The Lincoln Stars were a team divided on and off the ice last season, and their record indicated that.
The Stars finished in last place in the USHL’s Western Conference with an 18-37-1-4 record in the 2014-15 season. A year later, the Stars have addressed their issues, unified and turned their play around. At the USHL’s halfway break, the Stars sat atop the Western Conference with a 19-14-1-0 mark.
“We obviously got experience from [last season], just kind of learned things,” Stars’ forward Ludvig Hoff said. “I think it helped us to see things this year.”
Stars coach Chris Hartsburg played a hand in that. For him, it was altering the team’s culture.
“I think it’s just been kind of my idea of what our culture should have been from the start last year,” Hartsburg said. “I think it’s a lot of guys that believe in each other, believe in the process of what we’re trying to do. Certainly maturity has been a big part of it, too. Our returning guys have especially grown up on and off the ice. As a whole, it’s just been a lot of confidence in each other. We’ve had confidence in our abilities to come back in games, confidence in our abilities to win hockey games throughout. It’s been refreshing to see this year.”
Balance has been one of the keys to the Stars’ success. They’re tied for a conference-leading 95 goals because they’re getting production from a variety of players. They have six players scoring between 9-12 goals.
Hoff, who is from Norway, leads the Stars and is sixth in the USHL with 32 points, which includes 10 goals and 22 assists. He is committed to the University of North Dakota and recently participated in the 2016 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
“Ludvig is a Norwegian kid,” Hartsburg said. “That isn’t a traditional hockey area, but he’s done a lot of good things this year. He garnered a commitment to North Dakota. He’s one of the leading scorers in the league. Certainly I expect him to go out [in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game] and put on a show. He has the ability to do that.”
Stars’ forward Grant Jozefek, a Northeastern University recruit, also played in the game. He is tied for 12th in the league with 28 points.
“He can be a dynamic player when he wants to be,” Hartsburg said. “More so his compete level and commitment to playing the right way is something I’ve enjoyed coaching.”
Adam Brady (nine goals, 15 assists), Patrick Polino (12 goals, nine assists), Biagio Leriano (11 goals, nine assists), Ryan Jones (three goals, 16 assists) and William D’Orsi (nine goals, nine assists) are also among the team’s point leaders. Brady, the team’s captain, was involved in a car accident on Dec. 21st and is on the 45-day injured reserve.
The Stars have also benefited from the development of defenseman Christian Evers, a North Dakota recruit, who also played in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
“Christian has been a kid who played in the national program the last two years,” Hartsburg said. “We were fortunate to draft him in the draft this last May. He’s a kid who is finally starting to understand what he can be as a hockey player. That’s what this league does for hockey players.”
Peyton Jones, a Penn State University recruit, and Patrik Virtanen, who is from Finland, have shared the net this season. Jones has gone 8-7-1-0 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. Virtanen is 11-7-0-0 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
Jones also played in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and is another player Hartsburg has seen progress in.
“Peyton is a feel-good story for me,” Hartsburg said. “He’s a kid that had a tough go of it last year, but he persevered and fought through it. Certainly statistically, he’s been an outstanding goalie this year.”
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