For Episode 9 of our 2013 Summer with the Stars off-season feature, we travel back to Alberta for the third time this summer. Texas Stars broadcaster Owen Newkirk caught up with center Justin Dowling, who emerged at the end of the NHL lockout as a major offensive contributor for Texas. Below are some highlights of our conversation with the Stars center, along with a link to the full audio interview.
Listen: CLICK HERE.
Justin there were some concerned Texas Stars fans out there that you might sign elsewhere for the 2013-14 season. What was the contract re-signing process like?
Yeah there were obviously other teams that were interested just because I did have a good year. But in the end I wanted to be back in Texas and I liked the organization and the teammates and the coaching staff and, obviously, the city and the state are great to live in. There were other offers on the table, but I’m happy to rejoin the stars.
You were without a point in your first three games with Texas and you joked to me after that third game saying you couldn’t score goals. Then you turned around and had seven points in your next five games, including the sixth hat trick in team history. I guess your lack of confidence didn’t last very long.
[Laughs] Yeah that’s why I was so frustrated and why I said I couldn’t score because I was getting my chances and they just weren’t going in. It was nice to get that hat trick, it definitely got the monkey off my back. When I got that first goal it was such a relief and it definitely got a lot of weight off my shoulders and I felt a lot more confident. When you come to a team, even if you know a lot of guys, you’re still going to feel a little uncomfortable your first couple of games, getting to know the systems and little things like that. Getting to know your way around the city and the dressing room. It took probably one or two weeks to get comfortable and be confident talking and approaching everyone in the dressing room. Once that came, it was a lot easier to be confident on the ice.
You had incredible chemistry with Mike Hedden and Alex Chiasson. Why do you think the three of you worked so well together?
I think we worked really well off the ice, where we’re all really good friends; we all get along really well. That helps to carry over onto the ice, if someone is not pulling their weight you’re not afraid to tell them and tell them to get going and start playing better because you’re comfortable with each other. You’re all friends so they’re not going to take it to heart, they just know that it’s their job to play well and it’s their job to do better. In that aspect it was good that we were friends off the ice, it helped to make us good linemates. We worked well, everyone had their different aspects of the game that they were good it and it all seemed to click really well. Alex did a lot of the dirty work in the corners, he’s a big strong kid so he’s good at stuff like that. I was just allowed to go out there and free-wheel and try to make things happen, trying to create plays. Hedden was just a bulldog out there. He was always pushing defenses back and he’s always working so hard and making the big hit, making the big plays happen. He made a lot of huge plays that if our line wasn’t going, all of a sudden the next shift he’s got a goal or makes a big hit or gets in on the fore-check and does something special. It seemed like anytime we were down and out there was someone on our line that would kind of pick us up and get us going again.
Both you and Alex Chiasson gave just about identical answers about the chemistry of your line, with how well you got along off the ice and the golf outings you’d do. Did you dominate those two then the three of you were on the golf course?
[Laughs] We never kept our own score, we always did a best ball format. [Laughs again] I don’t like to say it but I did take a few meals from Mike Hedden, I’ll just leave it at that.
I’ve heard about that! He was pretty vocal about his displeasure wasn’t he?
Oh yeah, he wasn’t too happy about it. And he let everyone at the rink know he wasn’t too happy [Laughs].
Speaking of physical play, you missed two games in early March after you took a really nasty hit to the head against Oklahoma City on March 2nd from a guy you grew up with in the same hometown, Tanner House from the Barons. He was suspended because of it, but you were maybe a bit fortunate not to miss more time.
Yeah, every time I see him around time I try to give him the business out it [Laughs]. I know he didn’t mean to do it, it’s just hockey, and things happen so fast. That was my first ever concussion and I wasn’t expecting that. It was kind of hard to deal with, I didn’t know how to deal with it, I know some people it takes them months to come back, so I didn’t know if it would take me a long time or if I was going to be in and out of the lineup. Injuries do happen, I’ve had a couple of them here lately with fracturing my ankles [in previous seasons]. I kind of knew how to deal with being out, just for the fact that I’ve had injuries so I didn’t get to down on myself. I know he didn’t mean to do it, he sent me a message on Twitter right away and so everything was all fine and dandy from that side of things.
Obviously you’ve known him for a long time, you’re from the same town, but you didn’t have any animosity towards him?
Oh no. It’s hockey and things happen; it’s such a fast game. I made a move on Hordichuk and he [House] just came to make a hit and when I made my move, he was already in line to come and hit me, and I’d moved to a different direction, he just clipped me right in the jaw. I saw the play [on video], it was dirty, but he didn’t mean to do it. Things happen.
Speaking of injuries, you played most of the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs with a hand injury. How did you first hurt it?
I got a slash and broke my pinky. Eventually I ended up jamming my wrist. Back when I played in Idaho I had a bad sprain on the ligament in there. So once it came back to when I jammed my wrist in the playoffs, I couldn’t bend or rotate my wrist. So it was kind of just stuck in a locked position. That’s just what I had to deal with and that’s all I had to work with was just a straight wrist, there was no movement in it. Everything was just really sore and locked up and swollen. It was hard to do anything with it really.
Were you frustrated knowing how far the Stars thought they could go in the playoffs and you weren’t at 100-percent?
Yeah, it was frustrating, because I just wanted to do so much more to be a bigger part in it and be a bigger part in helping us go far. This is the first time in my career that I’ve had a good opportunity to go the Finals and maybe even win a championship. It was really disappointing when I got hurt just knowing that everything was going to be that much harder and if it didn’t happen, it was just hard knowing that I couldn’t play at 100-percent and I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do to help the team win. I’m sure that everyone that was hurt, and there were a lot of us, felt the same way.
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