• After a four-year absence, Texas’ lone NHL team will still be playing this May

    After a four-year drought, the Dallas Stars will be making a return to the playoffs this season. The kids and superior goaltending will be leading the charge.

    Of course, Stars fans have a plethora of reasons to be excited about the team’s chances to contend. It’s also well known that the Stars are no strangers to coughing up their playoff chances in the last week or two of the season. So it’s understandable why most hockey fans outside of Dallas are writing them off.

    But cast the doubts aside: This team is once again ready to represent Texas in the playoffs.

    It was a busy and productive offseason for the Stars. The new ownership group led by Tom Gaglardi as well as GM and former Dallas Stars center Joe Nieuwendyk have shown a commitment to improve this team from the ground up with an emphasis on youth development.

    Sure, through trades and free agency most teams acquire seasoned veterans for their knowledge of and experience with the game. The Stars certainly brought in their fair share of veterans this offseason (center Derek Roy, defenseman Aaron Rome) and even geezers in the form of a couple 40+ year-olds: center Ray Whitney and living legend right winger Jaromir Jagr, who turns 41 this week.

    But homegrown talent, originating from draft picks, is where many teams find their success on the ice. This is the Stars' single greatest strength. This year, that class of players is a major part of the team’s core. It is headlined by 23-year-old rising star center Jamie Benn and winger Loui Erikkson, 27, along with fleet-footed forward Cody Eakin, 21, and the mammoth defensemen Brendon Dillon, 22, and Jamie Oleksiak, 20.

    In a season where every team is playing 48 games in 99 days, physical and mental fatigue will certainly set in. The Stars will need the energetic legs of its younger players to compete the whole year. These kids are ready though, and they’ll provide that energy while leading the team into the playoffs.

    If the single most important aspect of successful hockey teams is the infusion of talented youth, then elite goaltending is an extremely close second.

    In hockey it is often said that the goaltender is the backbone of the team, and the “most important defenseman.” It is no secret that the Stars have a special one of their own.

    Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen has earned elite status as a goaltender. Over the last two seasons he has posted a combined goals allowed average (GAA) of 2.44 and a save percentage of .914. In those two seasons, he ranked in the top 10 in the league in number of opponent shots faced.

    He has improved every year he’s been in a Stars uniform. So far this season, Lehtonen is tied for second in the league in wins, and is boasting a GAA of 2.30 and a save percentage of .928. In a lockout-shortened schedule where the Stars play a gauntlet of exclusively western conference teams, those numbers are highly respectable.

    When he’s on his game, Lehtonen is easily a top 10 goalie in the NHL. He constantly keeps the Stars in game with his lightning-fast glove, and an ability to control the puck off rebounds in traffic. He possesses great net play and instincts, knowing when to cover up the puck or shoot it down the boards and out of the defensive zone.

    His only flaw is that he is somewhat prone to injury. During his tenure with Dallas he has dramatically cut down his time on the injured reserve list. The Stars will need Lehtonen healthy
    and consistently on his “A” game this season.

    It’s been almost 10 years since the Stars truly competed for the Stanley Cup. While the Stars are not yet a championship-caliber team, they are well on their way to re-establishing
    themselves as one. But for now, get ready, Texas and the rest of the hockey world – you’ll be seeing the green, black and gold on the ice in May, taking their next big step back to glory.

  • Snedeker consistently on top, cruises to first 2013 victory

    Going into February, Brandt Snedeker held a decent lead in the young season’s FedEx Cup rankings, picking up where he left off after winning the Cup last year. He was able to do this merely by being almost the best during the first five tournaments. Snedeker entered the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with three Top 5 finishes and seemed to be on a mission to get over the hump that was the second spot. Snedeker cruised to victory, putting up all four rounds under 70 to finish with a solid 19 under par for his first victory of the season. Snedeker was in contention from the start, posting a 6-under-par 66 in round one followed by a 2-under 68 in round 2. His third round score kept him within striking distance of the lead as he was able to hit a 4-under 68. He had room and he went in and took his first victory by dominating in the final day, recording his best score of the tournament with a 7-under 65, putting him two strokes ahead of Chris Kurk, despite finishing strong with a 14 under par over the final two rounds. Snedeker won this tournament the same way he’s been able to contain the top spot of the standings: consistency. At no point did Snedeker post the best score of a single round, but he finished at the top and played big when he needed to, securing his first PGA Tour victory of 2013, and the seventh of his career.

    Snedeker was already in the top spot of the rankings, and with this victory secures his spot for at least another week. Snedeker sits very comfortably at first with a total of 1,282 points, a whole 700 points ahead of the next competitor Brian Gay, who has 582 points. Then the rankings get a whole lot closer: Phil Mickelson sits just 26 points behind Gay at third with 556 points. Dustin Johnson remains at fourth with 516 points, but Russel Henley is right behind him a whole point away at 515. The rankings remain the same as last week in terms of the top seven with Charles Howell III at the six spot and Tiger Woods looking over Howell’s shoulder into the top five at seventh place. The winner of next week’s Northern Trust Open gains 500 points, so regardless of any outcome Snedeker is safe in first.

    Upcoming: Northern Trust Open
    The PGA Tour remains in California for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, located in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Brandt Snedeker will choose to take advantage of his large early lead and will not be participating in this week’s tournament. The remaining players in the current top five will all participate, looking to take advantage of Snedeker. Chris Kirk took a large leap in the rankings from 33rd to 8th following an impressively strong second half at Pebble Beach and hopes to build on that momentum to try to continue climbing. Kevin Stadler also had an impressive outing, being the only player other than Snedeker to have all scores under 70 as he finished third last week. Stadler’s performance also gave him a huge boost as he leaped from 47th to 17th in the rankings as he has progressed throughout the season from not making the cut on his first outing, to a 27th place finish, followed by an 11th place finish leading up to last week’s Top 3 performance.