Lincoln Stars, 9.23

The Stars' Matthew Barbolini practices Monday at the Ice Box. Barbolini and Josh Lopina return after being the go-to guys for Lincoln last season.

Josh Lopina and Matthew Barbolini knew something had to change.

After the Lincoln Stars went a grueling 12-48-8 in the 2018-19 season, Lopina and Barbolini grew even closer.

“Especially after the year we had last year, we had some fire under our guts,” Lopina said.

Lopina set a goal of weighing more than 190 pounds by hitting the weight room five to six days a week during the summer. He met that goal, weighing in at 193 pounds during the Stars' preseason camp.

“I had my mom in the kitchen four times a day,” Lopina said. “Thanks, Mom, you helped me hit that goal. But this year I'm just trying to be a leader. Points will come and we are just trying to be the best team we can.”

As for Barbolini, having a guy like Lopina on his line has helped him find success in the league. For more than 40 games last season, Barbolini and Lopina were paired on the same line.

“I think it is definitely an advantage to have a guy like Josh on my side this whole time,” Barbolini said. "We've developed a lot of chemistry and us being returners, we have a lot of motivation coming into this year.”

The center-forward Lopina agrees.

“It's pretty obvious we are pretty close,” Lopina said. “We were on the same line for about three-fourths of the year last year. We grew really close last year through those struggles. It helps coming back and knowing a guy that well. Hopefully the guys see that.”

Lopina (12) and Barbolini (7) combined for 19 goals as first-year players in the USHL. They both have a goal this season, each scoring in Lincoln's 4-2 victory over Muskegon Friday in Pittsburgh.

Even in trying times last year, Barbolini will never forget the moment he completed the Stars' comeback victory over the Team USA U18s with the game-winning shootout goal.

“Speaking in Barbolini and Lopina's case, they were two young guys coming into the league that probably got thrust into an opportunity right off the bat,” Lincoln head coach Cody Chupp said. “Obviously the (2018-19) season was a frustrating one as far as wins and losses, and maybe even a little bit of individual success.

“Those are guys that played a huge role for us last year. They weren't just dipping their toes in the water, they had to be go-to guys. Now they are going to have the opportunity to earn their spot every single day. That wasn't something they didn't really have to do last year, because they were so counted on.”

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


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