Saturday’s Stars season finale against the San Antonio Rampage mirrored the rollercoaster season.
It got off to a slow start in the opening frame and, despite a gritty goal in the second, didn’t get much better over the second 20 minutes. Texas rallied to tie the game early in the third period, but the team’s lake of depth and inexperience led them to a 6-3 loss.
The Stars finished the year at 34-37-1-4 and 73 points, the second-worst mark since the team came to Cedar Park in 2009. Texas misses out on the playoffs for the second time in eight seasons and head coach Derek Laxdal won’t coach in the postseason after a full year behind the bench for the first time in his 15-year career.
“The power play wasn’t great, the penalty kill was really bad,” Laxdal said. “That was kind of the difference in the game. It shows the areas we have to improve on next year to be a playoff team. It was a tough game. It’s tough to get up when the guys know the season is done.”
Matej Stransky scored early in the second period for his team-best and career-high 27th goal of the year. Remi Elie scored early in the third period and Dillon Heatherington netted the game-tying-goal less than 30 seconds later. Justin Peters made 17 saves.
The two I-35 rivals met 14 times this season, with the Stars winning nine times. Texas beat San Antonio 4-3 in the first of the three-game season-ending series a home Wednesday night and topped the Rampage 1-0 on the road Friday night.
“It’s not always easy,but at the same time we’re professional athletes and you’ve got to get it done,” Forward Brandon DeFazio said. “We did a good job. We worked hard and showed up prepared. That was the biggest thing to take away form the last three games.”
San Antonio scored less than three minutes into the game and added a second goal on the power play midway through the frame.
Stransky scored on a rebound early in the second period to cut the lead in half. But Gemel Smith shoves San Antonio goalie Spencer Martin and set off a chain reaction of tension between the rivals.
Every player on the ice started tussling, including Peters, who skated from his position on the other side of the rink looking for Martin. The two team combined for 12 penalties and 24 penalty minutes, including a pari for Peters for leaving the crease.
It’s pretty funny to see Peters come flying down,” DeFazio said. “He’s been a fantastic teammate since he came in and he really helped us out. To see him do that stuff in a game that essentially means nothing is a good sign of his character.”
Good things come to those who wait, and Elie took advantage of a patient Stars possession with 15 minutes left in the third period when his shot found the net right after a power play make it 3-2.
Heatherington tied the game 28 seconds after that when his shot from the blue line found the bottom corner with DeFazio screening the Rampage goalie.
San Antonio scored its fourth goal with a snipe from the slot with under 10 minutes left. The Rampage extended their lead when they picked out a player in front of the net and sealed the deal with an empty-netter in final minutes.
“We had a lot of ups and downs,” DeFazio said. “It’s not the season we would’ve liked to have had. There are many excuses, but we take it personally. A lot of guys made a lot of strides and organizational depth going up (to the NHL) and showing they can play.”
Many of the players that spent the year with the Stars will be gone next year. Some will be called up to the NHL full time, other will be straight up released and some younger player will go back to junior hockey or the ECHL.
Laxdal, who had his contract renewed for next season last week, has the familiar job of building a new group, managing long and old players, and finding an identity going forward. But many of the familiar faces that had big contributions will be mobbing on or moving up.
“(Gemel Smith) finished the season well, especially for Dallas,” Laxdal said. “Remi Elie really opened the team’s eyes. Jason Dickinson is really starting to get his strength back. Julius Honka is gone and we probably won’t see him back in the AHL. The future of the Dallas Stars is bright with some of those prospects.”