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Fargo vs. Lincoln Stars, 11/17/17

Lincoln Stars’ forward Casey Dornbach (18) is reflected in the glass as he celebrates a goal against Fargo in November at the Ice Box. Dornbach is closing in on a 20-goal season.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR FILE PHOTO

With the USHL trade deadline passing this week, the Lincoln Stars (21-20-1-1) stood pat.

One reason, according to coach Cody Chupp, is the new playoff format. Another reason was a solid foundation in the locker room.

This season, six teams from each conference in the 17-team league make the playoffs. In years past, when only four teams from each conference made the playoffs, bottom-tier teams would typically use the trade deadline to trade away veteran players to teams in playoff contention and in return get top picks in the following Phase I and Phase II drafts.

"Locker-room culture is a major component that goes into your decision-making at the trade deadline,” Chupp said. “The new thing in our league is six teams (from each conference) make the playoffs, which changes things quite a bit.

“Now it's only two or three teams thinking, 'Maybe we are completely out of it, so we will sell.' Before it was five or six, and that has changed the dynamic of the trade deadline, and in my opinion, for the better.”

With 17 games remaining, the Stars are two points behind Sioux City in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and look to continue their play down the stretch.

“There was a little bit happening at the trade deadline, with some conversations happening, but at the end of the day it is very difficult to trade out a key component, especially at a time like this,” Chupp said. “We need all our key components and we need them to be good for us and not mess with the dynamic of our locker room, which I have said all year is extremely strong.”

With one of the youngest teams in the league, the coach saw Lincoln's hot stretch coming.

“I think it's young guys adjusting to our league and starting to feel more comfortable,” Chupp said. “What it takes to be successful, and it is a hard league to adjust to, for the main reason that practices are extremely difficult and fast-paced and then you are expected to perform at a high level on the weekend."

Six Stars have hit double digits in goal scoring, with Casey Dornbach and Dominick Mersch closing in on 20-goal seasons, but it's been a recent stretch of everyone pitching in on scoring.

Tristan Ashbrook has scored five goals in his last seven games, including back-to-back two-goal games last weekend. Rookies Devlin McCabe and Paul Cotter also rank in the top 10 in Stars scoring.

“It's paying off,” Chupp said. “We expect everyone to contribute and we are thankful that they are.”

The Stars host a pair of games at the Ice Box this weekend, beginning Friday against Waterloo at 7:30 p.m.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or tgray@journalstar.com.

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