This offseason, the Stars announced a long-term affiliation agreement with a new AHL franchise and pulled off a surprising trade in order to strengthen their foundation for the future.
AHL is seeing Stars
At the end of the 2003-04 season, the Dallas Stars brought their affiliation with the AHL Utah Grizzlies to an abrupt end and went on to sign one-year player loan agreements with two different American Hockey League clubs for 2004-05, the Houston Aeros and Hamilton Bulldogs. The Aeros are the primary affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, and the Bulldogs are the primary affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. The Stars are expected to place up to six players, including one goaltender, with each team this season. Goaltender Dan Ellis, defenseman Trevor Daley, and forwards Steve Ott and Antti Miettinen have already been assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The diaspora of Stars prospects will last only one season, however. The Stars took a huge step toward solidifying the future of their prospect system in late August when they signed a five-year affiliate agreement with the newest AHL team, the Iowa Stars. The Iowa Stars will begin play as the league’s 29th franchise in the 2005-06 season. Dallas will be responsible for Iowa’s entire hockey operation, including the hiring of a head coach, assistant coaches, equipment manager and medical trainer. The parent club will provide Iowa with up to 22 players. The Iowa Stars will play their home games in the Wells Fargo Arena, a brand new facility located in downtown Des Moines.
Belle in, Bacashihua out
Going into the offseason, the trio of Dan Ellis, Mike Smith and Jason Bacashihua provided the Dallas Stars with some of the best goaltending depth in the NHL. It’s arguable that each one has the potential to develop into a reliable starter at the major league level. That depth enabled the Stars to make a trade to acquire a talented defensive prospect. The Stars dealt goaltender Jason Bacashihua to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for defenseman Shawn Belle on June 25th. The Blues drafted Belle in the first round, 30th overall at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
The 19-year-old put up 29 points in 55 games during the 2003-04 season, his fourth with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. Belle’s solid two-way play helped to establish him as one of the best defensemen in the league last season. The Edmonton native may be young but he already has a wealth of international experience, suiting up for Canada at the 2002 World Under-17 Challenge, 2003 Eight Nations Cup, and 2004 World Junior Championships. Belle is expected to make the jump to the AHL this season with either the Houston Aeros or Hamilton Bulldogs.
World Junior tournament camps
Dallas fans will have plenty of reasons to watch the World Junior Championships this winter. Nine Stars prospects were invited to national development camps or evaluation tournaments this summer in preparation for the 2005 World Junior Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Shawn Belle, B.J. Crombeen, and Mark Fistric attended Team Canada’s national junior team development camp in August. Each should see ice time for the Canadian team, looking to improve on last year’s silver medal performance. Matt Nickerson was chosen to play for Team USA at a World Junior evaluation tournament. The Americans will enter the tournament as defending champions for the first time, and Nickerson should be one of the anchors along the physical US blueline. Loui Eriksson, Johan Fransson, Elias Granath and Nicklas Grossman represented Sweden at a world junior evaluation tournament during the off-season. The Swedes always ice a competitive squad and this year should be no different. Eero Kilpelainen also appeared for Finland during the world junior evaluation tournament.
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