If you are a European hockey player and you are making the move to North America, there is the inevitable question about the adjustment to the smaller ice rink. For Texas Stars goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp, the adjustment seems to be going just fine, although it is still a work in progress.
“I’ve played just two-and-a-half games, and the games are what you need to get used to the game over here,” Nilstorp said. “I think (goaltending coach Mike Valley) has prepared me a lot during the practices and it feels better and better.”
Those two-and-a-half games include one regular season start, one preseason start and one half of another preseason game, and so far the 28-year-old Swede has looked sharp as he gets used to the different style of play in North America.
“It’s the angles and the speed of the game here,” Nilstorp said. “Back home they like to pass and here they like to shoot from everywhere, so you have to be focused 100 percent for every single shot. It’s good. It’s fun.”
The Dallas Stars signed Nilstorp, who had been in the Swedish Elite League the past two seasons, to a contract in June. He got a head start on the adjustment to playing on the different ice dimensions by spending a week at the team’s development camp in Frisco in July, and then was back in Frisco in August to skate with other players in preparation for training camp.
“When you play on a certain ice sheet your whole life, you understand angles and where you need to be. It becomes second nature, but when you go into a smaller rink, those angles are changed a little bit,” said Valley. “On a smaller rink, things happen a lot quicker, so you don’t have as much time to get yourself set. You don’t have time to relax for a split second when the puck is in your zone. It’s a different game overall. I think he’s managed it really, really well and it certainly helps that he came over a month early to train with all the guys over here in Dallas.”
Nilstorp was impressive in his first regular season start in the American Hockey League. He stopped 18 of 19 shots, including all 10 shots he faced in the first period, as the Texas Stars won their season opener, 2-1, in San Antonio Saturday night.
“What you see in Cristopher Nilstorp – whether it’s that first game, the exhibition games or in practice –you see a mature goaltender who understands the game,” said Valley. “He plays very controlled and he’s very methodical with all his movements. He has the ability, as he did in that first game, to weather the storm early and make some key saves when you need them, and then he has the ability to stay focused when he is not getting a ton of shots and still come up with the saves when you need them at the end of the game.”
Nilstorp hasn’t been with the Texas Stars all that long, but he’s already made an impression on his new teammates.
“He’s calm in net” said Texas captain Maxime Fortunus. “You can see he’s a little bit older and he’s poised. It’s good for us, especially as defensemen, when you have someone back there who knows what he is doing and is confident in there. It’s a big plus for us. Tough lineup to crack
When the Texas Stars opened the season last Saturday in San Antonio it was interesting to note not only who was in the lineup, but who was not as well.
Among those on the healthy scratch list were veteran defenseman Tyler Sloan and Dallas prospects Scott Glennie and Austin Smith. It’s a sign of the depth of the Texas roster, which currently stands at 27 players.
There are 16 forwards and 15 of them are healthy. Colton Sceviour is out with a hand injury. There are nine defensemen on the roster. On most nights the coaches will dress 12 forwards and 6 defensemen, which means several players will have to sit.
“There were some really good guys that didn’t play and the guys in the lineup have to recognize that and they have to play hard to stay,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “But the whole league is like that because there are a lot of good players in the league.”
And that means competition for playing time.
“It doesn’t matter how long you have been here, we are all battling for spots. At the same time we are battling for spots in the NHL,” said Texas captain Maxime Fortunus. “It’s internal competition and it puts pressure on guys to show what they have every game. You have to show it every game because there are guys pushing behind you.”
After winning that first game in San Antonio, there weren’t many changes for the next game. Taylor Vause moved into the lineup on the fourth line and Mathieu Tousignant was taken out. Nilstorp, who started in goal in game one, was the backup to Jack Campbell for game two. Other than that it was the same lineup.
That meant Austin Smith and Glennie had to spend another night as scratches, but Desjardins said their time will come.
“Both guys can play, they’re good players and they will play,” said Desjardins. “Right now, when you win a game and you have a guy in the lineup you come back with him.”
The Texas Stars have three games in three nights this weekend. They play at Houston tonight, then return home to take on Houston tomorrow and host Lake Erie on Sunday.