After veteran leader Andrew Hutchinson suffered an undisclosed injury at the end of Game 3 and was forced out of the lineup for Games 4 and 5, the Stars turned to Ludwig to step back into the defensive rotation. In a significantly larger role than he had been used to, Ludwig performed very well and helped contribute to two fine defensive efforts from the Dallas Stars’ top minor league affiliate.
Ludwig had sat out as a healthy scratch for five consecutive contests since last suiting up on May 22 in Game 5 of the AHL’s Western Conference Finals, but when he was called upon to step in and elevate his game, he did so impressively.
“The coaches every day will tell the guys, ‘always stay ready because anything can happen,’” said the 25-year-old son of former Dallas Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Craig Ludwig. “Obviously, Hutchie got hurt a little bit and it was up to me to keep my mind right and stay in shape and I got back in the lineup and right back to it. It’s like riding a bike.”
“I thought Trevor was fine there, he gave us some minutes,” said Texas coach Glen Gulutzan. “Obviously, there’s going to be some adjustments when you haven’t played in awhile, but I think he gave us some good minutes. He did his job.”
Ludwig also demonstrated his fearlessness and grit in Game 5, dropping down to block a slap shot in the second period, even though he’d already lost his helmet earlier on the shift. That’s the type of commitment that helps win championships.
“There was a little bit of a tussle there and I lost my lid in the corner, and then I guess I just blocked it like my dad,” Ludwig explained with a laugh. “I just don’t want the puck to go in our net, you know? The key to some of our success has been blocking shots and that’s what a lot of guys on this team do really well. If we can do anything to help out (goaltender Matt) Climie and not have the puck go in the net, we’ll do it.”
After somewhat of an up-and-down regular season, Ludwig displayed significant progress over the second half and throughout the playoffs. Following frequent trips back and forth between Texas and the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads for the first couple of months of the year, Ludwig has remained in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park since late December, registering three goals and eight points in 47 regular season contests, and suiting up for 18 of the Stars’ 23 post-season games so far.
“I went back and forth the beginning of the year - that’s all part of hockey,” said Ludwig, who was the Dallas Stars’ sixth-round selection (183rd overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. “We had a really good D corps at the beginning of this year and for whatever reason, I was just going back and forth, and that’s just part of it. That’s something you got to learn from and hopefully, it will help me out down the stretch here.”
“Trevor started the season on the bubble of this team, based on the defense corps that we had,” added Texas Stars General Manager Scott White. “We had an unbelievable crew at the back end, with Brad Lukowich, Dan Jancevski, the other guys you see here now. He was patient, went down to Idaho, kept playing, and things happen. You get call-ups, you get some injuries, some guys get moved around a little bit, and he came back and he was solid. He practiced a lot and he practiced well, and when he got into our games here, he was steady. He’s in the third defensive pair and he’s done very well and set himself up for the rest of the year. He was an important figure for that third pair for the whole regular season and he’s been in and out of the lineup for the playoffs, but it’s all part of the process.”
In his second season of pro hockey after spending four years at Providence University, Ludwig maintained a good attitude about earning all those flying miles to Idaho, making sure he took advantage of the extra playing time to earn his way back to the AHL.
“It always helps (having more ice time and playing in important situations),” said Ludwig, who notched one goal and five assists in 14 ECHL games this season and collected two goals and 10 points in 35 contests there last year. “You become more mature with the game and realize that this type of thing can happen and will happen, it’s just about taking it one game at a time and moving forward.”
“The biggest thing is playing and he wasn’t playing games,” said White of the early decisions to assign Ludwig to Idaho. “Our affiliation with Idaho is outstanding and we’ve used that for the last five years as an essential tool for guys to get ice time. Instead of watching five games and playing one, go down and play and you get in a regular rotation, get some minutes, albeit in a different system, different league, but at least they’re playing. We found that his fitness level was better coming back, because he’s playing more. And he was great - he hung in there, he was patient. I’m sure it was trying times, much like last year was for him, but he was in Idaho, so that made the transition to go back down there easy.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Ludwig also has the benefit of receiving regular advice from a highly-respected former NHL defenseman - his father, who was spotted in the Cedar Park Center for Games 4 and 5 of the Calder Cup Finals.
“He usually tries to come to the games, especially towards the end of the season, there isn’t as much going on for him,” said Trevor of his father Craig, who coaches the Dallas Stars AAA U18 youth team as well as serving as a studio analyst for Dallas Stars Fox Sports Southwest TV broadcasts. “Obviously, he’s got some expertise in this area, I guess you could say. He’ll be watching games and telling me what I should have done, or what I did well or what I did not so well, I guess, and it’s a real advantage having him as a father.”
While Trevor admitted that he and his twin brother Tyler, who played seven games with the AHL Stars on an amateur tryout contract after completing his senior season at Western Michigan University in March, have faced some additional scrutiny as the kids of an NHLer, they also enjoyed many more positives from the experience.
“Growing up, obviously, you got coaches or maybe scouts that from time to time might hold you to a higher expectation just because of who he is and what he’s done,” Ludwig acknowledged, “but it goes two-fold -- me and my brothers expect that, so you just got to live up to the challenge. But at the same time, I think all those guys know, too, that we aren’t our dad. We have different aspects of our game, we’re not exactly like him. It was a good childhood, good experiences, so I wouldn’t take that back for anything.”
Much of that childhood was spent in the DFW Metroplex, as the Ludwig family arrived from Minnesota in 1993 with the rest of the Stars franchise. So while Colgate University’s Austin Smith
has been touted as the first Dallas native selected in the NHL Entry Draft after the Stars used a fifth round choice on him in 2007, Ludwig was really the first Metroplex product drafted, even though he was born in Wisconsin.
Ludwig progressed and developed in the Dallas youth system - he played for Grapevine High School in the AT&T Metroplex High School Hockey League and even spent two seasons with the local NAHL junior hockey franchise, the Texas Tornado, winning a championship in 2004. Of course, the Tornado also happen to share their home arena, the Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, with the Dallas Stars, who have their practice facility and executive offices there.
With all his local ties to the area, Ludwig was happy to be drafted by his hometown NHL team and noted that it didn’t add any extra pressure on him to succeed.
“We moved down there when we were eight years old, so for the most part, we were transforming into Texans, slowly but surely,” said Ludwig, whose younger brother C.J. just finished his second year with Omaha of the USHL and is heading to Northern Michigan next fall. “Pressure? I think you’re going to have pressure anywhere you go. I like it here, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love the area. I know the area obviously, a little more than some of these guys and am maybe a little more used to the heat than some of these guys, but I love it here and I love the organization. It’s a great organization and I’m proud to be part of it.”
The feeling appears to be mutual.
“His development is solid, he can certainly play in this league and he’s a good teammate,” White said. “He’s a big, thick kid and he’s been solid. He’s a Dallas Star - he’s got that mentality and what I like to see and we all like to see in Dallas Stars players.”
One day relatively soon, we just might see him back in the Metroplex.