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Stars' Faksa shows he's 'one heck of a player'

Rookie forward has two winning goals in playoffs, including Game 1 against Blues

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

DALLAS -- This wasn't a place that Radek Faksa thought he'd be. Not yet, at least.

The first half of last year was lost to a shoulder injury, just one of a handful of injuries that plagued the prospect in his early days with the Dallas Stars organization. So he didn't know what would happen to him. He didn't presume that he would be on the ice in Game 1 of the 2016 Western Conference Second Round, putting up an assist to help the Stars take the lead and a goal to give them the 2-1 win at American Airlines Center.

No, that wasn't on his mind.

But that's where he was Friday, a 22-year-old living in a spare room at his linemate's house, a first-round pick (No. 13, 2012) pushing to make good on his promise. He had two points in six games in the first round against the Minnesota Wild, including the game-winning goal in Game 1 of that series on his first career Stanley Cup Playoff shot.

So that's two Game 1s, two game-winners.

"Hockey IQ," Stars forward Jason Spezza said, explaining Faksa's strengths. "He's always in the right spot. You can tell he's been well-coached. He's a big guy down the middle who doesn't cheat, ever. Really good [defensively]. When you have a guy who's 6-3 and plays like that, it really helps."

Video: STL@DAL, Gm1: Faksa jams home rebound for the lead

Still, this is all new to him. Faksa scored five goals in 45 games this season, his rookie season. He now has two in seven games in the playoffs.

"I'm very excited after every goal, maybe too excited," Faksa said. "It's just part of the game, enjoying every game in the NHL. Just a big excitement for me. It just feels great."

And it shows.

"He brings enthusiasm, a big smile on his face, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win right now," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's having a great time. He's a kid that he's enjoying every minute he plays. And you can see it in his game.

"There isn't a battle he doesn't want to engage in. There's not a play he quits on. His play's been infectious for our team."

That smile split his face at 15:16 of the third period, as Faksa stood by the boards and waited for his teammates to engulf him, as the towels waved through the crowd. The goal started off the rush, from Faksa to Ales Hemsky, the shot stopped by Blues goaltender Brian Elliott.

But the puck was left there, just beyond Elliott's stick, and that was where Faksa picked it up and put it into the net. That was where the Stars won the game, from the host to the hosted, the veteran to the youngster, the 32-year-old to the 22-year-old.

It was Hemsky who has made his fellow Czech comfortable this season, doing for Faksa what was done for him at the start of his career, giving him a home. As Hemsky, who Faksa reported is good on the barbecue, said, "We try to take care of him because I had guys like that. [Jaroslav] Spacek. [Radek] Dvorak. It was nice to stay with someone, have someone to talk to."

Said Faksa, "I feel at home there. I feel better. It's better than staying at a hotel. They take great care [of] me. I really appreciate that."

And Hemsky has watched him develop, into a player with two-way abilities, into a player smart enough to learn and alter his game in juniors and the AHL before moving up to the Stars.

But he wasn't sure he would make it. It was far from a certain thing last July, when Faksa was finally ready to return from his January 2015 shoulder surgery, necessary after a fall resulting from a cross-check.

"I had a tough year last year," Faksa said. "I wasn't expecting I would be even here. I was working pretty hard, so I'm very glad, grateful I get a chance here. I appreciate it. I'm trying to work hard every night. I'm glad we start in the series good."

That's the reason for the smile, for the enthusiasm, for that willingness to do everything. He wasn't sure that he would be in this place at this point at the start of the season. That's the reason he's more than happy to start making a name for himself in these playoffs, with his solid line play, with his defensive work, and, yes, with his game-winning goals.

And if you don't know about him yet, don't know his name or how he plays or what he brings to the Stars, Spezza has a message: "Well," he said, "you're going to learn. He's a heck of a player."

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