As we turn the page on another year in the books, it’s time to reflect on some of the great moments over the last 12 months of Missouri Mavericks hockey. The Mavericks are currently the best team in the ECHL, but there were some pivotal moments, both good and bad, that have led them to this point. There is still a lot of work to be done before checking off things such as a division championship, regular season crown, and Kelly Cup championship on their to do list, but that conversation is for another place and time. For now, let’s take a moment to reflect on the top moments of 2015:
On February 6th, the ECHL Board of Directors approved the sale of the Mavericks to Lamar Hunt, Jr. While the previous ownership group can never be thanked enough for bringing hockey back to the area, and believing in Independence as a home, the sale of the team to Hunt marked a significant step forward for the future of hockey in Kansas City. The Hunt family has done so much for the sports world in the metro area, and now Lamar Jr. was looking to bring hockey into the mainstream realm of professional sports in Kansas City. Not only was it great to see the team sold to a notable, local owner, but Mr. Hunt’s vision and dedication to building the sport from the youth levels and up was something that was long overdue. Somewhere down the road, when Kansas City finally gets an NHL team, that journey started on February 6th, 2015 with Lamar Hunt, Jr. at the forefront.
Farewell to Legends
The Mavericks wrapped up their home schedule on April 7th, with an impressive 5-1 victory over the visiting Brampton Beast. We all know how tumultuous the 2014-15 season was, so there’s no point in painting an incredible vivid image on the events leading up to the home finale. Even though the bad times
definitely outweighed the good from last season, this game is one that should stand out for all of us. The play on the ice was stellar. The effort on both sides of the puck was unparalleled. I still remember Colten Hayes throwing his body in front of slapshots, and Geoff Walker catching a Beast forward from behind on an odd-man rush even though the Mavs were up by four goals late in the game. This was the type of game that we had waited to see all season long. It’s just too bad that it didn’t come until the last home game of the season. Outside of the play on the ice, this game would mark the last time that we would see Matt Stephenson, John-Scott Dickson, and the great Sebastien Thinel ever lace up the skates in a Mavericks sweater. Those three gave us some pretty incredible moments during their tenures in orange, moments that we’ll still be talking about ten or twenty years from now. While we still get to see the ugly mugs of Stephenson and JSD at every Mavs home game this season, Sebby is playing overseas and has moved on. How fitting that his last game at The IEC (now Silverstein Eye Centers Arena) would end with him recording three assists in the game.
After making the jump to the ECHL prior to the 2014-15 season, questions about a possible NHL affiliation started to sprinkle in as fans were anxious to see their Mavericks fully integrate into the scope of professional hockey. When Lamar Hunt, Jr. bought the franchise, one of his first missions was to find a mutually beneficial NHL affiliation that would provide stability and vision for years to come. On June 11th, everyone got their wish. The Mavericks announced their shiny new affiliation with the New York Islanders and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and the rest is history. After years of a somewhat dormant relationship with the Chicago Wolves, the Mavericks were now poised to see what a full relationship with an NHL parent club would be like. Offensive and defensive systems would be uniform throughout the entire affiliation. Strength and conditioning techniques and strategies as well. From John Tavares to the last guy on the bench for the Mavericks, every player in the organization would be using the same systems, verbiage, and strategies every time that they stepped onto the ice. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last six months, it’s worked out pretty well.
Piling up Wins
The Mavericks have taken the ECHL by storm throughout their first 27 games of the 2015-16 campaign. With a bevy of talented skaters, a blue line that other teams could only wish for, and two of the top goalies in the league, the Mavericks have jumped out to a 23-3-0-1 record. They are currently on pace to win 62 games, which would shatter both their organization record of 44 wins and the ECHL record of 56 wins. While they aren’t likely to continue to play to .870 winning percentage for the rest of the season, the Mavericks have shown that they are a legitimate contender for the Kelly Cup. They are now playing with the target on their backs, so it will be interesting to see how a young team handles that type of situation going forward. Regardless of how the next 45 games play out, the start to this season has been an incredible display of hockey.
For so many seasons during Scott Hillman’s reign behind the bench, the Mavericks were a team with offensive firepower that could shock and awe. However, for the majority of those seasons, the defensive system doomed the team during their postseason efforts. We saw a lot of 6-3 or 5-4 wins over the course of the first five seasons, but when Richard Matvichuk took over, it was apparent that we were all in store for a culture shock. Now that we are in year two with Matvichuk at the helm, his vision for how this team should be built is coming to fruition. The talent that has been gathered via the affiliation helps for sure, but Matvichuk always believed that this team should be built from the back-end, forward, not the other way around. The success that this team has had so far hasn’t come from its ability to put up monstrous amounts of goals. It has come from incredible goaltending, stability and sound defensive play from the blue liners, and forwards willing to put in the work on both sides of the puck. Team defense has made this team rise above the rest. Team defense has been the reason behind so many of the successes on the offensive side of the puck. Team defense is what will keep this team at the top for the entire season.