CEDAR PARK, Texas – The Texas Stars opened the 2018-19 campaign by taking three of four possible points from the two-game weekend against Grand Rapids and Milwaukee.
With that in mind, welcome to the first Texas Takeaways of the season! This will be a new weekly series in which I will analyze the previous week’s action while looking forward to the week ahead. I will tell you what you need to know about each game, give you my three stars of the week, and break down the week ahead.
Texas opened its 10th season in Cedar Park with a two-game home weekend, hosting the Grand Rapids Griffins and Milwaukee Admirals. The Stars played very well overall and walked away with a well deserved three points (1-0-1-0). So, without further ado, let’s jump into the action.
Friday, Stars 3 Griffins 1
Texas opened the year with a battle between the last two Western Conference Champions. The Griffins come into the season as early favorites in the deep Central, but the Stars were not welcoming to their new divisional rival. Landon Bow got the start in net and was able to hold Grand Rapids at bay all evening. Bow made 24 saves on 25 Griffin offerings, allowing a lone first period power-play tally.
Offensively, the Stars were led by the dynamic duo of Joel L’Esperance and Colton Hargrove. Hargrove scored the first goal of the young season for the Stars, cashing in while shorthanded in the opening frame. He then teamed up with L’Esperance for the eventual game winner in the second. L’Esperance continued to show his knack for scoring when the chips are down; his third career Stars goal also being his third career game winning-goal. His previous two? He scored in OT to clinch the Stars’ playoff spot last season, then sent them to the West Final with another extra time tally to eliminate the Tucson Roadrunners. Justin Dowling put the game away by finding a yawning cage with 34 seconds left, providing the final score of 3-1 Texas.
The Stars looked good in their season-opening victory, controlling play over the final forty to secure the two points. Bow looked good in net, and the defense helped by limiting quality chances against. The pair of L’Esperance and Hargrove created multiple chances on the night, which is a great sign of the Stars offensive depth looking forward. Overall, it was a very good start to the season for the defending West Champs. Grand Rapids is a superb squad, but Texas was better on Friday.
Saturday, Admirals 4 Stars 3 OT
The Stars wrapped up the weekend with a hard-fought 62-minute affair against the Milwaukee Admirals. Colton Point got the start in net for the Stars, the first career start for the highly thought of rookie out of Colgate University. Point played well in well in net, with two of the three goals he allowed coming off of deflections in tight.
Dillon Heatherington gave Texas a 1-0 advantage midway through the opening frame, but Milwaukee responded to send the game to the first intermission even at one. The Admirals scored the next two goals as well, taking a 3-1 lead 6:18 into the third period. The Stars grabbed momentum back just 2:27 later, when Niklas Hansson tickled the twine to pull the home side back within a goal.
The Stars pulled Point for the extra skater late, and it paid off when L’Esperance fired a shot home with 36 seconds left on the clock to even the score at three apiece. Newcomer Michael Mersch assisted on both Texas goals in the third, giving him three assists through two games as a Star. The late rally gained the Stars a well earned point, but a second point was not to be on this night. The Stars were undone by a familiar foe, as former San Antonio Rampage forward Rocco Grimaldi won it for Milwaukee 2:04 into overtime.
The Stars took too many penalties during the second period on Saturday, leading to one Admiral goal and keeping the Stars defending. The momentum was used well by Milwaukee, as it was able to build a two-goal edge. The Stars showed great heart, however, turning it on late to force overtime. While there are things to work on for sure, gaining at least one point in a game like this could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs come April.
Three Stars of the Week:
Third Star: Hargrove. The Dallas native opened the year with a two-point night in his first game for his home state team. He scored the season’s first goal, then assisted on L’Esperance’s eventual game-winner in the second period on Friday.
Second Star: Bow. The returning Texas tender got the nod in net on opening night, and guided the Stars to win number one of the campaign. Bow stopped 24-of-25 in the 3-1 Texas victory over the Grand Rapids.
First Star: L’Esperance. He got his first full season as a pro off to a great start, notching huge goals in both games this weekend. His second period goal Friday wound up as the GWG, while his last minute tally secured the Stars a point on Saturday.
There are a lot of positives to take from the first weekend set, the biggest of which is the effort they showed. The mistakes were often made by overly enthusiastic players, and that energy and effort can be channeled by the coaching staff. Penalties were a problem as the Stars were shorthanded six times in each game (killed 5/6 in both). The offense looks to be deep again, with L’Esperance, Hargrove, Dowling, and Mersch all having two-point weekends. Overall, it was a very positive weekend for the Stars.
Texas now takes the show on the road for the first time in 2018-19, traveling north for Central Division matchups in Iowa and Rockford. The weekend starts in Des Moines, Iowa Friday at 7 CT, as the Stars battle the Wild in the first of three October meetings. Texas was 3-1-0-0 against Iowa in 2017-18. The Stars then head to Rockford, Illinois on Saturday, for a 6 CT face off against the IceHogs in a rematch of spring’s Western Conference Final. Texas was just 1-2-0-1 in the regular season series a year ago, but defeated Rockford in six games to win the West.
You can keep up with the Stars road trip this weekend, as you can all season, by following us on Twitter. Simply follow @SinBinStars for our Texas take, and @SinBinNews for all your AHL, ECHL, and SPHL needs.