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As attention grows for Stars, so does expectation to perform

With the team's fan base continuing to build in North Texas, Dallas knows more wins must follow

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

MCKINNEY -- The Stars on Monday held one of their annual practices at a satellite rink.

Just a few miles up the road from their Frisco practice home, the workout at the Children's Health StarCenter in McKinney was nonetheless quite different from a normal day. The stands were packed with fans, including a bunch of kids who crowded the railing where the team exited, seeking autographs or just a glimpse of their favorite players.

It was a reminder of how far hockey has come in Texas, how much the team has built a following, how important it is to turn children into hockey fans

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: Everything you need to know for Stars vs. Wild]

 

"It's great," said center Tyler Seguin. "I'm always excited to see new faces out here. It's been growing since I got here, I know that much. It's come a long way, and it's great to have their support."

Seguin arrived in 2013 after being traded from Boston. The Stars that season had an announced average attendance of 14,658, ranking 28th in the NHL. Through six home games this year, Dallas is averaging 18,205, good for 10th. Cotton Bowl Stadium will host the Winter Classic this year, and the team will get six national TV games as opposed to the one it had last season.

Stars captain Jamie Benn started his career in 2009 and has had to help the team get through bankruptcy and five different head coaches. He said he gets energy from the fans at practices and the full arenas.

"I like coming to the different rinks and enjoying the atmosphere here," Benn said after practice. "It's come a long way since my first year, and it's fun to see. Hopefully, we can keep building hockey in Dallas."

Of course, the best way to do that is to win games. Along with the local eyes, the Stars also gained a great deal of preseason admiration; with several NHL experts picking them to go far in the playoffs or even win the Stanley Cup. That's why a 4-8-1 start has been so shocking.

On Saturday, Dallas seemed to be in the middle of turning things around. Coming off a three-game winning streak, they outplayed the Pittsburgh Penguins for 40 minutes and were in prime position to take a home win with a strong third period. Instead, the Penguins dominated play and sent the Stars searching once again for answers.

Players and coaches held a team meeting Monday morning and addressed a lot of key issues.

Video: Stars looking to improve performance late in games

"We had a healthy team meeting about what they see, what we see, and how we've got to be better - mental mindsight, physical one-on-one battles, and all of those things," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "We asked for input from them so that everybody is on the same page."

Benn said the team has to react properly to the third period and understand that they have the ability to play better.

"We've had a little stretch of some good games and then we had one bad period," Benn said. "We know what we have to do to fix it, and we're going to try to do that tomorrow."

The Stars will play host to Minnesota on Tuesday, go to Colorado on Friday, then come back for home games against Montreal and Colorado before getting a four-day break. After a 1-7-1 start, they need to start making up ground in the standings.

"We all know where we are," Benn said. "We started bad, and that's unacceptable, so now we have to make up for it. Saturday was tough. We had two good periods and one bad period, and kind of shot ourselves in the foot, and we know we can't do that."

Although it was just a practice, Montgomery said he liked the response Monday. He said practices in satellite rinks with large crowds tend to go either way up or way down as far as energy goes, and he thought this one was positive.

"I give credit to our players, this was a really good practice," he said. "The energy was good, the execution was better."

Because if the team gains more attention, it has to find a way to be comfortable with expectations. The Stars dealt with a lot of emotional issues last season and found a way to make the playoffs. Montgomery said he realizes "team meetings" are coming a lot earlier this season, but he said that's part of trying to find consistent effort and execution.

"I'm not a confrontational person," he said, "but you confront things as soon as you're together again, whether that's good or bad."

 
Stars (4-8-1) vs. Wild (4-7-0)

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest PLUS

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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