Stars defenseman Kevin Connauton sat in the locker room after Wednesday’s practice and talked about the couple times he almost got into games this season.
“Last game we all dressed for warm-ups and I really wasn’t sure. I was texting my family and friends, saying, ‘Hey, it might be tonight. Keep an eye on the game,’” he said. “Then in Colorado, (Trevor) Daley had kind of tweaked his shoulder and they had me warm up just in case. Those were both moments that I thought maybe it was coming, but it didn’t end up happening. I don’t know how to describe it. It almost feels like it is never going to come. “
But tonight, it will come. The 23-year-old Connauton will make his NHL debut when the Dallas Stars take on the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center. He’ll play with Sergei Gonchar on the Stars’ third defensive pair.
“I’m extremely excited, a little bit nervous,” Connauton said after Thursday morning’s skate at American Airlines Center. “I never thought this moment was going to come the last couple years, so it’s pretty surreal that it’s happening right now. I am going to try to make it through the day, get a good nap in and get after it tonight.”
Connauton, acquired last season from Vancouver in the Derek Roy deal, has been a healthy scratch the first eight games of the season. He’s a slick skating defenseman, who can move the puck. He’s got a hard shot as well.
“Great mobility. He’s used his size and reach well defending,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We’ve had a couple of guys that have struggled, so we are going to give him a look.”
Alex Goligoski, who has struggled so far this season, will come out of the lineup tonight to make room for Connauton.
This will be Connauton’s first game since the Sept. 27 preseason game against the Edmonton Oilers. Even though he hasn’t played in almost a month, Connauton said he’s made strides while watching and practicing with the Stars.
“Even though you are just practicing, you feel like you are always learning,” Connauton said. “You are always having to push yourself because the pace is so much higher. I think I’ve learned and grown a lot even since training camp, being here, being with this group of guys and having to step up my game to keep up with them on the ice.”
Connauton signed a three-year contract with the Stars this past summer. This year he is on a two-way deal, but the next two years are one-way. It was a big shot of confidence for Connauton, who is in his fourth professional season.
“For me it’s been the mindset of being better than I was the year before going into each camp,” Connauton said. “In years past, I went into training camp and I wanted to make the team, but I knew in the back of my head that I didn’t stand a good chance. This year, I came in with the mentality that I didn’t want to leave at all. It was make the team or nothing for me. It’s a process, and I am taking it step by step. I made the first goal of opening night roster, and now it’s a matter of getting that first game under my belt and moving on from there.”
Ruff on Goligoski being scratched
Alex Goligoski will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against Calgary. Stars coach Lindy Ruff talked about the decision after Thursday morning’s skate.
“I had a real good conversation with him. I want him to improve some of his defending,” Ruff said. “There’s been some good to his game, which I talked about. There’s nothing on the offensive side to help support the defensive numbers. He’s working hard. He’s had a great attitude. He even had a great attitude yesterday. I want him to work hard, get back in and play well.
“We need to win games. Defensively we haven’t played well enough and some of our defensemen haven’t played well enough. It’s time to hold guys accountable for their play.”
*As expected, Kari Lehtonen will start in goal for the Stars tonight. He returns after missing the last five games with a lower body injury.
*Erik Cole, who didn’t practice the last two days due to an undisclosed injury, skated this morning and is expected to play tonight.
*Defenseman Aaron Rome cleared waivers Thursday morning. The Stars said they were planning no immediate roster moves.
Who: Calgary Flames at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Rich Peverley
Ray Whitney – Cody Eakin – Alex Chiasson
Valeri Nichushkin – Shawn Horcoff – Erik Cole
Lane MacDermid – Vernon Fiddler – Antoine Roussel
Brenden Dillon – Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley – Jordie Benn
Kevin Connauton – Sergei Gonchar
Kari Lehtonen (starter)
Scratches: Alex Goligoski, Aaron Rome
Suspended: Ryan Garbutt