Jason Dickinson

Road less traveled: Some NHL teams moving AHL squads closer

DENVER — Jason Dickinson encountered quite a few bumps in the road on his route to the NHL. Good thing for his trusty truck.

Dickinson was up and down between the Dallas Stars and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, a total of 17 times during the 2017-18 season.

Sometimes, the forward would join the team from the road. And sometimes, he would make that 183.5-mile trek along the interstate in his truck.

That’s a rather easy call-up commute by league standards: From rink to rink, the average distance between NHL teams and their AHL partners is roughly 460 miles (740.3 kilometers).

Currently, there are a half-dozen NHL teams that have affiliates located more than 1,200 miles (1,931.2 kilometers) away.

The longest jaunt? From the Utica Comets in New York to the Vancouver Canucks, which is a 2,918-mile (4,696 kilometers) coast-to-coast expedition.

The shortest? A tie between the San Jose Sharks/San Jose Barracudas and the Winnipeg Jets/Manitoba Moose. That’s simply a short walk down the hallway thanks to shared arenas.

Over the past few seasons, a few teams have moved their minor league affiliates closer to base camp. The Colorado Avalanche relocated their farm team from San Antonio, Texas, to Loveland, Colorado, in 2018 and Ottawa a year earlier moved its from Binghamton, New York, to Belleville, Ontario.

The Vegas Golden Knights recently announced their purchase of an AHL franchise from Spurs Sports & Entertainment, operators of the San Antonio Rampage. The plan is to relocate the team from Texas to Henderson, Nevada, and begin play at the Orleans Arena next season.

It makes sense having players nearby for practical (emergency call-up) and logistical (easier for executives to catch games) purposes.

Avalanche assistant general manager Craig Billington lives in Denver but spends about 80% of his time working with the Eagles in Loveland, which is about 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away.

”When you take into account the viewing and the communication that goes on, it really benefits from a geographical proximity,” Billington explained. ”Information travels quite quickly and enables us to feel connected – the coaching staff, all the players, the trainers, the benefit of doctors and the medical support.”

Eagles forward Jayson Megna is no stranger to making various NHL/AHL treks. He has taken that long flight from Utica to Vancouver while with the Canucks. He’s gone from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to the Pittsburgh Penguins (264 miles, 424.9 kilometers). He knows the trip from the Hartford Wolf Pack to the New York Rangers (115 miles, 185 kilometers).

The current commute, from Loveland to Denver, is more than manageable for a player who’s been added, recalled or returned on loan five times this season. Theoretically, he could be back at home in Fort Collins that night after a game.

”Super easy,” said the 30-year-old Megna, who has played in 121 NHL games. ”There’s not any issues with travel plans. You still feel good and prepared for a game.”

Not that players mind the travel – any sort of travel.

”I mean, when you get called up to the NHL you have a certain amount of adrenaline,” Megna said. ”Guys just make it happen.”

Take goaltender Calvin Pickard, for instance: He played in weekend games for the Grand Rapids Griffins last month, before getting a quick call to join the Detroit Red Wings to make a start.

”Just a quick drive,” Pickard said of the 157-mile (252.7 kilometer) commute. ”Just had to go grab my gear.”

Speaking of gear, that can be quite an ordeal for players who must take a flight to join their teams.

”The hockey bag is always the last one off the plane. Every time,” Dickinson said. ”You’re always the last one out.”

That’s why Dickinson preferred to make the drive from Cedar Park, Texas, to Dallas in his truck.

As an added bonus to driving, he had his own transportation while in town.

”It sucks when you’re stuck in your city and you have to beg guys to pick you up at the hotel,” said Dickinson, who has eight goals and 10 assists in 55 games for Dallas this season. ”It makes it easy to feel a part of the area. You don’t feel like you’re coming into a whole new city and trying to figure things out.”

WATCH LIVE: Stars host Lightning on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning and Stars meet for the second and final time this season as each club is coming off an extended break. Both Tampa Bay and Dallas enjoyed their bye weeks last week leading into All-Star Weekend. Tampa last played on Jan. 17 (a 7-1 at WPG), while Dallas last played on Jan. 18 (a 7-0 at MIN).

