CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — The Texas Stars played nearly perfect hockey down the stretch of the regular season to make the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The fifth-seeded Stars won their last three games and will now head to Rockford for a three-game playoff series against the IceHogs, starting Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“That’s a new shot of life for this time of year,” Stars head coach Neil Graham said. “You grind through 72 games, you do your job to get into the playoffs to have that excitement. You know, this is why you play the game and this is what you’re here for.”
After struggling for much of the first half of the season, the Stars earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2018. According to the head coach, a big part of the turnaround was the group finding an identity.
“We’ve definitely trended and we’re peaking at the right time. We have had to grow and go through a lot of adversity in the early part of the year. And I think it’s made us a stronger group.”
The Stars will look to capture their first Calder Cup Championship since 2014. A key member of that 2014 team was Max Fortunus, a current assistant coach for the Stars.
“For me to be able to relay my experience with the years I’ve had to be a part of it, it’s something that’s really fun to give to the younger guys and they’ll get their own experience from it and hopefully they can grow it with it also,” said Fortunus.
Curtis McKenzie, the Stars captain, was a member of the 2014 and 2018 Texas teams that made the postseason. Now as a veteran, he knows how valuable the home stretch has been.
“I don’t think all teams want to be in that,” said McKenzie about the must-win mindset the Stars have been in. “But I think it was good for our group to have meaningful games that we needed to win and just seeing the guys grow in that regard.”
All of the games in the series against the IceHogs will be held in Rockford at the BMO Harris Bank Center. The Stars went 4-3-1 in the regular season against Rockford. The games will be streamed on AHL TV and the Texas Stars Broadcast Network on www.texasstars.com.