by Josh Fisher || AHL On The Beat Archive
There have been numerous surprises in Central Texas this season.
The Texas Stars are bound for the Calder Cup Playoffs and the team is averaging more than 5,300 fans a game. For a first-year team, both of those statements may be a bit of a surprise.
But perhaps one of the biggest surprises this season has been the growth of Texas center Aaron Gagnon.
“We knew experience was a huge factor for him after he played in Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League last season,” said Texas Stars general manager Scott White. “They play a similar style to us here. Aaron started a little slow and came on strong in the end for Grand Rapids. The coaches there were pleased with his development.
“It reminds me of his junior career where he was slow to get things going offensively. But, this is it for him. He has found his groove and figured it out. We always knew he was a smart player and that he has the ability produce. Fortunately for him things are paying off and we are seeing good results.”
After scoring eight goals and totaling 20 points in his first 86 AHL games, Gagnon has responded with 27 markers and a career-high 58 points in 77 games this season. Since Feb. 15, only Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux (19) and Worcester’s T.J. Trevelyan (17) have scored more goals than Gagnon (16), and only six players have totaled more points than Stars center (26).
“I played a much more defensive role last year,” said Gagnon. “It has been amazing for me to get the opportunity that I have received this year. I’ve been getting out there on the power play and penalty kill. Coach is putting me on the ice in the last minute of games. It helps a lot with increasing point production and spending more time on the ice. I think when you get put in that role, you take more pride in it.”
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The offensive numbers have not always been there for Gagnon, but this season the numbers have been. Texas has made a push for its first Calder Cup Playoff appearance, Gagnon has been praised for stepping up at the right time not just for his team, but for his personal development.
“A lot of the development depends on a player’s age,” explained White. “At the end of the day, it really depends on how a player takes advantage of his opportunity to play. Everyone develops at their own pace and some may take longer than others. Aaron has been patient and it hasn’t been easy for him. He has been consistent from day one all the way until today, in terms of his game. I think his production lately has made him by far one of our best players over that stretch.”
“I wanted to get a lot of points this year, but I didn’t expect it to happen the way that it did,” said Gagnon. “I played a really defensive role last year, but I also scored a lot of goals in juniors. Things seem like they have been clicking for me lately and falling into place. Once you get your confidence up and pucks start going your way, you just start to feel better out there and feel more comfortable with the puck. Hopefully, I can keep this rolling right into playoffs.”
With the Calder Cup playoffs on the horizon, the Stars are preparing to make a run for the cup. Texas made a serious push in March, posting an 11-2-0-0 record in the month. Heading into the final week of the season, the Stars had taken 15 of 19 games. Gagnon thinks teams should not take Texas lightly in the post-season.
“I think defense wins championships,” said Gagnon. “I think if you look at our defensive core and our goaltending, we have some great pieces in place to do some great things. Once we get our forwards healthy and we get more confident with our offense, I think this team can surprise a lot of people out there“.
Some would think that people are surprised already. The fans in Texas are hoping the Stars can surprise the entire AHL come playoff time.