Texas Stars have better attendance than Hamilton Bulldogs

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Last season, the Dallas Stars operated without an AHL affiliate while
waiting a year for their new, local affiliate to get up and running.
The Texas Stars, based out of Austin, kicked off their inaugural season
in September, 2009 and instantly became a hit with the locals.

What’s
that? Yes, you read that right; AHL hockey was a success in Austin,
Texas.

It’s not exactly your traditional hockey crowd (there’s
just as many Texas Longhorns hats as there are Stars hats) but the fans
that do come to the game are enthusiastic, loud and knowledgeable about
the game of hockey.

One reason the team has been so successful in
just their first season has been their success on the ice; the Stars
have been at or near the top of their division all season long. Yet the
Stars also had an extremely high number of preseason ticket sales.
showing that the sport of hockey is viable in such a ‘non-traditional’
locale as Austin, Texas.

With the Stars facing the Hamilton
Bulldogs this past week in the AHL conference finals, we’ve also been
shown that perhaps all the talk about Canada needing another hockey team
is perhaps a bit premature.

With Jim Balsillie hoping to buy the
Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ontario last summer, the
internet erupted in arguments on how a town like Hamilton ‘deserved’ a
NHL team more than Phoenix and would certainly be a better financial
option. Despite another NHL team being in the area, we were assured that
fans in the area would flock to see an NHL team.

Yet why is it
that a hockey team in Austin, Texas is turning out more fans per game
than one in Hamilton? From Defending Big D:

Though eight home playoff games each, Stars fans have filled the
Cedar Park Center with an average attendance of 4,873 people per game –
that number of course really helped by this past weekend’s attendance at
all three games: 4,535 for game three on Wednesday and then 6,215 for
Friday night’s game four and 5,020 for last night’s game five.

Compare that to the city of Hamilton – or as Jim Basille calls it:
“Southern Ontario” – where in eight playoff games the Bulldogs have only
averaged 3,142 fans.  Games one and two at Copps Coliseum drew 2,977
and 2,897 fans respectively.

On average, the Stars also outdrew the Bulldogs for regular season
games as well.

Hey, maybe hockey fans in the area just aren’t that big on the
Bulldogs and are just biding their time until a NHL team shows up. Then
the fans will show up in droves, providing the economic support for a
team that couldn’t cut it in the ‘south’.

Of course, this argument is a bit moot since their won’t be an NHL
team in Hamilton anytime soon. It’s just an interesting study of hockey
fans in an area that claimed they ‘deserved’ a hockey team more than
another town. This isn’t even an argument about hockey in the south versus Canada. I don’t discourage anybody from having a hockey team. This just goes to show that hockey can be successful anywhere, even in Austin, Texas.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.