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Heika: White successfully leading Stars' own edition of 'Fixer Upper'

The driving force behind Texas' latest Calder Cup bid, the 50-year-old 'doesn't get enough credit,' GM Nill says

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Maybe Scott White needs an HGTV makeover show -- those have been doing well in Central Texas over the past few years.

Fixer Upper: Texas Stars Edition has been going on for nine seasons in Cedar Park, and White is the main reason why. 

 

[MARK STEPNESKI: Texas Stars use late goal to even series with Toronto]

 

The 50-year-old, who counts among his titles assistant GM for the Dallas Stars and GM for the Texas Stars, has been the driving force behind the Stars' AHL affiliate since it moved from Iowa in 2009. In that span, the Stars have made three visits to the Calder Cup Finals, losing to Hershey in 2010 and beating St. John's in 2014. This season, the Stars are tied 1-1 with Toronto in the best-of-seven series with Game 3 Tuesday at H-E-B Center.

"He doesn't get enough credit for what he's done," said Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. "He's been able to put together a very good roster every year, and that's not easy to do in the AHL. You're at the mercy of the NHL team, and it forces you to be very creative."

White's biggest strength might be finding players in strange places. Travis Morin joined the team as a tryout player in White's first season and is still a key in this playoff run. White had two late adds this season in Sheldon Dries (Western Michigan) and Joel L'Esperance (Michigan Tech), and both have added the depth needed to get Texas to the Finals.

Video: What do 2018 NHL Draft prospects know about Texas?

"Bringing in players like Dries, L'Esperance, these guys have come out of nowhere,"Nill said. "You look back at Travis Morin, he's found players that have really given the team depth and filled important roles."

White played four seasons at Michigan Tech (1985-89) and then served as an assistant coach there for five more (1994-99), so he has great connections in college hockey and in the state of Michigan. He also played in the ECHL and was an assistant coach for Greensboro and also served as head coach in Columbia for four seasons.

"He's really well-connected with the ECHL and with college hockey, so you see guys we're getting, whether it's Travis Morin or Matt Mangene from the ECHL or some of the college guys like Sheldon Dries and Joel L'Esperance, that's Scott White," said Stars assistant GM Mark Janko. 

"He's connected and he has people he trusts. And he discovers these players and then he goes and watches them and he knows what he's looking for, and what he needs for his team, and he just makes it fit. It's fit now for nine years, and it's pretty impressive to watch."

Janko said that depth is huge when the parent teams starts taking players. The Stars this season called up goalie Mike McKenna, defenseman Dillon Heatherington and forward Curtis McKenzie at the end of the season while trying to make a late push. The tough part of that was the Dallas Stars took the Texas Stars' best players and then made them healthy scratches most of the time.

Video: Mark Janko discusses combine interview process

"We took Heatherington and we weren't playing him, we took McKenna and we weren't playing him, we took McKenzie and we didn't play him that much," Janko said. "That's hard, but you have to fill in the gaps with some of these college guys and free agents and ECHL guys. If you don't have depth in the AHL, you won't have success, so it takes a lot of work."

In fact, more new work every year.

While a home makeover can last some time, the AHL makeover has to be redone and redone. The 2010 team was coached by Glen Gulutzan and led by Jamie Benn, a veteran AHL defense, and the goalie duo of Brent Krahn and Matt Climie. The 2014 team was coached by Willie Desjardins and led by Travis Morin, Patrik Nemeth and goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp. This year's team is coached by Derek Laxdal and led by McKenzie, Justin Dowling and McKenna.

Not only does White have to find the talented coaches (both Gulutzan and Desjardins moved on to become head coaches in the NHL) and players, he has to make it all work. During the playoff runs, White has had to be able to juggle the balance between veterans and prospects and keep everything moving in the right direction.

"You have to have the balance, and that's what we're always looking for," he said. "You are there to develop players, but winning hockey games is a huge part of development."

Video: GM Jim Nill discusses what Stars can learn at combine

Nill said White is putting together an impressive resume.

"He's a guy who, down the road, is going to get consideration to be a general manager in the NHL," Nill said.

And Janko said the organization is fortunate to learn from White before he moves on.

"If you look, we've had some great coaches, but it's three different coaches and one GM who has been to the Calder Cup Final three times," Janko said. "That bodes well for him and where he is going to go in his career. It's been great to watch him work and see how much work he puts in. I can learn a lot from him."

And just like the real "Fixer Uppers" in Waco, White should leave Cedar Park looking a whole lot nicer if he ever does move on.

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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