The Texas Stars have several defensemen who lean towards the offensive side of the game, which means the team also needs players on the blue line who think defense first. Cameron Gaunce doesn’t mind being one of those guys.
“I take pride in the fact that I am used as a defensive player,” Gaunce said. “We have a lot of offensive defensemen here, and I take pride in taking care of my own zone first.”
Kevin Connauton is one of those offensive-minded defensemen, and is Gaunce’s current partner on Texas’ blue line.
“He likes to stay back a little more and it’s nice. I can always rely on him,” Connauton said of Gaunce. “If I am jumping in the play, I know he’ll be back there. When we’re in the D zone, we’re talking well and he’s good at sorting things out and making sure everything is under control. I think we complement each other pretty well.”
Added Gaunce: “He’s an offensive-minded player, great skater and has a great shot from the point. Hopefully I am able to give him some freedom to do that, knowing that I am going to be back or cover up for things here and there.”
The Dallas Stars acquired both Gaunce and Connauton just prior to the NHL’s trade deadline. Connauton came from Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Chicago in the deal that sent center Derek Roy to the Canucks. Gaunce came in a lower profile deal that sent forward Tomas Vincour to the Colorado Avalanche, bringing Gaunce to Texas from Lake Erie of the AHL.
“It was bittersweet. Being traded from a team means something didn’t work out,” Gaunce said. “Obviously, I feel like I could have done more for the Avalanche organization. At the same time, I was happy to come to a team that wanted me and to come to a team that was in a playoff position.”
It was a fresh start for Gaunce, who turned 23 in March, and is in his third year of professional hockey. The move to Texas also provided him his first opportunity to see playoff action as a pro. Lake Erie missed the playoffs his first two seasons and the Monsters finished out of the picture again this year, so Gaunce is relishing the opportunity to help his new team and get a chance to show what he can do in the postseason.
“Playoffs are the time when guys tend to make names for themselves, get contracts for themselves,” he said. “This is a big time of the year.”
Dallas assigned Gaunce to Texas after the trade and he played nine regular season games, registering five points (one goal, four assists) and a plus-seven rating. All four of those assists came in one game, an 8-2 win over San Antonio on April 14, and it tied a club-record for assists and points in a game. Overall, it was a pretty smooth transition for Gaunce.
“It was pretty easy coming to a team like this,” said Gaunce. “It’s a close-knit group of guys, good leadership and a couple of really good coaches.”
The 6-1, 203-pound Gaunce is a left shot, but he’s played the right side in the pairing with Connauton. It’s something he got used to in Lake Erie this season, and playing with Connauton has made it easier.
“I did it with Lake Erie this year more out of necessity. We didn’t’ have any right-handed shot defensemen, so I’ve been playing there,” said Gaunce. “Same thing here, we don’t have as many and I have been playing with him. When you play with a defenseman like him, and you get passes that aren’t just throwaways but actual passes, it is easier to control them and move up ice with them.”
There’s nothing fancy about Gaunce’s game. He plays a smart, simple defensive game. He’s a good one-on-one defender, makes a good first pass and plays a physical style.
“He’s a very competitive, very smart player,” said Texas Stars assistant coach Doug Lister. “Very cerebral, but he also competes very hard. And he’s done a terrific job.”
Still, Gaunce sees room for improvement in his game.
“A little bit of everything,” he said. “When I get the puck I need to make sure I am consistently moving my feet up ice, making sure I am making the simple play. I tend to try to do too much with the puck at times. If I can get that out of my game it would really help me.”
The Toronto area native, Colorado’s second round pick (50th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, played three seasons of junior hockey with Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League. In 2008-09, he ranked fifth among OHL defensemen in scoring and was voted by coaches as the league’s “Best Defensive Defenseman.” He was a finalist in both 2008-09 and 2009-10 for the Max Kaminsky Trophy, which goes to the OHL’s top defenseman. He earned OHL Second All-Star Team honors in both 2008-09 and 2009-10.
Gaunce’s first pro season was in 2010-11 and it was an eventful one. He played 61 games with Lake Erie, and led the team’s defensemen in assists (20) and points (22). He also saw NHL time, getting recalled three times by Colorado, playing in 11 games and scoring his first NHL goal in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It was a really good experience. It gave me a taste of what it was like to be in the NHL, what the speed is like and what it is like to be a consummate professional every day, day in and day out,” Gaunce said. “I think that has helped me out over the last year and a bit. It helped me to know that I can play there if I were to get there.”
And he’s hoping the fresh start with the Dallas Stars organization will help him get there again and he hopes to do it by doing what he does best.
“Be hard to play against,” Gaunce said. “Take care of my own zone first. I take pride in that.”