), than end short of the playoffs (two). Texas is 1-2 in the Calder Cup Finals, falling to Hershey (2010) and Toronto (2018), but claiming the title over St. John’s in 2014.
L’Esperance is entering his first full year with the Stars after joining the team at the conclusion of his collegiate season for Michigan Tech University. L’Esperance had 27 points (12G, 25A) for MTU last season, then made his mark in his short time with Texas. He scored the overtime winner against Rockford which clenched a playoff spot for Texas, then sent the Stars to the West Final with an overtime winner against Tucson in Game Five of the second round. L’Esperance closed the 2018 preseason with a flurry as well, scoring twice to flip the script for a Stars win, and sis second goal won the game with just 34 seconds left.
Mascherin joins the Stars as a rookie out of the Ontario Hockey League. He regularly lit up scoreboards across Ontario, scoring 80 or more points in each of his final three seasons with the Kitchener Rangers. Mascherin’s most prolific season was 2016-17 in which he posted an even 100 points (35G, 65A). His goal scoring went up by five a year ago, lighting the lamp 40 times and adding 46 helpers to finish with 86 points. He played well in the preseason for the Stars, finding twine during Saturday’s victory over San Antonio in Cedar Park. Look for him to quickly make his mark as an lethal offensive threat for Texas.
Gurianov is a name familiar to Texas fans having spent the past two seasons in Cedar Park. Gurianov tallied a solid 34 points last year (19G, 15A), but seems set to really breakout this season. He impressed in Dallas during the NHL preseason, scoring a goal and adding three assists. He may well have made the big club if not for the depth at forward in Dallas, but instead will start the year in Cedar Park. Look for him to go back and forth a lot this season, but when with Texas, he will be counted on to produce as a top-6 forward. He played very well with Dowling during the preseason, potentially foreshadowing a deadly duo for the Texas offense.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
The veteran McKenna played just one season with Texas, but it was one that won’t be forgotten. He split time with Bow early before taking the starting job and posting a record of 17-9-1 (2.64 GAA, .909 SV%). The netminder was even better in the postseason, going 14-8 with a .927 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average. His play between the pipes kept Texas in almost every game, allowing the talented Texas offense time to get going. McKenna left the Stars to accept a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.
McKenzie was a longtime fan favorite in Cedar Park, having played six seasons in the Stars organization (five with Texas). He only played in 51 games a year ago due to injury and/or callup, but still managed to contribute 48 points (25G, 23A) to the Texas cause. He then led the team with 11 goals and 20 points during the playoffs. McKenzie could never quite break into the Dallas lineup to stay, but now will get a fresh start in a new city. He departed Cedar Park to sign a two-year, $1.5 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Dries came to Texas as an unheralded rookie out of Western Michigan, but was able to turn an impressive rookie year into an NHL contract. Dries had 30 points (19G, 11A) during the regular season and then added ten more goals during the Texas playoff run. Dries works on both ends of the rink, which is evident in his plus-14 rating and four shorthanded goals last year. He was able to turn his stellar season into a one-year, entry-level deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
Texas lost some key pieces from a year ago, but all in positions of depth within the organization. The Stars look loaded offensively as one would expect by now, but the defensive core appears stacked as well coming into 2018-19. Add that to the talented tandem in net of Bow and Desrosiers, and the Stars look ready to fight for the Central crown.
What do you think? Let us know how you think the Stars will do!