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Even after losing coaching staff, Texas Stars’ future very bright

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars may have raided their primary minor league affiliate, the AHL’s Texas Stars, for its new coaching staff, but that just provides further evidence that the farm club is excelling at its primary objective to develop talent for the parent squad.

And even though the AHL team, located just three hours down I-35 in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park, essentially lost the only coaching staff it ever had, the franchise is poised to continue that success, both in terms of player development as well as a successful team on the ice.

think we’ve stocked that cupboard pretty good, and I think it’s just a matter of time, they’ll all have to go through their learning experiences and their trials, just like everybody else, but it definitely looks like a good group of young guys.”

“We have some good young players that are starting to come,” added Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “And I think, more importantly from a growth point-of-view, we’re starting to see some young players starting to come into Austin - young college players, young junior players that are going to stockpile our system a little bit, so we’re clearly on the upside.”

Texas will move forward with Jeff Pyle, who was hired as Gulutzan’s replacement behind the AHL bench on July 13, and the parent club believes they’ve added another bright young coach on the rise.  

“It was a thorough process for us and in the end our management in Dallas felt Jeff was a perfect fit for the job,” said Scott White, GM of the Texas Stars and Director of Minor League Operations for the Dallas organization. “He brings a lot of experience to the rink on a daily basis. Jeff has a strong track record of developing players for the next level. We feel Coach Pyle will help us continue the success the Texas Stars have experienced in the first two years of operation.”

Pyle, 52, joins the Stars after 12 seasons as a head coach in the lower-level ECHL, including the last eight with the Gwinnett Gladiators, where he posted a 309-210-57 record and guided the Gladiators to the 2006 Kelly Cup Finals.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Pyle, whose teams made the playoffs in nine of his 12 ECHL seasons. “The Stars organization is extremely professional and I was impressed with them during the interview process. I feel that everyone in the organization is on the same page as far as the direction and vision of where this team needs to go. My family and I are looking forward to getting to central Texas and continuing the success of the Texas Stars.”

“It’s a good opportunity for a coach, I believe,” White said of coaching in the AHL, where several other recent NHL hires have come from. “There’s a couple, or three, jobs open in the AHL, and the Texas Stars is a good one.”

Five days later, the organization announced the hiring of Jeff Truitt as Pyle’s assistant coach to complete the staff overhaul. Truitt, who spent last season as an assistant at AHL San Antonio, has excelled behind the bench as both an assistant and as a head coach, including stints at AHL Springfield and with WHL Kelowna in Canadian junior hockey, and should fit in well with Texas.

“We are pleased to add Jeff Truitt to our coaching staff here in Texas,” White said. “He has experience at the AHL level and has proven that he can work with young players. We expect him to play a key role in developing future Dallas Stars.”

The task of grooming players for the NHL roster has been relatively fruitful for the Stars, with key contributors like Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn, Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric, among many others, having made the jump from the minor leagues over the last several seasons, not to mention more recent call-ups like Tomas Vincour, Aaron Gagnon, Philip Larsen and even veteran Brad Lukowich late last year.

“It certainly has, and even if you rewind that pipeline back to the Iowa days, there’s a number of guys that I had worked with in Iowa that have gone on to play in the National Hockey League, not only with the Dallas Stars but with some other teams,” Jerrard noted, citing the club’s previous AHL affiliate that developed other players that have since moved on, like James Neal, Dan Ellis and Mike Smith. “Developing Dallas Stars prospects has been real good the last few years, dating back to the Iowa days. They’ve done a good job giving us good players to work with and we’ve done what we can to help mold these players into NHL players.”

After as many as nine players traveled back and forth on I-35 last year as part of that pipeline, the group that will be in Cedar Park looks like it could be even better this coming season, with the influx of a new group of prospects.

White is particularly excited about the Texas squad’s returning goaltender, Richard Bachman, as well as a two other highly-touted guys who got brief tastes of the AHL life last spring after graduating from the junior ranks, Brenden Dillon and Scott Glennie, the Stars’ first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft.

“I think there’s two guys in particular right now who should have some impact, well actually three,” White stated. “One of them is Richard Bachman, our goalie. He had a wonderful year last year and we look for that to continue this year. And Scott Glennie coming in, he joined us at the end of last year, which was a real valuable experience for Scott and then the other one who did the same thing was Brenden Dillon, a free agent that we signed.

“Those two guys should garner a lot of ice time and excel in terms of their development, I believe. Because they both had that experience, they’re both good players, along with Richard, of course, but I see those two young guys as guys that should move their games along, from a development standpoint. And then our goalie, what level can Richard get to next? He had a really good year and I expect him to continue.”

As for the club’s highly-respected defense, which surrendered just 210 goals against last season, ranking tied for fifth in the AHL, White believes Texas should be in good shape, with a few veterans and some youngsters coming in to compete for ice time.

“Max Fortunus is back, Dan Spang is back,” noted White, referring to two of the squad’s top defenders last year. “A couple of those guys that were with us last year will be here again, like Jordie Benn. We’ve got a good core coming back and then you complement them there with not only Brenden Dillon, but you also have Hubert Labrie out of the (junior) Quebec League and Jace Coyle out of (WHL Medicine Hat). All those guys should be pushing for time, so we’ll see, but we’ve got some experience there that should help those young guys along.”

Two-time Stanley Cup-winner Brad Lukowich will also be back, and the presence of such a poised, experienced veteran can have a profound impact on a young prospect.

“I just got to learn some good habits and see how the guys approach it,” said the 20-year-old Dillon, who skated in 10 regular season games and six playoff contests for Texas at the end of last year following the conclusion of his junior season. “Guys like Brad Lukowich, a guy who’s won Stanley Cups and I get to see how a guy like him practices every day and being in the same locker room. Those experiences are just invaluable, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

It will be up to Pyle and Truitt to mold that combination of youth and experience into a cohesive unit, but there’s no question the future of the Texas Stars, and by extension the parent club, looks bright.

“We’re starting to see the players come into our system now,” Nieuwendyk noted, referencing some of the Stars’ brightest up-and-coming prospects. “I think we’ve been a little draft pick-deficient over the years, but I think we’re starting to see some of the kids, the Alex Chiassons, the Reilly Smiths, the Scott Glennies, names you’ll get to know over the next few years, and we’ll continue to look for pieces that help us build a championship team.”

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