INDEPENDENCE, MO – Before the start of the recent nine-game homestand, Missouri Mavericks head coach John-Scott Dickson talked about how the upcoming stretch of games within the friendly confines of the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena would be a defining period for his hockey club.
“We need to decide whether we want to be a team that’s just trying to make the playoffs, or if we are a team that is going to make the playoffs,” Dickson said.
While there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the two sides of that statement on the surface, the underlying theme of the message suggests that there is, in fact, a significant difference. For weeks upon weeks, the Mavericks played the role of Jekyll and Hyde better than even Robert Louis Stevenson could have imagined. The Mavericks went through a vicious and deflating cycle of winning a game or two, looking impressive at times, only to turn around and look like District Five team that Gordon Bombay inherited due to some poor life choices. It was frustrating, and even infuriating at times. The Mavericks just couldn’t seem to get out of their own way.
Then came this golden opportunity to turn their season around. After floating just below the .500 mark for most of the season, the Mavericks would get the chance to play in front of the Orange Army for nine straight games, on home ice, where they have had much more success than on the road. Realistically, securing 12 out of 18 possible points would have been considered a success, however, the coaching staff and players set their sights higher. They wanted at least 16 points. While it was a lofty goal, not to mention one that they failed to reach, it was still a sign that everyone in that locker room knew that this was their chance to string together a few wins and make a push for the playoffs.
The Mavericks took full advantage of their homestand, winning seven of nine, putting them right back into the thick of the playoff hunt. They currently sit just a mere seven points behind the Alaska Aces for the final postseason spot in the Mountain Division. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why they have been firing on all cylinders lately:
With Tuesday night’s thrilling overtime victory, McAdam’s winning streak is now at five games. He has save totals of 37, 47, and 33 over the last three games, a sweep of the Wichita Thunder. McAdam had his struggles after returning from Bridgeport, but appears to be gaining more and more confidence with each start.
Dickson referred to Verhaeghe as “dominant.” That’s putting it mildly. To be honest, Verhaeghe has no business playing at this level, which makes his call-up on Wednesday not exactly shocking. In just 16 games with the Mavericks this season, he has recorded 32 points. He’s the only player to average two points per game with a minimum of 15 games played. He was held pointless in his Mavs debut this season and then registered at least one point in every game since which is the longest point streak in the ECHL this season. During the nine-game homestand, he tallied eight goals and 12 assists. Those are video game numbers. Unreal.
Overshadowed by Verhaeghe’s dominance has been the potent play of Fox lately. He leads the Mavericks with 48 points and is the only other player to average more than a point per game. On the homestand, Fox had four goals and nine assists. He has points in 14 of his last 17 games, with six of those games being multi-point efforts.
The Assassin, Matt Finn
During an important stretch of games, there will be key moments where your best players have to step up and make big-time plays. That moment appeared to come in Saturday night’s 7-6 overtime win over Wichita. After a back and forth game, whose score looked more like a defensive NFL battle than a professional hockey game, Matt Finn played hero with the overtime winner, his second goal and third point on the night. The Mavs had won six of eight with that win, but would be all for naught if they weren’t able to finish the homestand strong with a win on Tuesday against the same Wichita Thunder team.
After a pretty ho-hum game to that point, the Mavericks looked like Thunder goalie Scott Greenham had finally figured them out. He had held them scoreless all night and looked like he was primed to steal a win for the visiting Thunder. With 1:58 left in regulation, trailing 1-0, Dickson used his timeout to give his tired skaters a breather, and also to pull McAdam in favor of a sixth attacker with the faceoff in the Wichita end. Rocco Carzo won the faceoff, a couple of passes from Verhaeghe and Fox, and Finn once again had a chance to save his team. His wrister from the point somehow made it through traffic in front, caught the iron, and hit twine behind Greenham to tie the game late in regulation.
After a back and forth overtime session, in which both goalies made some incredible stops, the game appeared to be headed towards a shootout. Verhaeghe picked up a loose puck around the Mavericks defensive blue line with just eight seconds on the clock and used every ounce of legs he had left to at least have a chance to get a shot off before the horn. His attempt was blocked by the Thunder defense, and before anyone could locate the puck Finn snapped one goalward to beat Greenham with just .4 seconds left in overtime in what was one of the craziest finishes I’ve ever seen at the SECA. In the biggest stretch of games this season for the Mavericks, they needed their big-time players to make big-time plays. None were bigger than Finn’s heroics.