Shhhhhhh. Do you hear that? Be quiet! You don’t want to scare it away! If you listen ever so closely, you can hear the month of September just around the bend. For us here at The Sin Bin, hockey season officially starts in September. There will be team previews, predictions, player assignments, team events, friendly banter, heated debates, and everything else we love about this beautiful time of year.
I’ll admit it. I’m going to jump the gun a little bit. To be honest, it has been too long since I’ve written anything outside of players signings and trade news, and the itch has gotten too strong. No, not that kind of itch. Weirdos. The hockey itch is back, but then again, it never really left. So, let’s talk some puck.
The Missouri Mavericks have had quite the busy off-season. It’s been fun to watch. Richard Matvichuk has completely re-tooled the roster, made some changes behind the bench (which is yet to be formally announced), and has a shiny, new affiliation to aid in his ultimate goal in bringing a championship to Independence. While it is easy to get excited about the changes that have taken place, the fact of the matter is that questions will surround this team until they hit the ice up in Alaska on opening weekend.
As that wonderful day approaches, let’s recognize five storylines surrounding the Mavs heading into the upcoming campaign:
1) No Distractions
– No one within the Mavericks organization will give you any kind of line or excuse in regards to the tumultuous season that was just endured. While no one wants to hear any kid of excuse, there were some extenuating circumstances that would scream “transition year,” like a new coach, new league, and new owner. There was bound to be some growing pains. Now that all of that is behind us, Matvichuk has had a full off-season to build his squad how he sees fit. Owner Lamar Hunt Jr. has laid the foundation and expectations for this franchise moving forward. General Manager Brent Thiessen continues to be the rock in the Front Office. The dust has settled, and now it is up to those three to prove that last season was an anomaly.
2) Affiliation Effects
– The Mavericks announced their first NHL affiliation in team history this off-season, and we have already started to see the fruits of that agreement. One thing that fans will have to get used to, and I can’t stress this enough, is the constant player movement that typically comes with an active affiliation. Players will be coming and going quite frequently throughout the season. While it will take the fans some time to get used to this, the Mavericks will not have that luxury. It will be a test to Matvichuk and all of the players to not only adjust to new teammates/linemates on the fly, but also new personalities in the locker room. At the end of the day, this is obviously a tremendous feather in the cap for Thiessen and the organization, but it will be a culture change from top to bottom.
3) A New Leader
– For the first time in a long time, the Mavericks will have a new captain on the ice. Sebastien Thinel is now in
France, and the opportunity for a new voice to step up has presented itself. It’s tough to even guess who that might be considering the numerous players that are under contract that have been great leaders on other squads. Whoever it may be will have big shoes to fill, and will have to earn the respect of his teammates more on the ice than in the locker room. Matvichuk and his new Assistant Coach will expect nothing but the best from every guy that pulls on a sweater, and the new captain will have to be the epitome of that message.
4) Roster Re-tool
– Quickly, name the returning players from last season. It shouldn’t take you long. There’s only four: Andrew Courtney, Patch Alber, Chris Owens, and Josh Robinson. Gone are the likes of Thinel, Lindsay Sparks, Geoff Walker, Jared Brown, Alex Lepkowski, Scott Langdon, and Matt Stephenson. A couple of those guys (Langdon and Stephenson) retired, while most are playing elsewhere. While all of those guys made significant contributions, this organization had to wipe the slate clean and bring in fresh blood. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if Matvichuk doesn’t think he has the right guys, then he needs to get the right guys. With a full off-season to build his team, he’s done exactly that. Matvichuk has loaded up on talent with the likes of Pat Cullity, David de Kastrozza, Rocco Carzo,
John Schiavo, and Wes Cunningham. Plus, we haven’t seen what will come the Mavs’ way from Bridgeport, which should include another goalie. Matvichuk has pieced together an impressive squad on paper, but we’ll see if they can put it together on the ice.
5) Fast Start
– The 2014-15 team stumbled out of the gates and never seemed to recover. There will be a lot of pressure on this year’s team to hit the ground running. While that may not be fair to do, it’s reality. Not only are fans ready for hockey, they are even more ready for winning hockey. They have kept the faith, even through the darkest hour, but patience will wear thin if this team has a rough October/November. The Mavericks have a tradition of success, with only the biggest prize of them all missing from the mantle. A lot of the early season games will be for the players to build chemistry and trust on the ice, but this team is too talented to not put up points in the standings while doing so.
The quest for the Kelly Cup may officially start on October 16th, but for the Orange Army faithful, it started with the final horn of the 2014-15 season.