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Des Moines vs. Lincoln Stars, 3/15

Lincoln Stars’ forward Austen Long puts a hip check on Des Moines defenseman Mike Kesselring during a game earlier this season at the Ice Box.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR

Collin Peters joined the Lincoln Stars late in the 2015-16 season to help bolster Lincoln's roster heading into the USHL Clark Cup Playoffs.

A year prior, Peters was helping the Sioux Falls Stampede, who the Stars play in a best-of-three first-round series, hoist the cup. Add in the offseason additions of Wyatt Aamodt and Austen Long, who won the Clark Cup last season with Chicago, and the Stars are loaded with playoff experience.

"You're fighting for your season," Peters said after practice last week. "In the regular season, you know how many games you have left, but in the playoffs, you don't know how many games you've got. You're not guaranteed any games, only the first two.

"Playoffs is a different game; it's a lot of fun and the new guys will have a great time with it. I know (Dominck) Mersch got some experience with the past (playoff) team. Swizz (Austen Long) and Wyatt both won the Clark Cup last year, too; they know what it's all about and everyone is just looking forward to it."

When the Stars last made the playoffs in 2015-16, Mersch, now Lincoln's captain, was a rookie. The Wisconsin commit took a lot from that series loss. The Stars' season ended in a double-overtime loss to the Black Hawks, who won the series 3-1.

"I definitely took in a lot and learned a lot," Mersch said. "I think really it comes down to everyone buying in and coming to work shift in, shift out for however long it takes to win a hockey game."

The Stars got to the playoffs by turning around their season in the second half, winning 20 of their last 25 contests. Lincoln held a 3-1-0 record against the Stampede in the regular season.

But the Stars won't overlook Sioux Falls just because they had success against the Stampede this season.

"They are a good team, like any team in this league," Stars head coach Cody Chupp said. "I don't think you can overlook a team that is ranked ahead of you. 

"One thing about our guys the last half of the year, teams ahead of us in the standings is games that notoriously we have had good starts or performed well in. For us, your life is on the line; if you start overlooking people or start thinking too far ahead, you are in big trouble, because everyone in this league is capable of winning."

The Stars and Stampede begin the best-of-three series Tuesday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls at 7 p.m.

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

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