Everyone you look in the Iowa Stars' dressing room, you see the slogan, "". Each member of the team wears a cap that bears that inscription, and on a large poster in the dressing room, each player's signature is scrawled within a large circle.
Those signatures and that circle are, to a man, how the Iowa Stars feel they are going to bounce back from last night's disappointing Game One to the Chicago Wolves in the AHL West Division Finals.
"We were looking for something to call our own to give us focus for this playoff run," said goaltender Dan Ellis. "'' means everyone getting on the same ship, going forward and focusing on our tasks at hand. We all signed what amounts to a contract, and you only signed it if you were going to withhold the elements of the contract. Once you signed that circle, you are held accountable. If you step out of the circle and don't abide by what you signed, you have to answer for it."
The three main elements to the contract that each player signed are: 1) team defense leading to offense, 2) establishing territory, and 3) physical play.
"We were trying to build a team after all the player movement and injuries we overcame this season," said Iowa Head Coach Dave Allison. "Once we had our core group of guys, we all felt it was important to understand what we are buying into and the price you have to pay to succeed. That signature means you will honor that contract and we hold our guys accountable to those standards."
Last night's loss made some players question whether or not they lived up to the standards set forth by their signatures, but they also feel that those concepts are their quickest way to get back into this series.
"Some guys might have gone outside of the circle last night, but using that slogan, we are going to regroup and work together tomorrow night," said Francis Wathier. "Everyone has their own particular role, and that encourages us to do our job every night with no excuses. We are going to win as a team and we are going to lose as a team, and that keeps us together."
"To me, '' means working together, sharing together and winning together," said Konstantin Pushkarev. "We work for each other and help each other, and we act as a team, all working toward the same goal. Last night didn't go the way we wanted, but we are going to stick together and staying within that circle."
Wilford C's Stars Through: At 30 years of age, defenseman Marty Wilford is a virtual grandfather to the Iowa Stars, where the rest of the active roster was born in the 1980's. The native of Cobourg, Ontario, serves as Iowa's captain and has played in enough minor league cities that his next job should be as a consultant to MapsCo.
Before this season with Iowa, his career has seen him wear the sweaters of (deep breath!...): the Columbus Chill, Indianapolis Ice, Cleveland Lumberjacks, Kentucky Thoroughblades, Houston Aeros, Norfolk Admirals, St. John's Maple Leafs, Milwaukee Admirals, Hartford Wolfpack and Manchester Monarchs.
"I've certainly made a handful of stops in my career and this is definitely one of my favorite teams that I've been a part of," said the captain, who was second among Stars defensemen in scoring this season. "We have built a special bond together and battled through so much to make the playoffs. I have been telling the guys that a playoff run like this doesn't happen every year, so they need to enjoy the ride. There are some great young guys in this group and we've enjoyed living and playing together in Des Moines this season."
|Head Coach Dave Allison leads practice Thursday |
Eye on the Big Apple: After returning to Iowa for the AHL Playoffs after a successful debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with Dallas, Joel Lundqvist is leading Iowa in both goals (3) and points (6), and is centering Iowa's top line, flanked by wingers Loui Eriksson and Konstantin Pushkarev. Lundqvist is also paying close to attention to the New York Rangers' playoff run, where his identical twin brother, Henrik, has backstopped the Big Apple into the second round.
"I'm definitely following things really closely with the Rangers," said Joel. "I spoke to Henrik a couple days ago and he is feeling good and playing well. This is an exciting run they are on, so hopefully they can keep this going."
Henrik's Rangers swept the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round of the playoffs, and after dropping Games One and Two to Buffalo to start the second round, were able to win both games at Madison Square Garden to even the series.
"I was definitely holding my breath on that diving save he made late in Game Four," laughed Joel of his brother's stop on Daniel Briere with just 17 seconds left in a 2-1 game that had to be reviewed by NHL officials in Toronto. "I's been a fun year for both of us and I will definitely be watching Game Five tonight."
"I am rooming with Joel here in Chicago, so you can bet that our TV will be on the Rangers game tonight," said Eriksson. "It's really exciting to see his brother play well and have so much success, so we'll be cheering for him."
Swede Emotion: The Dallas Stars' dressing room has echoed from the soothing sounds of the Finnish language the last few seasons. In stark contrast, the Iowa Stars could virtually pass for Team Sweden, with four native Swedes on the roster, as well as two other Europeans who honed their games in the Nordic nation and speak the language fluently.
Blueliner Niklas Grossman and right wing Yared Hagos hail from Sweden's capital city, Stockholm, while left wing Loui Eriksson and center Joel Lundqvist are from the Goteborg area. Janos Vas was born in Hungary, but honed his game in Sweden from a young age.
"I like having the Star on my chest, but there certainly are a lot of Swedes around here and I think we'd look good in Sweden's colors," Grossman said, within earshot of Hagos.
"Start making up the jerseys right now," joked Hagos. "We win every major tournament anyway, we can't help but bring home gold every time, so let's get that done around here."
"There's no way I am wearing that," said Marius Holtet, who hails from Hamar, Norway, but played his junior hockey and met his fiance in Sweden. "The thought of those bright yellow jerseys is almost sickening. Norwegian red and blue is a much better combination, right?"