CEDAR PARK, TEXAS – The Texas Stars are competing in their fourth year in the AHL. They have been both up and down in those years. One thing that remains constant; however, is the popularity of forward Luke Gazdic.
Gazdi c was part of the Calder Cup run by the Stars in their first year in the league and was an immediate hit with the fans. His size (6’4″ / 240 pounds) and his willingness to drop the gloves contributed to his popularity.
“When I got to juniors (with the Erie Otters) in Pennsylvania, I realized how big I was and I also realized that I had to play that way to be effective,” Gazdic said. “I had to use my size to my advantage. Some big guys don’t know how big and strong they really are and I was fortunate to figure that out at an early age. It’s huge for me.”
Gazdic is from Toronto, Ontario and has been playing ice hockey for most of his life.
“It’s a way of life for me,” Gazdic said. “I started when I was three or four. It was cold enough outside where my dad would just dump buckets of water in the yard. We had a rink with boards and everything. I have two brothers and we were in the rink all the time.”
Gazdic credits his dad Mike for much of his success.
“My dad got drafted by the Buffalo Sabres and played in Milwaukee when it was part of the IHL (now AHL),” Gazdic said. “He left after a year and went back to school in Canada, but he’s helped me along every step of the way. He’s by far my biggest influence. I talk to him pretty much every day and he helps me keep my mind in the right place.”
Some players are signed to score goals, some are signed because of their defensive skills and others are signed because of their ability to deliver hard checks and fight when the time is right.
“I know that I’m a third or fourth line guy and that I’m not going to get a lot of time on special teams,” Gazdic said. “One thing I learned in my first year with (then Head Coach and current Dallas Head Coach) Glen Gulutzan is that I can’t be a liability out there. You can’t just be an enforcer. I have to be good in my own end first. That doesn’t mean you have to score a lot of goals and put up points, but you do have to be able to play both sides of the puck.”
In his first year with the team, Gazdic was the youngest player on the team and was always looking for leadership. Now the four-year veteran is the one many young players look up to.
“The first year, me and Colton (Scevior) were the youngest guys on the team,” Gazdic said. “This is my fourth year and you look at a guy like Austin Smith who is a rookie but is a year older than I am and it is his first. There’s a ton of guys here from the ECHL and I encourage guys to come talk to me and I try to create a positive influence because I know how intimidating it can be. I try to make guys feel welcome and make sure they know they can come to me for anything.”
The Stars got off to a relatively slow start this season before making a move to the top of the league just as the NHL lockout ended. Many of the players were initially worried that when Dallas promoted so many top players from Texas that the play would suffer. Just the opposite happened and Gazdic credits the players first for the team’s current success.
“It starts with the players,” Gazdic said. “When we lost some of those guys after the lockout like Cody Eakin and Riley Smith (and all the others) the guys were a little worried. But we relied on our system and have been getting great play out of guys that we really didn’t expect to be here like Justin Dowling who got a shot and is playing well for us. There have been a lot of guys who have taken the opportunity and are running with it.
He also gives a great deal of credit to the coaching staff.
“Willie (Desjardins) is very meticulous and very detailed,” Gazdic said. “He truly wants to get the best out of every player. He knows each player’s skill set and he really wants the best for you. Doug (Lidster) has been awesome. You can go to him any time and ask about a play from a week ago and he’ll bring it up on video and talk about it for as long as you want. They get along really well and have been great for us.”
Gazdic is truly an example of what the military refers to as the “whole-man concept.” In other words, a man is meausred not only by how well he performs while doing his or her job, but also how he or she performs outside the confines of your job.
Gazdic is a big proponent of giving back to the community and can often be found making appearances at local schools and taking part in team events with other players.
“I like to give back and we have a lot of free time,” Gazdic said. “I’m not married so I have a lot of free time and I’d rather be out there making appearances and giving back to the fans than be off doing something else. I have a great appreciation for the people who come and support us every night, win or lose.”
Gazdic has watched a lot of teammates go up and down between the AHL and NHL and feels like he may soon get his opportunity.
“It’s not hard to watch players go up because they all deserve to be there,” Gazdic said. “You always want that call to be for you, but the only thing I can control down here is my attitude and my leadership and that’s what I’m going to do. I know I’m right there and when I get the chance, I know I’ll be ready.”
His fans know it as well.
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