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Stars Win Traverse City Debut

by Dallas Stars Staff / Dallas Stars

Last year, the Stars showed inexperience and a lack of depth at the Traverse City prospects tournament, and struggled mightily to get good things from their young players.

James Neal
This year, Dallas seems to have plenty of experience and plenty of depth, and got off to a rousing start with a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues Saturday night.

The Stars outshot the Blues, 38-19, and dictated play for much of the game. Goalie Matt Climie allowed two quick goals and a 2-0 deficit, but Dallas fought back against the adversity and both the Stars improved as the game went on.

"It was a tough start, but it never slowed them down,’’ said Stars co-GM Les Jackson. "I really was happy with how we played, especially battling back. We had a nice mix of experience and younger guys, and it just seemed to come together well.’’

The Stars have been used to hearing for so long that they lack depth in youth, but this group appears promising. Free agent Fabian Brunnstrom, 23, Cornell product Ray Sawada, 23, and AHL winger James Neal, 21, led a team that had four strong lines.

"I think we’re a little fortunate to have some older players, because I really believe we have good leadership skills,’’ said Sawada, who was a captain at Cornell and wore the "C’’ for the prospects team. "A lot of those guys have already been the leader on their team in the past, and it shows when you get out there.’’

After a couple of quick goals on Climie by St. Louis’ Anthony Nigro and Jonas Junland gave the Blues a 2-0 lead at the 5:28 mark of the first period, Dallas toughened up defensively and also started controlling the puck. The Stars had a 12-7 edged in shots on goal by the end of the first period and looked like an improving team.

Aaron Gagnon then picked up the team’s first goal just 1:10 into the second period as he batted in a rebound after a scramble at the net. Gagnon, 22, split the season between the AHL and ECHL last season, getting just one assist in 25 games with Iowa, but looked like a much improved player. He finished with three shots on goal while centering the second line with Brunnstrom and Jamie Benn.

Brunnstrom said he was frustrated by his first game with the Stars, but added that he hoped to improve after playing on the smaller North American ice for the first time.

"At the beginning, it felt like everything I did was wrong. I felt so bad,’’ he said. "But the longer the game was going, the better it felt. It’s frustrating. I wanted to play so well, I wanted to start with a better game than this. But I think winning helps, so you just go out there and try again, and you try to get better.’’

Jackson said he was happy with Brunnstrom’s first game.

"I thought by the third period, he looked awesome,’’ Jackson said. "It’s going to take some time. He’s not going to get it in one game.’’

Perttu Lindgren
The top line of James Neal-Perttu Lindgren-Sawada added the team’s second goal to tie things up. Neal snuck in the backside to pounce on a rebound. He said the forward depth made every player more confident in his ability.

"I think it does make you a better player,’’ Neal said. "Whenever you have good linemates, then the opportunities are just all over the place. You have to stay focused, because you know the puck is coming to you.’’
The Stars’ fourth line gave the team the lead when Michael Neal scored unassisted at the 11:26 mark. Michael Neal, James’ younger brother, missed all of last season with a knee injury and said he felt good about the goal _ his first since junior level training camp last season.

The Blues tied up the game heading into the third period, but Dallas outshot St. Louis, 11-6, in the third period, and Jamie Benn came up with the game winner. Colton Sceviour made a nice pass from the blueline in transition, and Benn found himself alone in front of the goalie. After a couple of dekes, he put in a backhand for a 4-3 lead at the 8:04 mark.
The Stars and Climie then held on through a hectic final penalty kill and took the victory.

Dallas will play Columbus at 5 p.m. Sunday in the second game of pool play. The Blue Jackets won a 4-3 shootout game with Minnesota Saturday.

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