When the Texas Stars fly to Chicago on Thursday for their first-round playoff series, defenseman Kevin Connauton is hoping to collect some personal belongings.
“We fly into (Chicago) O’Hare, so I’m going to see if I can try and make a quick pit stop at my old place, get some things together, maybe clean the fridge out,” Connauton said. “I had to do a little bit of shopping too for clothes to survive during the next couple months.”
That fridge hasn’t been opened since April 1, when Connauton was a member of the Chicago Wolves and preparing to leave for a trip to San Antonio for an April 2 game against the Rampage. One day later — already in San Antonio — he was traded to the Stars and never got a chance to clean out his Chicago apartment.
The trade forced him to live out of his travel bag before making a couple of shopping trips, but Connauton has quickly transitioned into one of the Stars’ top six defenseman along with fellow trade-deadline arrival Cameron Gaunce, who arrived from Lake Erie.
“It was a little difficult at first, getting used to the new guys and new system,” Connauton said. “But me and Gaunce figured things out pretty quickly and we’re just working on getting familiar with the new environment. It’s been a good fit so far.”
Gaunce and Connauton were paired together for the Stars’ final nine regular-season games, combining for 11 points and a plus-9 rating, including a combined five points in an 8-2 win against San Antonio that helped Texas clinch its first South Division title in franchise history.
Both Chicago and Lake Erie missed the playoffs. For both players, joining the Stars — who are the No. 1 seed in the Calder Cup playoffs, entering Friday’s playoff opener against the Milwaukee Admirals — was a natural fit.
“I think we complement each other well. He’s very skilled offensively and I think I tend to go toward the defensive side of the game a little bit more,” Gaunce said. “He’s a very good skater and he likes to skate the puck. I feel like because of my tendencies I tend to stay back a little bit more for him.”
Since they’ve joined the team, Gaunce and Connauton have been the only defensive pairing that has remained consistent. With 10 defensemen on the roster, coach Willie Desjardins has tried multiple combinations and rested some veterans, but plans to stick with one core group in the playoffs.
“I like having a group of guys I go with. I think it’s important that guys know they’re counted on to do a job, and that may mean a group of seven, not necessarily six, but it’s not a big group,” Desjardins said.
Having Gaunce and Connauton in that group could be even more of an advantage for the Stars against Milwaukee than just their recent play. Texas hasn’t played Milwaukee since early December, but Connauton and Gaunce both played against the Admirals 14 times this season before being traded.
“In Lake Erie, we played them once or twice in their last 20 games when they’ve been really hot,” Gaunce said. “We might have given them their last two losses; I do know we were 4-0 against them.”
TEXAS STARS VS. MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS
Game 1, 7 p.m. Friday, Milwaukee