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Demands of pressure-packed playoffs 'great experience' for budding Stars

For Dallas prospects, the Texas Stars' lengthy hunt for their second Calder Cup could pay big dividends in the future

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- The Texas Stars have played 34 overtime games this season, including six in the playoffs.

That's creating a terrific proving ground for the organization's prospects.


[RELATED: Texas Stars take commanding series lead with OT thriller in Conference Finals]


"It's such great experience," said Scott White, Dallas Stars assistant general manager and GM of the Texas Stars.

"The level of play, the intensity of the situations, it's stuff that you need to live through. It opens your eyes and shows what you need to do to get to the next level. Guys get their feet wet, and it prepares them mentally, as well as physically."

Texas took a 3-2 win in overtime Sunday at H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, giving the Stars a 2-0 series lead on Rockford in the AHL's Western Conference Finals. It was an especially challenging game, as Rockford came out quickly, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first period and forced Texas to respond.

Watch: Youtube Video

As they have done while going 9-2 in the playoffs (including 5-1 in overtime), the Stars did just that.

"All year, it's been finding ways to win games, finding ways to come back in games," said captain Curtis McKenzie. "We're a team full of confidence when it comes to that."

McKenzie, 27, scored the game-winning goal in overtime, but coach Derek Laxdal said he felt several prospects played well in the game. Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther, 24, has been taking leaps and bounds in the playoffs and is working his way into the conversation for the NHL roster next season. Jason Dickinson, 22, has looked good after an inconsistent regular season, while Denis Gurianov, 21, and Roope Hintz, 22, have also made strides.

"This time of year for these young guys to get that kind of exposure and that kind of experience helps their game galvanize a little bit," said Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal. "Gavin has really taken some huge steps. I thought Roope Hintz in overtime really took a step in his game. I thought Denis Gurianov really took another step.

"That's what it's all about. Every time you have a chance to take another step with these kids, they are going to be better for it in the future and they're going to be better Dallas Stars moving forward."

The jump between the NHL and AHL can be a tough one because of the potential change in role. Dickinson plays in all situations and all minutes in the AHL, but he averaged just 8:32 in 27 games in the NHL this season. He also was part of several call-ups and send-downs, which created a difficult environment to grow.

"It was a tough year for him, I think it was 16 paper transactions," said White. "So this is great for him now, this is positive, this is fun. He's been strong throughout the playoffs."

Dickinson said he can feel the growth in the team by going on this playoff run.

"This helps with my confidence and my comfort level," he said. "This run that I'm on solidifies that, because everybody in this room feels like they're a big part of what we've accomplished. The roles that players are assuming, they're going to help everyone grow."

Especially with the overtime factor mixed in. Dickinson had a 20-game playoff run with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League in 2013-14 and said facing off in that level of competition helped him improve his game.

Watch: Youtube Video

"This is huge," he said.

"I had a similar experience in junior hockey, and I think it helped me move to the next level. When you're out there, it gets intense, and it could be easy to lose your focus, so that's a big part of this, learning to be comfortable out there. The games right now are not quiet, so you have to find a way to tune out that noise sometimes."

Because the demands will be even higher in the NHL.

"If you're playing at this time of the season, the intensity of the hockey is going to allow you to play the bigger minutes and bigger games up in Dallas," Laxdal said.

The Texas Stars continue their series with Game 3 Tuesday at Rockford.

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 and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

Read more: Jason Dickinson, Curtis McKenzie, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, Gavin BayreutherTexas Stars, Dallas Stars

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