Both the Lightning and Stars enter the second half of the reg. season locked in tight division races. In the Atlantic, Tampa is second with 62 points, eight points behind the Bruins but with three games in hand. Behind the Lightning though are the Panthers (61 pts) and Maple Leafs (57 pts) – each within striking distance of Tampa’s spot. In the Central, Dallas is thirrd with 58 points, four points behind Avalanche in second and 10 points behind the Blues in 1sr . Below the Stars though, the Central is tight. Just seven points separate Dallas in third and Nashville in seventh. Fortunately for the Stars, they have games in hand on the three teams immediately behind them in the division.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was one of the two Lightning players in the All-Star Game this past weekend. The honor was well deserved as he leads the NHL with 24 wins to go along with a 2.54 GAA and .917 SV%. While he’s been great all year, the 25-year-old comes into Monday’s game as hot as any goalie in the NHL.

Dallas’ lone All-Star representative Tyler Seguin tallied a goal and assist in the Central Division’s loss in the All-Star Game. The Stars are hoping their top centerman will bring the scoring back home when they take the ice Monday. Seguin has zero goals in the last nine games. With 11 goals through 48 games, he is on pace to score just 18 goals this season, which would be his fewest in a non-shortened season since 2010-11, his rookie year.

The Stars average just 2.56 goals/game, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the NHL. But they also allow just 2.46 goals/game, which is best in the league. Seguin maintains his lack of offensive output has to do with the team’s defensive frame of mind rather than a lack of production.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars
WHERE: American Airlines Center
WHEN: Monday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Steven StamkosBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Ondrej PalatAnthony CirelliTyler Johnson
Alex KillornCedric PaquettePatrick Maroon
Yanni GourdeMitchell StephensCarter Verhaeghe

Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Mikhail SergachevKevin Shattenkirk
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

STARS
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov
Denis GurianovJoe PavelskiRoope Hintz
Andrew CoglianoRadek FaksaBlake Comeau
Mattias JanmarkJason DickinsonCorey Perry

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Miro HeiskanenRoman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak – Stephen Johns

Starting goalie: Ben Bishop

Brendan Burke will handle play-by-play duties alongside analyst Pierre McGuire at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Tonight’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh with Anson Carter and Keith Jones.

Dallas Stars emerge from eventful first half in solid shape

DALLAS — There was the 1-7-1 start for the Dallas Stars, who had such high expectations after an impressive playoff run last season.

When they started consistently winning again, there was the shocking coaching change unrelated to anything on the ice.

Dallas then opened 2020 with another comeback victory on New Year’s Day, outdoors at Cotton Bowl Stadium before 85,630 fans – the second-largest crowd ever to see an NHL game.

“Forty-one games, and it seems like we’ve been through 100,” center Andrew Cogliano said.

This has already been an eventful regular season for the Stars, and they are only halfway done.

Through it all, the Stars (23-14-4, 50 points) are third in the Western Conference standings after the 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators in the Winter Classic. It was the third win in a row for Dallas, which came from behind in the third period in each of those games.

“Our team still hasn’t even shown our true potential. Lately, especially after the coach change, we’ve been very inconsistent and all over the map, and trying to put our identity back together,” center Jason Dickinson said. “So I think we’re on our way there, and we’ve still got half a season to go. It’s about time for us to really hone in on that stuff.”

Dallas will be back inside, at home in the American Airlines Center, to start the second half of its 82-game regular-season schedule Friday night against Detroit.

The Stars are 6-3-1 since second-year head coach Jim Montgomery was fired Dec. 10 for unspecified unprofessional conduct. They beat New Jersey 2-0 that night when Rick Bowness, in his second season in Dallas, took over as interim head coach for the rest of the season.

Bowness has coached in more NHL games than anyone – 2,238 overall, 473 as a head coach – and in five different decades after Wednesday’s win to kick off the new year.

“I didn’t want to be put in this position because you don’t expect it. None of us saw it coming, so when it was thrown at us, we were all completely in shock,” said Bowness, adding that he came to Dallas with the goal of helping the Stars and Montgomery win the Stanley Cup.

Now Bowness is calling the shots on the bench for the Stars, who last April made the playoffs for only the third time in 11 seasons. They won a six-game series against Nashville in the first round, then went seven games in the Western Conference semifinals before falling to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis.

Bowness said players were shocked as much as the other coaches about the dismissal of Montgomery, but that they have all together invested in what they have to do to win games.

