Defenseman Mark Fistric was the Dallas Stars' first round selection (No. 28 overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, and certainly made his presence felt in his first professional season with the Iowa Stars in 2006-07.
The 6-2, 232-pound blue liner was the only Iowa player to skate in all 80 games this season, and his 24 points (two goals, 22 assists) placed him third among Stars defenseman in scoring. Fistric served as an alternate captain as a rookie, and was selected by Iowa's hockey operations staff as the club's Most Improved Player in 2006-07. He was also honored by his teammates as the 7th Man of the Year, for going above and beyond expectations, on and off the ice.
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Fistric captained the Vancouver Giants to the Western Hockey League title last season, and in five seasons with that club, collected 11 goals and 46 assists for 57 points with 453 penalty minutes.
"Mark Fistric is definitely on the right track and I thought after Christmas, his game really came to the forefront," said Scott White, Iowa's Director of Hockey Operations. "He's a young kid and he's been logging 24-25 minutes a night for us in a defensive role. He's a sound two-way defenseman and I wish people could've seen him in a physical series with Omaha (AHL West Division Semifinals), because he was just a force. He was knocking guys around and blocking shots, and he's grown a lot the second half of the season. In my eyes, he'll be a Dallas Star soon enough."
DallasStars.com had the opportunity to visit with Fistric on Tuesday morning as the Iowa Stars prepare for Game Four of the AHL West Division Finals with Chicago, to get his thoughts on his first professional season and the Iowa Stars playoff run.
DallasStars.com: How has your first professional season gone, after a successful stint in the Western Hockey League?
Fistric: "It's been a really good year for me and I've learned a lot. At this level, there are a lot more players who are better, stronger and skilled than the guys I faced in juniors, so I've had to elevate my game. I've worked on my skating and moving the puck better, and I am trying to think faster and be tougher. I think this has been a good development year for me."
DallasStars.com: What has been your biggest area of improvement this season?
Fistric: "I think my skating has gotten a lot better. The pace is a lot faster here, so I'm working on making plays a lot quicker. I think my physical play has been improving, and I pride myself on that. I scored 24 points this year, which is a pretty good improvement offensively."
DallasStars.com: How beneficial is it for a young team like the Iowa Stars to make a solid playoff run like this?
Fistric: "It's going to be great for all of us. I was fortunate enough to make a good run last year with Vancouver, and I carried that over to this year. We're looking to continue our run this season, but whenever it does end, we are going to carry this over to next season. From there, you never know what could happen. It's great for us to get to play in big games this time of year."
DallasStars.com: What mindset are you going to bring with you to the Dallas Stars training camp in September?
Fistric: "Well, right now I am just trying to win as many games as we can and go as deep as we can into the playoffs. In the summer, I'm going to keep working as hard as possible, and really skate hard to get in good shape for training camp. I'm going to bring the mindset to Dallas of making the team, of making it hard for them to send me down."
DallasStars.com: Have you faced any added pressure in the WHL or here in the AHL having been a first round draft pick?
Fistric: "I don't think so. Once you get to the pro level, everyone is focused on taking the next step, regardless of where they were drafted. Guys like Chris Conner and Krys Barch weren't drafted and they played meaningful games for Dallas this season, so I don't think it matters that much. Being a first-rounder, you want to prove yourself and show the Stars you are worthy of that high selection. I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of that so far."
DallasStars.com: How influential has Iowa Head Coach Dave Allison been in your improvement this season?
Fistric: "I have a lot of respect for Coach Allison and he's the type of coach who uses a lot of life experiences to teach you on the ice. He does an excellent job in leading us in on-ice and off-ice parts of your life as far as development goes, and he has the ability to teach you a number of things. He's an outstanding coach and I really enjoy playing for him."
DallasStars.com: How have you adapted to living in Des Moines?Fistric: "Des Moines is a great city. We have a really good facility here and I think Iowa and Dallas have done an excellent job in making sure we have everything we need. The people in Des Moines are really nice and the fans support us through thick and thin. I really like the city a lot."