Stars face unfamiliar foe in Calder Cup Finals

Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden celebrate a goal in Game 7. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Justin Dowling and Mike Hedden celebrate a goal in Game 7. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

CEDAR PARK — The Texas Stars have had to do some networking to prepare for the Calder Cup Finals against the St. John’s IceCaps.

Unlike their first three playoff opponents, the Stars haven’t faced the Eastern Conference champion IceCaps this season because of the AHL’s hand-drawn schedule, which didn’t include any interconference opponents.

Adding further mystery, St. John’s – the team farthest east in the AHL, on the island of Newfoundland – didn’t play any Western Conference teams.

“We have no idea going in. You can watch video, but there’s no way to measure it,” Stars coach Willie Desjardins said. “Like against Toronto or Grand Rapids, we could always go back to when we played them, and we know the players. This is totally different, and that’s exciting.”

To prepare for the series, which starts Sunday night at Cedar Park Center, the coaching staff has been working the phones.

Desjardins and assistant coach Doug Lidster have talked to former players who faced St. John’s this season. In addition, General Manager Scott White has conferred with Dallas Stars scouts who have watched games in the Eastern Conference, and Dallas goalie coach Mike Valley has talked to other goalie coaches about the tendencies of St. John’s starter Michael Hutchinson.

“I would expect that in Game 1, neither team’s played each other, so there’ll be some feeling out there,” Lidster said. “Once you get going, I think it’ll build up a little bit of animosity — and it will take a little bit of time to show — but that intensity will be there.”

Texas defenseman Derek Meech played 46 games with St. John’s last season.

“Things change year to year; I played with about 12 of the guys last year. There’s some familiarity there, but they’ve also added a lot of pieces,” Meech said. “It’s a very hardworking group, well-coached. … They’re a group of guys that want to win. It’s going to be a big challenge to start the series off right.”

Desjardins said he’s expecting St. John’s to rely on a hard forecheck and that special teams will be a factor — as they were against Toronto in the Western Conference Finals.

Continue reading this story in the Austin American-Statesman.

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