10 games left. 20 possible points. One game in hand on the team they are chasing. I’ve been talking all season about how the Mavericks have overcome the odds, how they have exceeded expectations, how they have fought back when everyone has counted them out. Well, all of that is purely conjecture at this point. The time for cliches is over. It is time for this team to put up or shut up. Okay, I guess that’s one more cliche.
There have been so many questions surrounded this year’s version of the Mavericks, questions that until recently were left completely unanswered. There is always overwhelming emptiness that shrouds our minds when hockey season nears its conclusion, and not making the playoffs only makes that worse. There are still too many questions, still too many things that we need to find out about this team. 10 games are not enough. This team is much better than just 10 more games. The players and coaches need more. The fans need more. I need more.
The odds are not in their favor, sure, but by a stroke of incredible luck, they still have a shot. Alaska has refused to take the stranglehold on the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division, giving hope where no one thought it would lie. After dropping a head-scratcher to Wichita on home ice last Tuesday, then getting swept in a weekend set against Quad City, the tenet in the hockey world is that the Mavericks are done, over, kaput. Maybe that is the case, I don’t know. What I do know is that we’ve seen this team play some incredible 10-game stretches at points throughout this season. We know they can do it, and more importantly, they know they can do it. It would be easy to roll over and die after that 5-0 drubbing in Moline on Saturday night. It would be easy to say that it’s too hard, that it is too much ground to make up with too few games left. However, when has this team taken the easy route at all this season? Bueller? Bueller?
Maybe they won’t do it. Actually, there’s a very realistic chance that the last we see of the 2016-17 Missouri Mavericks is on Saturday, April 8th in Utah. But, what if they do accomplish the unimaginable? What if they string together enough wins to overtake Alaska (and Utah in the process) and steal that final playoff spot from the Aces in their final season? What if they hit the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the ECHL, compared to sputtering their way in like they have in the past, just to flame out early in the postseason? A lot of questions, including the aforementioned, would be emphatically answered about what and who this team is, and also what spot they deserve in the all-time rankings among other Missouri teams of the past. They would be the team that put together one last hurrah, the team that got punched and kept punching back, the team that left it all out on the ice, the team that refused to go quietly into the night.
Standing in their way is their Darth Vader, their Ivan Drago, their Keyser Soze, their Dr. Evil: the two-time defending Kelly Cup Champion Allen Americans, who have loaded up once again, looking for their fifth consecutive championship (after back to back championships in the Central Hockey League prior to joining the ECHL). To be fair in regards to Allen’s success, they are pretty much every team’s villain at this point. However, Allen has been the kryptonite to every piece of success that the Mavericks have ever had. It’s only fitting that in order to accomplish this near impossible feat, they have to face the Americans in three of the 10 games. Every underdog story has some kind of climactic, unexpected triumph along the way whether it be Rudy finally getting into Notre Dame, Mystery mounting the comeback against the New York Rangers, or District 5 finally learning to become a team. This version of the Mavericks, this story with an unwritten ending has reached that point. What comes next can either result in another titillating chapter in an epic narrative that pushes onward or the swan song of a team reeking with unrealized potential and unanswered questions.
It all starts on Wednesday night at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. The book is open, blank pages staring back at them, pens in their hands. Regardless of how it ends, I can’t wait to see what the next page brings.