Usually in late May/early June, the focus is on the start of summer to most Texans. Graduations, vacations, dealing with the kids being home, and the impending heat is the focus. But for a dedicated group of hockey fans in central Texas, our eyes are on one thing - The Calder Cup.
For the second time in this teams five years of calling Cedar Park home, the Stars are back in the finals fighting for the top prize in the AHL. In the teams last trip in 2010 they were very much the underdogs that fell to the mighty Hershey Bears in 6 games. But this year it's different. After a franchise record setting year, our Stars are on fire.
While not a sell out tonight (likely due to graduations this weekend), 5,625 fans packed the Cedar Park Center - including a surprising number of Ice Caps fans. There was plenty of tailgating, a tradition that's usually reserved mostly for Texas' unofficial religion of football. Even the Dallas Stars truck and trailer made the trip down to Austin. The atmosphere was electric - this fan base knows something big is going on. And those of us wearing Victory Green know that this success translates well to the future of the big team in Dallas
The game was dominated by the Stars from the drop of the puck. On an early power play; Scott Glennie would set up Travis Morin with a beautiful cross, and Morin would bury his shot past St.Johns' netminder Michael Hutchinson. On the other end of the ice, it would take a full 14 minutes for the Jets affiliated team to get their first shot on goal.
The scoring opened up in the second period, but the ice would remain tilted. The caps would tie the game 2 minutes in to the period from the stick of Will O'Neill. However, with momentum seemingly swinging neutral or back to the IceCaps, Chris Mueller would fly in from the neutral zone and fire a top-shelf seeking missile high over Hutchinsons glove to make it 2-1. By the end of the second it would be 4-1 with goals from Scott Glennie and a shorthander from Travis Morin (his 2nd of the night).
In the third, the caps again would quickly cut into the Stars lead. About halfway through the period, Chris Mueller would whiff on a crossing pass. Rather than get frustrated, Mueller did what any good hockey player does - follow the puck. Regaining the puck in the corner with the stadium full of groans from fans expecting the goal off the cross, Mueller hooked up with Dustin Jeffrey who would a crashing Scott Glennie whoand would score the Stars 5th goal of the night. The caps would cut into the lead a minute later, but it would be a case of too little too late. Mike Hedden would bury an empty net goal to finish game one with the final of 6-3.
In the end, Cristopher Nilstorp was solid stopping 26 of 29 shots with the fans behind him chanting his name numerous times. Michael Hutchinson, with Stars fans chanting his name for completely different reasons, would finish the night stopping 17 of 22. In a classic case of "the box score doesn't tell the whole story", Texas was outshot in the end but clearly generated the better scoring chances and capitalized. The Stars gave the caps the man advantage 4 times, but killed all. Meanwhile, the home team would finish the night 1 for 2 on the power play.
A quick turnaround as game two is Monday night June 9th at 7:30 pm. Stars look to take a 2-0 advantage up to St.Johns. If the Stars can keep their noses clean, stay out of the box, and play their game - they look poised to do so.