Eleven veterans, three previous Clark Cup winners and a 2017 NHL Draft pick form the building blocks for first-year Lincoln Stars head coach Cody Chupp and his assistants, Chris Michael and Chris Azzano.
"I'm excited about the group, and that hasn't changed from day one," Chupp said. "We're still learning as a group, learning as a staff, but we are getting better every day, and that is a process.
"We wanted quality people that are good in the locker room, good in the community, and I think we found 23 guys that really fit that mold."
For Chupp, a team that thinks fast, responds fast and plays fast is his recipe for success this season. Chupp talked in the offseason about his team being creative on the ice and always being in control of the puck.
"I want our team to be fast, and a fast group," Chupp said. "That doesn't mean every guy in the group has to be a fast individual skater; what I mean is, we want to play fast with or without the puck.
"When we have (the puck), we want to get up and transition fast and into the offensive zone. That is where our creativity is able to kick in and take over. If we are simple and quick in our defensive zone, then we have a chance to turn the puck over and have it to play with it on offense. Speed and transition, and speed and tenacity when we don't have the puck is what we are looking for."
Michael, 35, formerly a coach with the Omaha Lancers, brings a history of developing defensemen to higher levels of play. He played two seasons (2000-02) with the Green Bay Gamblers before playing four years at Miami (Ohio). In 2012-13, Michael began coaching as the head coach of the Chicago Mission U16 team. He quickly moved on to the USHL, becoming an assistant with the Lancers before serving as Omaha's associate head coach from 2014-15 to 2016-17.
Five of the Stars' seven defensemen have quality experience in the USHL, and having six other veteran forwards returning gives the coaching staff a head start.
"These guys are hungry, they are willing to learn, and when you talk, their ears are attentive, their eyes are on you and they are trying to do what we are asking," Michael said. "As a coach that is all you can ask for."
Azzano, just like Michael, brings a specialty to Chupp's staff. The Oshawa, Ontario, native was a three-year NCAA Division III goaltender at Morrisville State College before becoming an assistant coach at SUNY-Canton (2014-15) and SUNY-Cortland (2015-17), also in Division III.
Azzano will work with the entire team, but his playing days as a goalie will help Stars goaltenders Tomas Vomacka and Derek Schaedig.
"I want to be more than a goalie coach, but at the same time, Chupper and Michael have a lot of experience over me," Azzano said. "I am coming in here with an open mind and learning as much as I can."
Vomacka was a fifth-round draft pick by the NHL's Nashville Predators, and Schaedig spent four games with the Stars in fill-in duty, going 4-0-0.
"I think even the best in the world are always looking to improve at the end of the day," Azzano said. "Speaking with Tomas the last few weeks now, he works hard every day pushing to get better and better. It's awesome to work with a guy like that, and I just met Derek, but I can tell he always has a smile on his face and wants to get better.
"Ultimately, those guys are going to push each other to get better, and that is going to make my job easier."
The new-look Stars open the season at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Muskegon Lumberjacks at the Ice Box.