What's up with the Dallas Stars?

Some aggressive new players and an entirely new attitude, according to coach Ken Hitchcock.

The Stars' coach attributes the team's early-season success to the addition of three new players who have ``given us that competitive edge that we need in our game.'' Hitchcock referred to forwards Pat Verbeek and Dave Reid and offensive-minded defenseman Sergei Zubov.

Moreover, Hitchcock says, the Stars are stronger mentally this season.

``A lot of the guys who were here last year deserve a lot of the credit, too, because they have up-tempoed their game and I think that's a big reason'' for the team's fast start.

The Stars won their first six games, the best start in the franchise's 30-year history, before a 6-1 loss to Vancouver on Thursday night.

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TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE: So far, the NHL seems satisfied with the preseason experiment of using two referees along with two linesmen in a game.

The NHL went with the new alignment six times during the exhibition season with generally positive results, according to director of officiating Bryan Lewis.

``The (officiating) team sounded very positive,'' Lewis says. ``We did not fill the penalty bench, as some people anticipated. We were not struck by the puck more often. We lessened the skating.''

The one negative: ``One of our officials said to us he didn't feel as much in the game.''

Lewis said that information wasn't available from all the games, ``but I witnessed two that were very positive. And with consultation with both the general managers at the time, they did, too.''

There has been no discussion about replacing the current system of one referee and two linesmen in regular-season games, however.

``It was just that, an experiment,'' Lewis said.

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FAST START FOR THOROUGHBLADES: The Kentucky Thoroughblades are off and running _ at the box office.

When the expansion Thoroughblades opened at home against the Carolina Monarchs this season, the game was attended by an AHL record crowd of 17,503.

Previous high for an AHL game was 17,446 on Feb. 6, 1989, at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena between Adirondack and Newmarket.

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PHILADELPHIA HAT TRICK: Not all the hat tricks at the CoreStates Center in Philadelphia are on the ice.

Steve Tobin, a Philadelphia artist, is building a permanent exhibit on the main concourse of the building of hats thrown onto the rink by Flyers fans. Tobin says he will select several hats from each hat trick and bronze them for the unusual sculpture.

Tobin said the idea of collecting hats first occurred to him when the Flyers' John LeClair scored three times in a 1995 playoff game.

The hats are being chosen ``for their artistic value based on originality, personality and how they portray the spectators' involvement with hockey,'' according to a team spokesman.

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SIGNING OUT: Chris Phillips, the top pick in the NHL draft this past summer, still hasn't signed with Ottawa Senators. That's nothing new this year.

Of the 26 first-round picks, 20 are yet to be signed by NHL clubs. As a matter of fact, only two of the first-rounders started the season with their clubs _ defenseman Ruslan Salei with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and right wing Dainius Zubrus with the Philadelphia Flyers.

And Phillips? The 18-year-old defenseman has returned to Canadian Juniors with Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League.

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ONE OF A KIND: The Milwaukee Admirals of the International Hockey League should be used to close games by now _ they played nine straight one-goal games, dating back to last season's playoffs, before the streak was broken in a 7-5 win over Las Vegas on Oct. 9.

The record during the streak: 6-3.

End advance for Oct. 19-20