CEDAR PARK – Back in 2010, Derek Hulak decided he wasn’t ready for professional hockey.
The Saskatoon native was 21 games into a rookie season with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League and had 14 points, but decided to go back to school and enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan.
“Getting you’re post-secondary education paid for while you’re playing high-level hockey is an amazing experience,” Hulak said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it was not for that. I was not ready to step into the pro game … Canadian college is kind of a hidden gem.”
After completing his degree, Hulak joined the Stars on a professional tryout contract late last season and then signed a standard AHL contract before this season.
That extra time has paid off.
Hulak, now 25, has 20 points in 32 games with the Stars this season and extended his team-best point streak to six games when he assisted on Brendan Ranford’s power play goal in the second period.
He also added a second assist in the third period, pushing his point total to nine (two goals, 7 assists) since his point streak started on Dec. 28.
Despite his two-point night, Texas fell 4-3 in overtime.
Hulak was also on the ice for Jyrki Jokipakka’s power play goal, which gave the Stars a 3-2 lead in the third period. That almost stood up as the game-winning goal, but Toronto forced overtime on Matt Frattin’s goal with 2:08 remaining.
Toronto built off that momentum in overtime and Stuart Percy scored the game-winning goal on a breakaway with 3:44 left in sudden death.
“The puck was bouncing a lot throughout and just couldn’t settle down,” Ranford said. “It was tough, we got the one point. We’ve just got to work on our overtime.”
Versatility has been the key to Hulak’s success.
The 25-year-old isn’t a prototypical rookie and Stars coach Derek Laxdal has used the forward on all four lines. He’s also been a key cog on the power play and penalty kill.
Jack Campbell made the surprise start in goal Saturday and was tested early.
The 23-year-old goalie was expected to back-up Jussi Rynnas and put in extra work with goalie coach Andy Moog on Saturday morning. However, Campbell got the start while Rynnas backed up.
There was no reason given for the change before the game, but Rynnas was favoring his left hand during pre-game warm-ups and didn’t take the normal allotment of shots.
After the game Laxdal said Rynnas took a shot of the hand at practice and had to miss the start.
“Toronto came out with a lot of energy,” Laxdal said. “Jack was outstanding and kept up us in the game early … at the end of the day it’s a big point when it didn’t look like we where going to get any early in the game.”
Campbell looked sharp early and Texas needed the stops when Toronto had a lengthy power play opportunity in the first period.
Texas was on the penalty kill for three minutes, including a minute of 5-on-3 hockey, but Campbell stopped all five shots, including a sharp pad save sliding to his left.
The Marlies outshot the Stars 13-6 in the first period and eventually beat Campbell with 4:41 left in the opening stanza when defenseman Petter Granberg was left wide open near the right face-off dot.
This story was originally published in the Austin American-Statesman.