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Unlikely Stars leading the way

by Josh Fisher || AHL On The Beat Archive 

The Texas Stars are in a battle for first place in the AHL’s West division after a torrid pace that started just before the All-Star break.

The Stars collected points in eight straight games to finish January, posting a 7-0-1-0 mark over that time. Not to mention the home cooking. Texas had six straight wins at Cedar Park Center to close out the month.

Many teams are led in scoring by high draft picks on NHL contracts or AHL veterans, but not the Texas Stars.

Undrafted forwards Greg Rallo (32 points) and Travis Morin (31) are two of the top scorers on the team. Morin and Rallo were both invited to Texas for training camp, looking for a full-time job in the AHL. Both players had put up exceptional numbers in the ECHL, but neither one was given the opportunity to really show what they could do on the ice. Ice time means everything to guys trying to catch on at the AHL level, in order to showcase what they can potentially do at the NHL level.

Time on the ice during games has given these two players the confidence to lead their team to its spot near the top of the standings.

“It’s ice time and playing in key situations, like playing on the power play and playing in those last minute situations,” said Rallo, a fourth-year pro who made a run to the Calder Cup Finals with Manitoba last season. “That’s key for finding the opportunity to get points.

“After the start to the season I got more comfortable here and I realized that I was going to have more of a permanent role on the team, so I started to set some goals for myself,” he continued. “I think given the opportunity that I have here, everything is working out and I’m really having a good time. Getting the opportunity to play in situations that I like, has given me the chance to succeed and that is exactly what is happening right now.”

Rallo has been one of the goal-scoring leaders throughout most of the season. Currently, he leads the team with 16 goals in 49 games played. Rallo played in 55 games with the Moose last year, scoring four goals and adding five assists for nine points, then added four points in 20 postseason outings. He had also made brief appearances with Rockford, Albany and Iowa, but spent the majority of his first two seasons in the ECHL with Idaho after graduating from Ferris State University.

“Greg is a little older than some after coming out of college,” explained Texas Stars general manager Scott White. “He is a smart player who has a lot of character that both Dallas and the Texas Stars trust.

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Morin started the season with eight assists and nine points in his first 24 games. In his last 26 games, the third-year pro has 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points. He really picked up the pace in January, scoring seven goals and dishing out six assists for 13 points in 12 games played.

The Minnesota native spent two seasons primarily in the ECHL with South Carolina, where he set up 113 goals and totaled 175 points in 143 games. He was able to play five AHL games with Hershey over the last two years, but never really got a long enough stay to make things happen.

“The last couple of years, for whatever reason, I never really got much of a shot up in Hershey, but I just kept plugging away. This summer I got an opportunity here with Texas and I’m trying to take advantage of it,” said Morin.

“The Stars told me that they were going to give me opportunities to show what I could do and put me in situations that they thought I could thrive in, and I think for the most part that’s been happening and I’ve been contributing ever since.”

“I think Travis needed an opportunity and to his credit, he’s earned it,” said White. “He benefitted greatly from injuries and call-ups, taking advantage of the ice time that was given to him. He’s started to become more acclimated to the AHL game.

“The key development factor for players at our level is gaining experience by playing in games and being shown trust by the coaches and organization that they can play at that level,” said White. “Both players were brought in on a PTO (professional tryout agreement) and both were question marks heading into training camp. Both of them have earned their stripes and are now key pieces to our success. The bottom line is simple: they help us win games.”

The possibility of playing for the NHL is within reach of these two Stars, but neither of them has let the opportunity for advancement shadow their current goals with Texas. The AHL makes it possible for talented players like Morin and Rallo to showcase their skills in a highly competitive atmosphere, setting the stage for future developments.

“It’s actually a realization that someday, possibly in the near future, maybe next season, I would get an opportunity in the NHL. That would be amazing and would be a dream come true,” said Rallo.

When asked about possible advancement to the NHL, Morin said, “I try not to think about those situations too much, but obviously I have been asked that question several times in interviews lately, so it’s definitely popping around in my head. I just have to take what comes and this season has been great so far. If the next level comes out of it then great, if another opportunity to play here further down the road after that comes, then that’s better too. I’m just excited to be here and I am really enjoying my time here with the Stars.”