CEDAR PARK – Whether it is playing up to the competition or turning a corner, the Texas Stars were the ones who looked like the best team in the American Hockey league as they shut out the visiting Charlotte Checkers in a physical and often testy game in front of 5,601 fans Dec. 9.
The Checkers came into Friday’s game sitting atop the Midwest Division and boasting the most wins (25) in the AHL Western Conference, but solid defense along with an outstanding performance by Stars’ goalie Tyler Beskorowany, who earned his first shutout of the year with 29 saves, lifted the Stars to a 3-0 victory.
“I felt good and was seeing the puck well tonight not giving up too many second chances,” said Beskorowany. “My glove was working tonight, my blocker clearing the net and my stick…everything felt good tonight. I couldn’t ask for a much better effort than that.”
Looking to take down the Charlotte Checkers for the second time in 10 days, things were physical early for the Texas Stars (10-12-0-1) as a fight broke at less than two minutes into the game between the Stars’ Brenden Dillon and the Checkers’ Brett Sutter. Both were sent to the box for five minutes for fighting.
Charlotte outshot Texas 10 to nine in the first period, but the Stars had one shot that was better.
Down one man with defenseman Dan Spang in the box for high-sticking, the Stars took advantage of a two-on-two break. With right wing Colton Sceviour splitting the defense with a quick backhand pass to left wing Francis Wathier, he opened himself up for a one-on-one with Checkers’ goalie Justin Peters and beat him after receiving the pass back from Wathier.
The outlet assist was made by captain Brad Lukowich to give the Texans a three-point, short-handed goal and a 1-0 lead with 2:22 left in the period.
The second period got started much like the first as a scuffle broke out and later a fight between the Stars’ enforcer Francis Wathier and the Checkers’ Nicholas Blanchard, but soon after the scoring began.
With Chris Murray in the box for Charlotte for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct, the Stars took advantage of a power play when Matt Fraser found himself one-on-one with the goalie Peters. With on fake, he fooled Peters and shot the puck past him, putting the Stars up 2-0.
Texas then took a 3-0 lead after a rebound gave defenseman Hubert Labrie an opportunity to beat Peters, which he did by shooting the puck behind him and into the net with 12:21 left to play in the period. In the second, Texas outshot Charlotte 13-9. Forwards Travis Morin and Mike Hedden each added an assist on the play, helping Labrie with his first goal of the season.
“That goal in the first was huge and then we got the second one, then the one by Hubie (Hubert Labrie) too,” said Stars Head Coach Jeff Pyle. “Timely scoring, good defense which I thought we stuck together as a team really well. When you do that type of stuff you are going to have success.”
The final period saw a barrage of Checkers’ shots, all stopped by Beskorowany, including a diving save while he was already down. A few more scuffles also ensued as the Charlotte players became frustrated, not being able to put the puck in the net.
“He made that huge save there in the third when he was down and the guy shot it…it was a real big save,” Pyle said of Beskorowany. “Even though we were up 3-0 it could change things around. He needs those kinds of saves. We played hard around the net and boxed out for him…but you are happy for him.”
Beskorowany credited the defense for paving the way for the shut out and allowing him to get into a rhythm.
“The team played well in front of me,” he said. “We had guys blocking shots and blocking out guys coming in front of the net, clearing the way for me to see the puck well. Our PK (penalty kills) was going all night…that was really good to see. We just did everything right tonight. Everybody is clicking from our grinders to our goal scorers.”
The win stopped a five-game skid at the Cedar Park Center for the Stars. With the season still relatively young, Texas still has time to put the pieces together for a run at the playoffs.
Coach Pyle remains positive for the outlook of his team as the season progresses.
“It was a great team game,” he said. “We stuck up for each other, there were a couple of fights and I think the fans got their money’s worth. I’ve been staying positive with the guys. I said as long as we are doing things well, we are young and we’ll grow.”
Following Friday’s win, the Stars dropped Saturday’s game to the Oklahoma City Barons 3-2, but will face them again Tuesday, Dec. 13 when they hit the road.
The Stars will then visit the Houston Aeros on Friday, Dec. 16 for a 7:35 p.m. faceoff and will return home on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. to take on the Rochester Americans.