The Missouri Mavericks continued their hot start to the season this past weekend, sweeping the home and home series with their familiar foes, the Wichita Thunder. After dropping their season opener to the Alaska Aces, the Mavs have pieced together a four-game winning streak, backed by stellar defensive play, and a red-hot netminder in Josh Robinson.
The Mavs made the trip down I-35 on Friday night to square off against one of their Central Division enemies in a game may have seemed like an afterthought this early in the season, but that is far from the case. After their struggles last season within the division, every opportunity to win a game on the road against a divisional opponent is an opportunity in which to take advantage. Wichita has had the Mavs’ number of the last few years, so much that this once fierce rivalry has dissipated into a shell of itself. Coach Richard Matvichuk and his squad have a lot to prove after last year’s debacle and earning a hard-fought divisional win on the road would be a good start on the path to redemption.
The Mavericks would do just that, spurred by a three-goal explosion early in the third period of Friday night’s contest. Tyler Barnes would finally break the scoreless tie, just 53 seconds into the final frame. Colin Markison would provide quite the encore, lighting the lamp with an impressive goal of his own just 24 seconds later. Kellen Jones would put the game out of reach with just under 13 minutes to play, fighting off a Thunder defenseman that was blanketing him, getting just enough on his shot to squeak through the pads of Wichita goalie David Shantz. The first marker from Barnes, however, would prove to be more than enough offense on this night as Robinson denied every Thunder chance on his way to a 27 save shutout, his second shutout in three starts to that point.
After four games on the road, the Mavericks would return to the friendly confines of the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena for their much-anticipated home opener on Saturday night. The atmosphere for home openers is always electric, and Saturday night would be no different as the Orange Army packed the house to finally see their boys on the ice in person. Despite dominating the game play in the first period and holding Wichita to a miniscule four shots on goal in the frame, the Thunder would tally the only goal in the period. Michael Neal and Todd Hosmer were going to war with the Mavericks defense down in the corners, and after winning a battle, Hosmer fed Dalton Reum across the face of the crease who beat Robinson to put the Thunder up 1-0. That lead would hold until 7:37 into the second period. Thunder forward Joey Sides was sent to the box for a high-sticking double minor and the Mavericks would make Wichita pay for his transgression. A blast off the stick of Mavs captain Trevor Ludwig would be deflectly nicely by Andrew Courtney, and Thunder goalie Grant Rollheiser never had a chance. Later in the period, another Thunder high sticking penalty, this one to Dan Milan, would give the Mavericks the chance to take the lead, and take the lead they did. After some nice puck movement, Courtney found Ludwig sneaking down the slot. A tape to tape pass, and blister of a wrist shot later, and the Mavericks had taken a 2-1 lead that would hold true to the final horn. Robinson would be stellar yet again, stopping 17 of 18 shots faced, and Rocco Carzo would pitch in with a helper on each of the Mavs’ goals for a multi-point night as well.
The Mavs have now won four in a row and sit atop the Western Conference, alongside the Fort Wayne Komets and Allen Americans. Quad City, Tulsa, and Allen are looming this week, so the time to dwell on the four-game winning streak has long passed. Matvichuk will have to get his squad ready for battle quickly as the Mallards come to the SECA on Tuesday night.
Be sure to tune in for The Sin Bin Pregame show starting at 6pm on Tuesday on the Missouri Mavericks Mobile app. Ryan Gibson and I will discuss the Mavericks hot start and preview Tuesday night’s match up.