Morning Skate: Texas Stars used break to heal up for 3-in-3

The Texas Stars are entering this weekend’s 3-in-3 as the healthiest team they’ve been since early November.

It appears an AHL-mandated four-day break for Christmas did the trick for the Stars, who visit the San Antonio Rampage this evening.

“It was good for us to get away as a team with all the sickness and injuries,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “It was good to see the guys not hacking and coughing … it’s good to have a healthy lineup where we have an idea of where guys are going to be going.”

That’s a big sigh of relief for Laxdal, who only dressed 11 forwards the last two games against the Toronto Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs.

Justin Dowling is expected to center the top line between Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie, while Jesse Root continues his ascension up the depth chart and will center Brendan Ranford and Scott Glennie.

Radek Faksa will center Kevin Henderson and Greg Rallo on the third line, creating a “heavier” group that will be asked to shut down San Antonio’s top offensive unit. Gemel Smith will center the fourth line between Derek Hulak and Matej Stransky.

Texas had nine defensemen on the ice Friday morning including Mike Dalhuisen, who was called up from the Idaho Steelheads to provide added depth with Julius Honka at the 2015 World Junior Championships.

Jamie Oleksiak will play his second AHL game of the season, but could be on his way to Dallas after the game to join the NHL club.

“We’ve got Oleksiak down here and you never know (when he’s going up),” Laxdal said. “So we have to prepare ourselves for three games in three nights … we want to make sure we have enough bodies to get through the weekend.”

Oleksiak was working with Maxime Fortunus in morning skate, while Derek Meech was paired with Cameron Gaunce. Matt Mangene and Scott Valentine will make up the third pairing, while Laxdal said Mangene will get some time on the power play.

Laxdal said Jussi Rynnas will start in goal. The rest of the starts this weekend are “still to be determined.”

Tonight’s projected lineup:

McKenzie-Dowling-Ritchie
Ranford-Root-Glennie
Henderson-Faksa-Rallo
Hulak-Smith-Stransky

Meech-Gaunce
Oleksiak-Fortunus
Valentine-Mangene

Rynnas

— Forwards Taylor Stefishen and Branden Troock are both out and battling injury. Stefishen skated in a red no-contact jersey by himself Friday and Laxdal said Troock is day-to-day.

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