The Lincoln Stars have had their rough and tough reputation for nearly two decades now, and the way the 2017-18 season has started, that does not look to change.
Lincoln (3-0-0) holds six of the top 10 spots in USHL history for career penalty minutes, according to the league. Through three games this year, the Stars have already racked up 103 penalty minutes by committee. That is on pace for more than 2,000 minutes this season.
Dating back to the days of Brandon Bollig, the second-most penalized player in USHL history, the Stars have been looking for ways to cut down the penalties while still imposing force among their opponents.
"Playing physical is a huge part of our game. You want to wear that team down, you want to wear their defensemen down and their forwards," Stars' captain Dominick Mersch said. "It helps our speed take over as well. Once our opponent is scared to get pucks, we are going to beat them to it. Playing physical gives us momentum."
That is all well and good for head coach Cody Chupp, but the first-year coach is looking for a way to impose that play while cutting down the penalty minutes.
"It depends on the penalty; to be honest, we have taken too many penalties, but a lot of them are self-inflicted, retaliatory not smart penalties and that is the area we need to clean up," Chupp said. "The undisciplined penalties we have to clean up. The quality penalties of playing hard and playing the right way we will kill those.
"We don't want to waste our energy and waste our time killing those penalties that are selfish, and it is a key focus for us going into this weekend."
Despite the high number of penalties, the Stars' penalty-kill unit has been a backbone to the early success, stopping 16 of 18 opponent power-play chances, but the Stars want to flip the switch and force teams to put them on the power play instead of a man down.
"It's a credit to those guys that are a part of that group," Chupp said. "Coach (Chris) Michael has done an incredible job early in the season getting those guys locked in, and fine tuning it as we go.
"They have to be big for us with the number of penalties we have taken. We want to play hard and we want to play aggressive, but we need to make sure we clean up some of the undisciplined or selfish stuff."
The Stars travel to Cedar Rapids on Friday for a 7 p.m. game before returning to Nebraska on Saturday against the Tri-City Storm in Kearney.