Monday, December 7, 2009

Texas Stars on the Rise in the AHL

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season (I'm late this week - sorry). The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Texas Stars.

Texas Stars on the Rise in AHL

Hockey fans that do not follow the American Hockey League on a regular basis may be surprised to learn that one of the hottest teams in the league is the Texas Stars. Currently on a 3 game win streak and 7-3 record in their last ten games, the Stars are 18-5-2-2 (W/L/OTL/SOL) on the season. They are first in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Rochester Americans and they lead the West Division, nine points ahead of the second place Rockford IceHogs.

There is no doubt the NHL has struggled to gain a foothold in the southern United States but the one success story has to be in Texas. The Dallas Stars have a strong following in the state and hockey fans are turning out to see their AHL affiliate as well. Through 12 home dates, an average of 5,132 fans has attended the Stars games in the 6,800 seat Cedar Park Center in the suburb of Austin Texas.

While Hershey has the best attendance in the league, with an average of 8,949 fans per game, the Stars are well above the league average of 4,483. In the hockey mad Toronto market, the Marlies find themselves 28th in the 29-team league with 3,046 fans watching the Maple Leaf affiliate.

With a very real chance of competing for the Calder Cup in the spring, the Stars are getting it done at both ends of the ice. They are 12th in the league on the power play, 3rd in the league on the penalty kill and they have allowed the fewest goals of any team in the AHL.

Leading the way in nets are goaltenders Brent Krahn and Matt Climie. A former member of the Calgary Hitmen and Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, Krahn was selected ninth overall in the 2000 entry draft by the Flames. The native of Winnipeg Manitoba is in his seventh season of pro hockey in the ECHL and AHL and made his NHL debut last season, playing in one period for the Dallas Stars against the Chicago Blackhawks. In his 12 appearances this season for Texas, he is 10-2-0 and leads the league with a 1.41 goals against average and a .958 save percentage.

Climie’s numbers are equally impressive; he is 7-5-2 with a 1.97 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. The Leduc Alberta native is in his second full season in the AHL and played four years in the NCAA with Bemidji State. Last season, he made three starts in Dallas with the big club, going 2-1 with a 2.92 goals against average. Combined, the Texas goaltending duo of Climie and Krahn has five shutouts this season.

Helping the goaltenders is a good group of defensemen, led by hockey veteran Brad Lukowich and his 640 games of experience in the NHL. In 21 games this season, Lukowich has 1 goal and 11 assists and is a +4. Helping out on defence is Stars prospect and recent call-up Ivan Vishnevskiy, a first round pick, 27th overall in the 2006 entry draft. From Barnaul Russia, Vishnevskiy spent three seasons in the QMJHL playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies before entering the AHL. Another Dallas prospect having a great start to the season with the Texas Stars is La Prairie Quebec native Maxime Fortunus. After four seasons playing for the Manitoba Moose, Fortunus is in his first year in the Lone Star state and he has 4 goals and 4 assists in 26 games.

The Stars have no forwards in the top 20 in AHL scoring and yet they are 10th in the league in goals scored with 77 this season. Aaron Gagnon and Perrtu Lindgren are tied for the team lead with 17 points each and Greg Rallo leads the team with 10 goals. The Stars are also getting help from two AHL rookies - Colton Sceviour and Sergei Korostin. Sceviour, a 4th round pick in the 2007 entry draft has taken a regular shift in his first 27 games and has 4 goals and 10 assists to rank 21st in rookie scoring; he is also a +14. Lindgren is right behind his teammate in the scoring department with 9 goals and 4 assists and is a +9 in 26 games.

Head Coach Glen Gulutzan and GM Scott White have their team firing on all cylinders as the Texas Stars play their inaugural season. Landon Wilson, a first round draft pick of the Maple Leafs in 1993, is providing tremendous veteran leadership as team captain and the Stars should continue to shine in the American Hockey League and be in the hunt for first in the Western Conference when the season ends. It may be hard to believe for Canadian hockey fans but the residents of Texas love their hockey teams and they are proving it at the gate, unlike the Marlies in hockey-mad Toronto.

Next week's team - the Worcester Sharks... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by winkydo on Flickr

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