“Since the beginning of the season we’ve had one goal and we still haven’t reached it,” said Texas captain Maxime Fortunus. “We’ve worked hard to get here, but it’s still a long ways away. It’s closer than it was, but it’s still a long ways away, so we have a lot of work to do.”
The Stars will take on the St. John’s IceCaps, champions of the Eastern Conference, in Game 1 of the AHL’s championship series Sunday night at Cedar Park Center. The IceCaps will be an unfamiliar foe for the Stars, the Western Conference champions. The two teams didn’t meet this season. They’ve never met in any season.
“We have no idea going in. You can watch video, but there is no way to measure,” said Texas coach Willie Desjardins. “Against Grand Rapids or Toronto, we could go back to when we played them and we know the players. This is totally different. That’s exciting, but not for coaches. You always want to feel that you are real prepared. You can’t get quite as prepared because we haven’t played them.”
What the Stars do know is that the IceCaps, the AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, are a good team. They finished fourth in the East during the regular season and marched their way to the Calder Cup Finals by winning 11 of their 16 playoff games.
“They are going to be a tough team,” said Texas center Travis Morin. “Obviously, they made it here for a reason.”
Game 1 should give both teams a good idea of what the other team is going to bring in the series. The Stars believe they can play any style and be successful.
“I don’t know if they are going to open it up or it’s going to be any more open than what we’ve been used to the last couple series,” said Morin. “We can play either way. We proved we can play that style and play with teams that want to play defensive. If we want to open it up we can score with any team in the league. We’ll see what they bring on Sunday, and we’ll work from there.”
As the team with the best regular season record, the Stars will have home-ice advantage in the series. The Stars are 6-2 at Cedar Park in the playoffs and 5-3 on the road. The IceCaps are 6-2 at home and 5-3 on the road. Games 1 and 2 are at Cedar Park Center.
“We love this building. We love playing in front of our fans. That’s an edge,” said Desjardins. “Their building is sold out every night, so they have a great atmosphere there. When we go back, the edge will be to them. It’s great for us to start at home.”
There will be some interesting scheduling because of building conflicts. Games 1 and 2 are Sunday and Monday in Cedar Park and then Game 3 is Wednesday in St. John’s, meaning it will be three games in four nights with a long trip from Texas to Newfoundland. Then the two teams won’t play again until the following Monday – a four day break – because of a medical convention at the Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
“There’s nothing you can do about it in our minds,” said Morin. “After Game 3 we are going to get a little bit of a rest. Anybody with bumps and bruises can heal up a little bit and get ready for those next few games.”
But the bottom line is the Stars aren’t concerned about the scheduling or the long travel in the series; they are happy to be playing games at this time of the year.
“It’s hockey in June. Hockey in June is the best thing there is,” said Fortunus. “As soon as you come to the rink you are just excited to be able to play hockey. There is sunlight outside, it’s 90 degree weather. It’s just the best.”
Because when you are playing in June that means your goal is still within reach.
How Stars and IceCaps got here
Texas: defeated Oklahoma City, 3-0; defeated Grand Rapids, 4-2; defeated Toronto, 4-3
St. John’s: defeated Albany, 3-1; defeated Norfolk, 4-2; defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 4-2
Stars-IceCaps statistical tidbits
*Both teams have 11-5 records in the postseason.
*Texas ranks third in goal scoring at 3.31 per game; St. John’s ranks fifth at 2.94 per game.
*St. John’s ranks first in goals against at 1.75 per game; Texas ranks fifth at 2.44 per game.
*Texas ranks first in shots at 37.1 per game; St. John’s ranks second at 32.9 per game.
*Texas ranks first in shots against at 26.6 per game; St. John’s ranks seventh at 30.4 per game.
*St. John’s ranks 10th in power play at 16.9 percent; Texas ranks 11th at 16.7 percent.
*St. John’s ranks first in penalty killing at 91.0 percent; Texas ranks eighth at 82.5 percent
*St. John’s has scored first in 14 of 16 games and is 11-3 in the games in which it has scored first.
*Texas has scored first in five of 16 games, winning four of the games in which it has scored first and going 7-4 in the games in which the opposition has scored first.
*Texas has been outscored 11-13 in the first period and 17-20 in the second period, but it has outscored its opponents 22-6 in third periods.
*St. John’s has outscored its opponents 15-8 in the first period, 17-8 in the second period and 15-11 in the third period.
*Texas is 3-0 in overtime and St. John’s is 0-1 in overtime.
*St. John’s Andrew Gordon leads the AHL playoffs in scoring with 16 points (8 goals, 8 assists).
*Texas’ Travis Morin (4 goals, 11 assists) and Mike Hedden (6 goals, 9 assists) are tied for second with 15 points.
*St. John’s goaltender Michael Hutchinson ranks second in both goals against average (1.61) and save percentage (.946).
*Texas goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp ranks fifth in goals against average (2.14) and ninth in save percentage (.914).
Calder Cup Finals Schedule
Game 1: Sun., June 8, St. John’s at Texas, 7:30
Game 2: Mon., June 9, St. John’s at Texas, 7:30
Game 3: Wed., June 11, Texas at St. John’s, 5:00
Game 4: Mon., June 16, Texas at St. John’s, 5:00
*Game 5: Tue., June 17, Texas at St. John’s, 5:00
*Game 6: Thu., June 19, St. John’s at Texas, 7:30
*Game 7: Mon., June 23, St. John’s at Texas, 7:30
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.