The Texas Stars marked their 2014 Calder Cup title Saturday night, raising the championship banner before a sellout crowd of 6,863 at Cedar Park Center. And then they opened their title defense with a 4-2 victory over the Iowa Wild.
“It obviously was a special moment,” Texas forward Justin Dowling said of the banner raising ceremony. “I’ve never won a championship before. I’ve never been part of something like that. I think it was good for the organization and the fans, too.”
Dowling had a goal and an assist in Saturday’s victory over Iowa. Curtis McKenzie, Julius Honka and John Klingberg also scored. Honka and Klingberg notched their first AHL goals and both scored on the power play.
“It’s always awesome to score, but the first goal in this league, it’s good,” said Honka.
Jussi Rynnas got the start in goal for Texas and stopped 20 of 22 shots.
Texas trailed 1-0 after one period but then rattled off three unanswered goals in the second period to take a 3-1 lead. Iowa closed the gap to 3-2, but Klingberg’s goal late in the third sealed the win for Texas, its first under new head coach Derek Laxdal.
“I thought they picked up where they left off last year,” Laxdal said. “The leadership was great. We had good efforts out of the whole team and I was happy with the outcome.”
Quotable: Texas coach Derek Laxdal on rookie defensemen Julius Honka and John Klingberg
“There’s a lot of room for growth there, but they really stepped up. We tried to play them in key situations. Honka scoring a goal and Klingberg scoring a goal was good to see, but that veteran leadership back there with [Maxime] Fortunus, [Derek] Meech and [Cameron] Gaunce, it really makes it easier for those young kids to learn.”
Game one lineup
Curtis McKenzie – Travis Morin – Brett Ritchie
Brendan Ranford – Justin Dowling – Scott Glennie
Kevin Henderson – Radek Faksa – Matej Stransky
Greg Rallo – Taylor Peters – Branden Troock
Cameron Gaunce – John Klingberg
Derek Meech – Julius Honka
Jyrki Jokipakka – Maxime Fortunus
Honka excited about AHL opportunity
When Dallas Stars prospects were playing at the NHL Prospect Tournament last month, defenseman Julius Honka was asked about where he might end up playing this season. At the time, the issue was still up in the air.
“I want to play the highest level I can,” Honka said. “The NHL is my goal, but if I can’t make it I probably want to play in the AHL.”
Well, Honka did end up in the AHL, landing an assignment with the Texas Stars after going through training camp and two preseason games with the Dallas Stars.
“I am really happy about the choice to come here,” Honka said. “I want to play in the NHL some day and it was the best choice to come here. It was our choice together. It is the best place for me to improve and to become a better player.”
The assignment to the AHL surprised many people. The Stars drafted Honka (14th overall) this summer out of Swift Current of the Western Hockey League. Normally, a player drafted out of the WHL, OHL or QMJHL is not allowed to play in the minors full-time before his 20-year-old season. But the 18-year-old Honka wasn’t a normal case. He was on loan from his Finnish team to Swift Current, so technically he wasn’t drafted out of the WHL. The International Ice Hockey Federation ruled he couldn’t return to Swift Current and that left the AHL or a return to Finland.
The decision became easier for the Stars after watching Honka excel at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, where he was one of the best players on the ice. Now, Honka gets a crack at the AHL and he knows it will be a good test.
“It will be a challenge, but I like to play at the higher level this year,” he said. “This is the perfect spot for me to improve and get my game better.”
Honka was the youngest player in the AHL on opening night. The Stars expect some ups and downs, but he is in Texas to develop.
“It will be a challenge for a player his age coming into this league,” said Texas coach Derek Laxdal. “The size of the players, it’s going to be a little heavier game. But he’s got the head to adapt to the structure, the speed of the game. He protects himself well, he’s very agile. I think there are going to be the odd days of two steps forward and one step back. You always want to make sure he is going forward in his game. I think there are sometimes in his game where you are going to have to pull him back a little bit. He’s not a player you want to sit out every night because he is here to develop and if he was in junior or Finland he’d playing full time. That’s part of the development process and he’s a special player. Dallas has a lot of special players down here and it will be up to us to manage them right.”
Here is Texas’ roster to start the season.
Forwards: Justin Dowling, Radek Faksa, Scott Glennie, Kevin Henderson, Derek Hulak, Curtis McKenzie, Travis Morin (A), Taylor Peters, Greg Rallo, Brendan Ranford, Brett Ritchie, Gemel Smith, Matej Stransky, Branden Troock
Defensemen: Maxime Fortunus (C), Cameron Gaunce, Julius Honka, Jyrki Jokipakka, John Klingberg, Derek Meech (A), William Wrenn
Goaltenders: Jack Campbell, Jussi Rynnas
The week ahead
Friday October 17, at Oklahoma City, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday October 18, vs. Utica, 7:00 p.m.
The Idaho Steelheads, Dallas’ ECHL affiliate, opens the regular season this weekend with a home-and-home series against the Utah Grizzlies.