“It happens in sports. You lose players, guys get traded. … Obviously, your coach, that doesn’t happen all the time,” goalie Ben Bishop said. “When the coach gets fired or let go, you still have your job to do. And I think guys, you know, continue to do their jobs. And obviously the players are the ones who go out there and execute the game plan.”

Bishop and other Stars players say that transition was made easier with Bowness, with the 64-year-old Canadian’s experience and an upbeat personality a bit different than Montgomery’s.

“To take over that role midway through the season speaks volumes to what kind of coach he is,” Cogliano said.

After that horrendous nine-game start to the season, the Stars went 14-1-1 over the next five weeks. They then had an 0-3-1 slide before two wins in a row preceded the sudden coaching change.

“We have an idea where when we’re good, how we want to play and our compete level. And just a lot of trustworthy players out there wanting to play the right way,” said veteran forward Joe Pavelski, one of the Stars newcomers this season. “Up to this point, I would say we’re a pretty resilient group.

“The coaching change and different things like that, guys have just stuck together, stayed resilient,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll just keep making us better.”

Cotton Bowl Winter Classic an unforgettable experience for all

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DALLAS — Under cloudy skies and with 85,630 fans inside Cotton Bowl Stadium, the Predators and Stars played one of the more memorable outdoor games in NHL history.

The 2020 Winter Classic had it all and a lot happened as the fans were still settling into their seats. An ejection, two goals, a denied penalty shot, a comeback, horses, longhorns and pig races — yes, pig races — were all part of an afternoon of outdoor hockey in Texas.

Before and after the game, those in attendance were able to experience the fan fest at The State Fair of Texas Midway. Along with the usual carnival items like corn dogs and merchandise, there were attractions like the Texas Star Ferris Wheel, the Top o’ Texas Tower and the Texas Skyway. Former Stars players Mike Modano and Brad Lukowich signed autographs and played bubble hockey with fans.

The party outside was only the beginning. As is tradition, the NHL dressed up the Cotton Bowl to really give it a Texas feel. On one side was a country dancing floor, which featured dancers and table tops and bar stools for performers. There were also the boots of Big Tex, the 55-foot talking cowboy, on display and a mechanical bull that was put to good use. Surrounding the rink was split-rail fencing for a true ranch vibe. 

But the real highlight of the setup was next to the walkway where the players entered the field. That was the location of something that we’ve never seen before at an NHL game: pig racing.

Ro-ham Josi, Tyler Swine-in, Ryan Jo-ham-sen, Andrew Hog-liano, and Pork-a Rinne were some of the competitors vying to be the pig racing champion. Most players didn’t really notice what was going on there during the game. Then there was Stars forward Jason Dickinson.

“I saw it on the big screen at one point,” he said. “I had to look away. I knew I’d get in trouble if I kept laughing.”

The racing pigs were just another part of the in-game entertainment that didn’t take place on the ice. Juggers, a unicycle performer, and small children riding sheep were also included in the 2020 Winter Classic experience. There was something Texas-sized and Texas-related happening at all times during stoppages and intermissions.

“I understand Twitter is going nuts in a good way about the pig races,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said between periods. “We tried to blend Texas and hockey. Each year we try and learn something and do it a little bit better.”

Above and beyond expectations

When the NHL was planning the event, they thought about maxing out capacity at 65,000 believing they couldn’t fill the entire stadium. But when tickets went on sale they saw the incredible demand and decided to open more sections of the stadium. It paid off and now the sold-out Stars-Predators Winter Classic ranks only behind the 2014 Maple Leafs-Red Wings game at Michigan Stadium in terms of attendance for an NHL game.

“I think the atmosphere speaks for itself,” Bettman said. “It has been nothing short of spectacular.”

And it wasn’t a sea of green in the seats. There were plenty of Predators jerseys to be seen in and around Dallas this week and throughout the stadium.

“There were more people here in yellow from Nashville than would fit in Bridgestone Arena,”  Bettman said. “So that’s how well Predators fans travel. All in all, it has been sensational.”

The show of support will only boost Nashville’s chances of landing a future outdoor game, something the Commissioner said the League has been working on.

Stars enjoyed it all

Home teams usually have a tough time in Winter Classic. The Stars are only the fourth team out of 12 to host the New Year’s Day spectacle and come away with a victory. Being able to play in front of your own fans in such a unique setting and win will stay with the players forever.

