This hockey season, a coaching change in Dallas will trickle down Interstate 35 before pulling up outside H-E-B Center in Cedar Park.
In April, the Dallas Stars named Ken Hitchcock as their head coach for a second time, meaning Hitchcock’s emphasis on puck possession and sound defensive play also will be favored by the Texas Stars, the AHL affiliate of Hitchcock’s NHL club.
“Basically, the message we have is we can play any system we want down here,” said Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal on Monday, “but we will try to play as close to Dallas (in style) as we can. We’ll have a couple tweaks here and there.”
Those tweaks likely will be tied to available personnel. The Texas Stars may use a slightly different power play and penalty kill set-up, and face-offs also might have a slightly different look than those involving the NHL club.
“We don’t have the five guys down here who we can put on the power play like they do (in Dallas),” said Laxdal, whose club will open the AHL regular season on Oct. 6 with a home game against Chicago. “So we still have to play to our strengths.”
That’s OK with Hitchcock, as long as the terminology and communication mimic what’s happening with the NHL club he’s directing.
“It makes it a lot easier for anybody who gets called up,” Laxdal said, “that the transition and the terminology are all the same. We’re going to make sure of that.”
And that’s why it’s been so important to involve the Texas Stars coaching staff in the NHL club’s training camp, which wrapped a four-day stay at the H-E-B Center on Monday. Laxdal and his assistant Karl Taylor were part of both on-ice practices and meetings with players.
“I want to work with all my (minor-league) coaches,” Hitchcock said. “They have a tough job here. They have to get guys read for us, but (they) also want to win. So you want to make sure they are part of your plans early on.”
Laxdal and Taylor will essentially be part of the NHL club’s staff for the remainder of this week as training camp heads north to the Stars practice facility in Frisco. This weekend, the two coaches will return to Cedar Park, likely after the NHL team starts making cuts and begins to officially assign players to its AHL affiliate.
The four-day camp in Cedar Park was a bit of a crash course for both players and coaches regarding Hitchcock’s expectations. Hitchcock, who won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, preaches attention to detail and pushes up-tempo practices that match game speed.
“You’re not going to get a break in a game so why get a break in practice? That makes sense,” said Jason Dickinson, a center who played in both the NHL and AHL last season. “Right away, he kind of set the tone. I think that’s good, and as players we know what to expect.”
After a busy offseason, there will be high expectations in Dallas. The Stars, who will open the regular season at home against Las Vegas, revamped their roster with a flurry of moves, and according to Bovada, they rate the third-best odds to win the Stanley Cup this season.
And what’s good for the NHL team also should be good for the AHL affiliate.
Because of the addition of various players to Dallas’ roster, more players with NHL experience will start the season in the AHL. That group likely will include Dickinson and forwards Justin Dowling and Gemel Smith.As he watched the recent training camp workout, Laxdal said he was excited to think about putting together the Texas Stars roster later this month.
“From what I’ve seen from some of the guys, we are to be a team that plays with pace,” Laxdal said. “We didn’t have enough pace last year, but from the guys that I’ve seen, we’re going to have more depth up and down the lineup.
“It’s taking what we have and piecing it all together after Dallas’ training camp.”