Texas Stars blank Charlotte on big night for Derek Hulak

Derek Hulak wears a sticker for collegiate teammate Cody "Marty" Smuk during the Stars 4-0 win against Charlotte.

Derek Hulak wears a sticker for collegiate teammate Cody “Marty” Smuk during the Stars 4-0 win against Charlotte.

CEDAR PARK — Derek Hulak made a pair of statements in the Texas Stars’ 4-0 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday at Cedar Park Center.

He scored a pair of goals that easily drew the crowd’s attention as he celebrated a home goal for the first time this season — the rookie’s first nine goals had come on the road.

The other statement was far more subtle but meant more to the 25-year-old from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

On the left side of Hulak’s helmet, about ear high and undetectable to the announced crowd of 5,268, there was a circular white sticker with the number 24 and the words “Marty’s Men.”

The sticker was an homage to Hulak’s teammate at the University of Saskatchewan, Cody “Marty” Smuk, who is battling cancer. Earlier this week, members of the university’s team wore the stickers on their helmets against the University of Alberta and collected donations to help pay for Smuk’s treatment.

“That was obviously a big confidence boost,” Hulak said about the sticker. “I played four years of University with him (Smuk). Grew up on the same street as him and played all my minor hockey with him. He’s my age and it really just puts things into perspective.”

Hulak had wanted to wear the sticker in Thursday’s game against the San Antonio Rampage, but he didn’t hear back in time from the American Hockey League on whether it would be allowed.

On Saturday he got his sticker and he got his goals as Texas substantially outplayed Charlotte, firing 50 shots at goalie Drew MacIntyre, who kept his team in the game for most of the night.

Hulak’s first goal broke MacIntyre’s air of perfection after the goalie had stopped the first 16 shots he faced in the opening period. Hulak was able to establish position in front of MacIntyre’s crease and tipped home a blast by Greg Rallo from above the right faceoff dot.

“It was huge,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “For us, just to get that first goal and get that momentum and confidence in the building … for this home stand we now have seven out of eight points and that’s the direction we need to be going.”

Two periods later, Hulak gave Texas a 3-0 lead and eliminated any threat of a comeback.

Jussi Rynnas stops a penalty shot by Alex Aleardi  in the first period. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Jussi Rynnas stops a penalty shot by Alex Aleardi in the first period. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Hulak’s goals and tallies by Derek Meech and Branden Troock were more than enough for Stars goalie Jussi Rynnas, who stopped 34 shots for his third shutout of the season.

Rynnas had a couple of shaky moments and didn’t control rebounds terribly well, but he regrouped when he needed to and stopped a pair of penalty shots.

This story was originally published in the Austin American-Statesman.

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