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Young Guns Pitching In

by Erin Chenderlin / Dallas Stars

As the Stars battle their way back into playoff contention, a few young players have stepped up and shown they can hang with the big boys.

Left wing James Neal, tied for first among all rookies with 13 goals, has played a significant role in Dallas’ recent resurgence, including scoring the game-winning shootout goal against Vancouver in the fifth round on Jan. 4. It was his first career shootout attempt. His assist on Mike Modano’s goal was his eighth point (six goals, two assists) in the previous eight games. The Stars are 5-2-1 in that span.

 “Anything you can do to help the team is great,” Neal said. “We’re starting to put some wins together and points are so big right now. The team is starting to turn around and play some good hockey.”

“He’s coming to play every night, and that’s a hard thing to do,” Modano said of his 21-year-old linemate. “He’s working hard and he’s had a great start. He’s given us an area of our game that we haven’t had in a long time.”

Another young gun coming into his own is Loui Eriksson. The 23-year-old left winger leads Dallas with 20 goals, already surpassing his career-high of 14 he set last year. And he’s not even halfway through the season. Eriksson recorded an assist in the Vancouver game and scored in the shootout.

“He’s confident in what he’s doing out there, he plays in all situations, and he’s just a very good player,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s maturing and you’re seeing the results on the ice.”

Tippett also said getting to play alongside center Brad Richards has helped Eriksson’s game. The two have shown obvious chemistry, combining for 22 points in the last nine games. Eriksson had eight goals and one assist, including his first career hat trick Dec. 18 vs. Columbus. Richards assisted on all three of Eriksson’s goals in the hat trick and even added his own, for a four-point night. He has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in the past nine games.

Richards said Eriksson’s style of play meshes with his perfectly, playing close to one another on the line and reading each other for give-and-go’s and two-on-one opportunities.

“I like to try and find people, and he’s been going to hard areas and tough areas,” Richards said of his linemate. “He’s chasing down pucks all the time. I like how he plays both defensively and offensively.”

Vancouver Game Earned ‘Two Huge Points’

After a disheartening 4-1 loss in Edmonton on Jan. 3, the Stars planned on heading out directly after the game and making the hour-and-a-half flight to Vancouver for the second half of their back-to-back trip. Due to mechanical and weather issues, however, the team got stuck in Edmonton overnight, and didn’t arrive in Vancouver until noon, just seven hours before puck drop. 

After surrendering two goals in the first period, including one less than three minutes into the game, the Stars could have hung their heads and been in for a night much like the one they had experienced 24 hours earlier. Momentum seemed to swing, however, as Modano netted a goal with 10 seconds remaining in the period to cut the Canucks lead in half. Mike Ribeiro tied the game on a rare road power-play goal about mid-way through the second, and the score remained knotted until James Neal scored the game-deciding goal in the shootout.

“It’s a big bounce back. We managed to climb back in the game and had a good finish, winning in the shootout, so it was a good game and a great town to play in,” Modano said.

Despite the flight delays, chilling winter weather and the rare snow-in in Vancouver, the trip ended on a high note as the team was able to bring home two-much needed points.

 “They were big points because I didn’t feel like we played well enough against Edmonton, and right now every point is so desperate for us,” Tippett said. “To come back and get some points out of it was actually a huge two points for us. We’re right in the mix and right now we’re a couple points out. We’ve got some big games left before the All-Star break, so we’ve got to keep pushing forward.”

The Stars head to Detroit to face the Red Wings on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. (My27) and then take on the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday at 8 p.m. (FSN) to complete their four-game road trip.
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