If the highest form of flattery is imitation, consider the Lincoln Stars' Matthew Barbolini flattered.
The 6-foot Stars center has a new nickname among his teammates as "Mr. Ice" and has on more than one occasion earned respect from the Stars' coaching staff.
Though Barbolini has caught some grief from his teammates in locker room fun, his post-practice habits are catching on. It's not uncommon for a team to have a player stay out a little longer after coach has called practice, and Barbolini is one that fits that mold.
“Anything you can do to get an advantage or anything you can do to make yourself feel like you've done enough that day,” Barbolini said. “You find your own thing, whether it is in the weight room lifting a little bit more, or it's on the ice. Anything you can do to make you better each day.”
According to Lincoln assistant coach Chris Michael, Barbolini is the Stars' most improved player from camp in June until late in the season. On Friday, Barbolini completed the Stars 6-5 comeback victory over Team USA with the shootout-winning goal at the Ice Box.
“It was definitely exciting to know that coach has the confidence to put you out there,” Barbolini said. “My mom was there, so it was really important to get the game-winning goal in front of her. It was really special for her.”
The Williamsville, New York, native ranks third in points on the Stars active roster with 21 (seven goals and 14 assists) and has scored three goals in his last six games played, including the shootout.
“I don't know if the shootout winner was the result of the extra work that (Barbolini) has put in, but his game in general is the result of the extra work that he has put in,” Stars coach Cody Chupp said. “He's been extremely effective against any opponent over the course of the last couple months. College interest is starting to heat up because of it, and he is a prime example of what our league (USHL) is about.”
The Stars will have another tough task at hand with one weekend game against the Western Conference-leading Tri-City Storm in Kearney.
Tri-City is currently on a three-game winning streak and has clinched a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Stars vs. Storm game is set for 7 p.m. Friday. Both teams will also meet again Tuesday in Kearney.