On December 10, 2019, Dallas Stars fans woke to the news head coach Jim Montgomery had been fired.
While Dallas pondered the future of the Stars, there was another set of fans also dealing with losing a head coach.
Derek Laxdal, head coach for the Texas Stars since 2014, was called up to assist in Dallas. The head coaching position for Texas was filled by assistant coach Neil Graham, recently brought over from the Idaho Steelheads (2012-2018) for the 2019 season.
Curious as to how the Texas fan base was handling the drama, I reached out to fans who follow @StarsNationDAL to see what they had to say.
Surprisingly, everyone was thrilled with the new coaching arrangements. No disappointment was expressed, the opposite in fact. The fans seem excited about Graham’s move up. He was described as more hands-on and involved with the players with better communication on the bench. Unlike Dallas, these coaching arrangements will not change at the end of the season. Neil Graham is not referred to as Interim Head Coach of the Texas Stars.
New assistant coach, Travis Morin, who has been with the organization since 2009, is a fan favorite and slid into his new role easily. A former Texas Stars player who retired at the end of last season, Morin had stayed with the organization and taken a role with hockey operations and business development.
The lack of drama may be, in part, due to the fact that Texas fans are accustomed to Dallas borrowing from the team. Players often travel back and forth between NHL and AHL games for a variety of reasons. On January 4, 2020, Joel Kiviranta (14) was back on home ice in Cedar Park after his NHL debut in Dallas the night before. Kivi would be recalled again soon after this game to join Dallas on their West Coast swing.
The role a minor league team has in growing the players so they can move up to the NHL brings with it the inevitable farewell to favorites. Succeeding at this level, whether a player or coach, means moving on.
Losing players were described as bittersweet but being able to see them succeed at their dream of playing in the NHL was what it is all about for the fans. Some of Dallas’ best players have had their start in Cedar Park. The list produced by Texas is long and impressive. There is a wall displaying this accomplishment in the concourse of the HEB Center, where Texas plays its games.
The arena seats about 8,000, making it easier to navigate than the AAC in Dallas. The smaller hometown venue brings perks. There’s a level of access to the players not found in Dallas. Fans line up in the tunnel for fist bumps as the team goes on and off the ice. Players stop and give autographs. Texas isn’t just growing NHL players, they are also growing hockey fans.
The Texas Stars fans are fiercely proud of the team. The color green dominates the arena. Cowbells and cheers ring out for every goal, scrum, and hard check into the boards.
Goalie Jake Oettinger brings Dallas’ Bishop to mind in more ways than one. He’s a tower in front of the net at 6’5” and isn’t afraid to skate out for some puck handling. The word behind the scenes, Otter’s a really great guy.
Fans expressed copious amounts of love for Ringo. You can follow him on social media (@TXStarsRingo) to keep up with his antics, of which there are many.
If you have any doubt that Texas has a thriving hockey culture outside of Dallas, just head down to Cedar Park for a game. It’s right in the heart of Texas and well worth the trip.