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When anything can happen in preseason, Stars stay in moment

For Dallas players fighting for roster spots, taking things 'one day at a time' isn't a cliché -- it's their professional life

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Part of the appeal of sports is the uncertainty.

Just when you think you have a team or player figured out, things change. Just when you're sitting on a curveball, the opposing pitcher blasts a fastball belt high.

It's challenging. It's intriguing. It's fun.

Preseason hockey is chock full of these moments. Not only do you have a group of 60 or so potential Stars you're trying to sift through, with the main players changing every night, you have individual stories spilling out onto the stage like the cast of Les Miserables, each one of them singing "One Day More."

The past two nights have been revealing, and yet have offered just a glimpse into some of the people who are living out huge moments in their respective lives right now in Victory Green.

Justin Dowling was the hero Tuesday, scoring the overtime winner, and that makes you want to dig a little more into his past.

The 28-year-old from Calgary went undrafted out of Swift Current and had to work his way up through the ECHL and AHL. He found a home with the Texas Stars and has logged 405 games there over the past seven seasons. He served as captain of the Stars' AHL affiliate last season, and then surprised a few people with a late call-up.

Dowling does a lot of things that Stars head coach Jim Montgomery likes, and that led to him playing in all 13 playoff games.

Video: DAL@MIN: Dowling secures OT win with breakaway tally

Here's Montgomery last season on what he likes about Dowling: "He has elite hockey sense. He has as good of hockey sense as any top-six player we have in our lineup. I mean, that's why he's able, and we put him in a position where we think we can use him and he can help the team win."

Dowling plays top six and first power play in the AHL. He helped the Texas Stars win the Calder Cup in 2014 and get to the Finals in 2018. He is a steady veteran presence with the skill to help out on an NHL power play.

And while the focus has been on all of the kids trying to make the opening night roster, Dowling came out Tuesday and just played his game. He was smart, he was relentless, he was skilled when the opportunity presented itself.

He did exactly what was expected, and even that can be unexpected at times.

On the other end of the ice, goalie Colton Point stopped 13 of 13 shots and got the win for the Stars. That was huge for the 21-year-old netminder, who struggled with injuries and poor performance last season.

Point had a strong offseason and wanted to show his improvement in the Traverse City tournament for prospects, but he allowed six goals in a loss to the New York Rangers, and the hill seemed very high for Point to even be considered for an AHL spot.

On Tuesday, he made a couple of great stops and looked to be getting his confidence back. Now, the story looks different for him.

Video: DAL@MIN: Point stymies Dumba's wrist shot

Up front, young players such as Ty Dellandrea and Tye Felhaber battled beside veterans Stefan Noesen and Scottie Upshall in hopes of getting one of the final opening night roster spots. The differences between their performances were probably small. The coaches will dissect the video and try to assess grades. That's a huge part of this whole process.

In the meantime, a new group will try on Thursday at Colorado, and each player will have his own story. We love to try to be experts at analyzing these games and players, because it's a great hobby. It distracts us from the mundane tasks we have to perform and also challenges our brains.

Like a good game of Wordscapes, it helps pass the time and make us feel like we're smart. But as you try to figure out how first-round picks Val Nichushkin and Julius Honka didn't work out, also try to figure out why fifth-round picks Jamie Benn and John Klingberg did.

It's those brain teasers that keep us interested every day in sports.

Dallas last season had a new coaching staff, was beset by injuries, used 14 different defensemen, and came a half puck's width away from going to the Western Conference Final. Even HBO would be impressed with that amount of plot twists.

As we talk to Dowling or Point or Dellandrea or Noesen or pretty much any of the players who are fighting for their professional lives here, the overriding theme is staying in the moment. Work hard, be prepared, don't get ahead of yourself. It's good advice. If you focus on the task at hand, it can often lead to some pretty incredible results.

One day more.

 

Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche

Thursday, 8 p.m. CT

Where: Pepsi Center (Denver)

TV/radio: None

It makes perfect sense in the preseason, because we really don't know how all of this is going to turn out.

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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