November 19, 2012

Deep in the Heart of Hockey: Oleksiak making an impact

By Kirk Luedeke

Former Northeastern blueliner Jamie Oleksiak has five points in 13 games for Texas. (Photo: Texas Stars)

Texas Stars vs. Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
November 17, 2012 | Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Stars 1, Checkers 0 (SO)

Goaltender Christopher Nilstorp stopped 22 shots and then denied all but one forward in the shootout to give the Texas Stars a rousing 1-0 victory at home to post his second consecutive whitewash. Stars forward Toby Petersen scored the winning goal in the ninth round on veteran netminder Dan Ellis, who made 30 saves in the loss.

Texas had strong first and second periods of play before Charlotte came on strong in the final frame. Nilstorp had to be sharp, especially in the overtime period, when a dump-in hit a stanchion and bounced out in front to a Charlotte player. Moving one way before the puck went the opposite direction, Nilstorp had to do a full split to make the save.

His counterpart at the other end, veteran Dan Ellis, was also very good for Charlotte. As has been the case this season, however, the Stars were able to get shots through from the outside but unable to consistently have players in front of the net for rebound opportunities.

Petersen scored the decisive shootout goal, but also got help from Matt Fraser, who tallied earlier after Jerome Samson scored for Charlotte.

The Texas penalty killing units were highly effective in shutting down Charlotte’s high-powered attack with the man advantage (0-for-4). Leading scorers Justin Faulk, Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman weren’t able to operate with the limited time and space afforded them. Whenever they did manage to generate scoring chances, Nilstorp proved up to the task.

The Stars will next face the red-hot Oklahoma City Barons scoring machine led by NHL young guns Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

New England connections:

Stars (Dallas Stars AHL affiliate)

- Jamie Oleksiak, D: Spent one season at Northeastern University before the Dallas Stars made him their top pick in 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Game observations: Oleksiak has a natural aggressiveness to go on offense that should play very well for him as he gains experience in pro hockey. In talking to Texas coach Willie Desjardins previously about the 2011 first-rounder’s development, he said he’d rather have a player like Oleksiak take chances and make mistakes but learn from them, than have someone who plays it safe all the time. Once again, Oleksiak wanted to make a difference at both ends of the ice against Charlotte and even though it didn’t show up in the box score, he played another effective game.

Stars Notes: Texas leading scorer Cody Eakin appeared to be injured when he took a shot off the hip late in the first period. He attempted to skate in the second period, but left after his first shift and did not return. Desjardins said that x-rays were negative, but did not have a prognosis for Eakin after the game.

At 34 years old, NHL journeyman Toby Petersen is the team’s senior citizen, but he still has the explosive jump and speed to make a difference at both ends of the ice. More of a defensive forward in the twilight of a pro career that has spanned almost 400 NHL games with three different teams after four years at Colorado College. Petersen beat Ellis cleanly with his shot during the shootout.

Prior to last Sunday, Nilstorp had a .870 save percentage. In three wins over Houston, San Antonio and Charlotte (with two shutouts), the 28-year-old Swede -- who spent the last two seasons with Farjestads in his country’s top pro league -- is now stopping pucks at a .901 clip.

Saturday night was the Stars’ fourth annual Teddy Bear Toss for Charity at the Cedar Park Center. Of course, the Stars needed to score a goal for folks to send the fuzzy, multi-colored bundles of stuffed animal joy to the ice. Stars fans had to wait 65 minutes plus the extra shootout rounds until Petersen’s strike gave them the green (red?) light to hurl. The collected toys went to Operation Blue Santa and the Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade by the Stars and The Parking Spot.

The post-mortem

Texas Stars Head Coach Willie Desjardins

On his team’s strong performance against a top AHL team:

“We played a real good second period. I thought that was the best period we played all year. Charlotte’s got a good team that can really skate. I thought from the second period on our guys played real hard.”

On how effective Texas has been in two games against Charlotte:

“I think we’re a similar team. I think we both play a similar style and I think they weren’t quite prepared and then in the third period they turned it on. They’ve got lots of talent and as I said I think it was a good game to watch.”

On what happened in the third to turn momentum for Charlotte:

“I think they have a real mobile (defense). We put good pressure on them in the first and second period on their ‘D’ and in the third we sat back a little bit and you can’t sit back.”

On what he told the Stars to keep the momentum going:

“I think Nilstorp’s been so good. That’s been a big difference and the penalty killing, too. Those two are probably the biggest difference- we played pretty hard before and just didn’t get rewarded. Now, we’ve finally started to get some wins and that’s what we should be doing. That doesn’t mean we should change- we’ve got some tough games coming up.”

Texas Stars F Toby Petersen

On how big a win it was:

“That’s a very good team we went up against there. We had some momentum coming from the last couple of efforts. We went out there trying to set the pace as much as we could and I thought we did a good job with that in the second period. We knew they were going to come hard in the third and they did just that- we feel fortunate to get two points.”

On the Charlotte Checkers bringing out the best in Texas when they play each other:

“They’re a good team- I don’t know what it is, but we definitely bring out game up. We play them very well; we’ve only played them twice but we’ve played very well against these guys. We’re looking forward to keeping it rolling.”

On the penalty killing units’ continued success:

“Obviously we’re not trying to take penalties but when we do, we (have) to kill them. That’s something we struggled with when our team was struggling- giving up too many power plays. But we’ve done a better job and cleaned some things up on the penalty kill.”

On scoring the winner in the shootout and what Dan Ellis gave him:

“He didn’t give me much. I went in there with the idea of ‘just shoot it.’ The ice was bad out there- you see a couple of guys getting a little tight. I played with Dan before- he’s very quick goalie, he’s got good reflexes and I didn’t want to get too tight on him because I knew he’d probably stone me, so my idea was just going in and shoot, try to find something and got lucky.”

On the “thunder storm” of teddy bears hitting the ice after the winning shot:

“It’s ironic that the day we’re supposed to score to get the teddy bears on the ice we couldn’t do it in regulation but it all worked out and it’s a great cause and it was fun to see all the teddy bears coming.”

Texas G Christopher Nilstorp

On whether the puck is looking pretty big to him:

“Yeah. It was a good a feeling out there. I think the whole team played unbelievable, too. So, it’s a good win.”

On heavy volume of shots in the third period:

“Yeah, but I think we played good in the defense zone. I could see the puck all the way and the ‘D’ and the forwards did a great job in front of me. I think we played good as a team in the third period as well.”

On opposition crease traffic:

“Sometimes it’s a hard battle out there today and it’s fun to play, though.”

On whether Ellis’ strong play served as motivation:

“I try to have my own focus and try to do what I’m supposed to do out there.”

On the strong play of the Texas defense:

“I think we have more confidence in the group. We trust each other and I think that is why we played so good now because we got this confidence and trusting each other.”

On the smaller ice surface in North America and how he plays the position differently:

“I think this is a whole new game for me. It’s faster- the guys shoot good here, really good. And it’s a challenge every day to come on the ice and I try to do my best every day so it’s fun to be here, fun to play.”

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @kluedeke29.