Lincoln eyes USHL playoffs, relies on key assistant to succeed | Stars

The last time the Lincoln Stars made a legitimate playoff run to a Clark Cup, Lincoln made a key hire in the 2015-16 season — a full-time goalie coach.

The Stars haven’t made the playoffs since the 2017-18 season, but the hiring of Clay Adams in 2015-16 made a huge difference. Chris Azzano also served as a full-time goaltending coach during the Stars’ 2017-18 season.

Lincoln finished second in the Western Conference in 2015-16 with 69 points and a 33-24-3 record, losing to Waterloo in the first round 3-1 in a best-of-five series.

This year, Lincoln has another full-time goaltending coach in Artt Brey, and that has led to two of the USHL’s top goaltending pairings, Kaiden Mbereko and Cameron Whitehead.

“In this game, what’s happening is a lot of coaches are paying attention to forwards and Ds (defenders) and goaltenders are kind of neglected,” Stars head coach Rocky Russo said. “It’s not on purpose or intentional, I just think goalkeeper training is a bit of a different animal.

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“Having Artt here, full-time goaltending coach, assistant coach to build a good relationship with both guys to bounce things back on him as a guy who’s been through this both at the junior level and at the college level. He brings a lot of trust to them and criticizes them.”

Brey brings experience to the Clark Cup playoffs not just for Whitehead or Mbereko, but the entire Stars team and staff won two Clark Cups in his USHL tenor with the Dubuque Saints (2012-13) and Sioux Falls Stampede (20-14-15).

“For me this year it helped my overall game on and off the ice,” Mbereko said. “My mental game has developed a lot more in the last two months. More about the process than the outcome and everything related to it on Friday and Saturday.

“Having Artt full time has been great. Obviously on the ice we always do our jobs and he puts me and Whitey first and always makes sure we get what we need before anyone else. ”

Brey went 9-1 with Dubuque in the 2012-13 playoffs with a 1.65 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. With Sioux Falls, Brey was not the primary goalkeeper in the Stampede championship race.

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“Having (Brey) help with the technical aspects of the game and stuff like that,” Whitehead said. “We always go out in the morning to work on the technical side and stuff like that. He’s always with us the whole time in training and what he likes and what he sees.

“If we didn’t have it there, if you pick up a bad habit or something, you don’t have anyone to tell you. None of the coaches or players other than Artt understand the position the way he does. “

Mbereko ranks eighth in the USHL in goals-against average (3.01) and is 18-11-3. Whitehead is 13th in the league with a 3.19 goals-against average and a 16-8-4 record.

The Stars face Waterloo, which eliminated the Stars from the playoffs the last two times Lincoln made the playoffs, in the first round of the playoffs in a three-game all-out series at the Ice Box starting Monday at 6 p.m.

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