“Having it on home soil and the fans came out in great numbers and it was a lot of fun for us,” said Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. “To get the win is just that cherry on top. We were just saying how much more fun it is to win any game, but a game like this, of this magnitude. To do it front of our home fans in Dallas, which is what this whole event is all about, just makes it that much better.”

The sound level was certainly something new for the Stars players. As loud as American Airlines Center can be, it was nothing compared to the decibel levels reached in the Cotton Bowl. Tyler Seguin said that he’d never heard anything louder than the crowd after Alexander Radulov’s tiebreaking power play goal  in the third period.

The NHL took its crown jewel event south for the first time and it worked. The atmosphere, the visuals, and the game itself — it all worked.

“Everything and more. They did everything right,” Dickinson said. “The NHL marketing department, whoever puts it all together for us, it was an unbelievable experience you’ll never forget. I certainly won’t.”

MORE WINTER CLASSIC COVERAGE:
Stars win 2020 Winter Classic
Outdoor hockey in Texas? Sure thang, and was a hoot to boot

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Ducks spoil Islanders’ streak; Stars keep shining

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Islanders’ streak over at 17 games

Perhaps it’s fitting that the Islanders’ 17-game point streak ended against one of the few teams that boasts goaltending comparable to the Isles’ own, especially when John Gibson is in net. The Ducks gave the Islanders their first regulation loss since Oct. 11, blanking Barry Trotz’s bunch 3-0 on Monday.

That wasn’t the only “your own medicine” element of this loss for the Islanders, either. The Ducks allowed quite a few more chances, but did a decent job of controlling the quality while losing the quantity battle. Gibson ultimately only needed 26 saves for that shutout, while Ryan Getzlaf and Cam Fowler led the way with a goal and an assist each. Anders Lee has been great during this run, but Monday wasn’t his night, as he was on the ice for all three of the Ducks’ goals.

Three Stars

1. Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars

The Stars have been almost as hot as the Islanders lately, and while Radulov (2G, 1A) and John Klingberg (3A) have been relatively quiet during Dallas’ tear, they made the big difference against the troubled-but-still-dangerous Golden Knights on Monday.

The Stars are now on a seven-game winning streak, have gone 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, are now 14-1-1 in their last 16 games after beginning the season on a 1-7-1 whimper.

Radulov bookended that win against Vegas with two power-play goals, and also assisted on Jason Dickinson‘s game-winner. It wasn’t as if the Stars’ usual top guns were totally absent (Tyler Seguin collected two assists), yet this win serves as a sobering reminder to opponents that Dallas can beat you in more ways than even the 2018-19 Stars could.

2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Sabres managed a 2-1 lead at some point, and it seemed like Buffalo and the Bolts would have themselves a tightly matched game. The third period kind of ended that, as the Lightning strengthened what became a 3-2 lead with two shorthanded goals. The second was scored by Palat, who ended Monday with two primary assists and the 5-2 shorthanded tally.

Palat’s now on a nice little mini-hot streak, generating points in three consecutive games (two goals, three assists for five of his 15 points this season).

The Lightning are now on a three-game winning streak and seem to have found their legs with a 7-3-0 mark in their last 10 games.

3. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers

Is it Artemi, as I’ve been accustomed to spelling it (and the Rangers’ website spells it that way), or Artemiy Panarin, as it seems to be on the star player’s Twitter page?

I feel about as confounded as most defenders do against the absolutely slick winger, who collected assists on all three of the Rangers’ goals in a 3-2 OT win against the Wild. Seeing Mats Zuccarello‘s tribute video was probably super emotional for many Rangers, but not Panarin, who was one of actually quite a few new guys who never shared a Rangers locker room with the Norwegian wizard.

Panarin now has 30 points through his first 22 games with the Rangers, including five (1G, 4A) during his past two.

Highlights

I’m partial to this fantastic move by Ryan Donato against the Rangers, although Donato’s Wild ultimately fell short:

Factoids

Scores

TBL 5 – BUF 2
NYR 3 – MIN 2 (OT)
PHI 2 – VAN 1
PIT 3 – CGY 2 (OT)
CBJ 1 – OTT 0
NSH 3 – STL 2 (SO)
DAL 4 – VGK 2
ANA 3 – NYI 0
SJS 4 – ANA 3 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.