It was a……….rough……..weekend to say the least. The Missouri Mavericks dropped their first two games of the 2016-17 season, getting outscored 10-3 in the two contests against the two-time defending Kelly Cup Champion Allen Americans.
There are two ways to look at this past weekend. The first would be to simply look at the box scores of the games. That would incite ridicule, frustration, and most dangerously, panic. By the numbers alone, you would see that the defending ECHL Goalie of the Year, Josh Robinson, surrendered six goals in his season debut on Saturday night. You would also see that that the Mavericks were unsuccessful on the 14 power play opportunities that they received in those two games, and also gave up a shorthanded goal. You would see that players like Gary Steffes and Kale Kerbashian ran rough-shot over the Mavericks, even though those two guys and their abilities are well known throughout the Mavericks organization. I would not suggest looking at the weekend’s games through this lens. It’s counterproductive.
I don’t say that to imply that I’m wearing rose-colored glasses, to be a “homer,” or to say that there aren’t concerns moving forward. I am saying that because there are several factors to take into consideration before jumping to snap judgments, especially two games into a 72 game season.
That being said, let’s take a look at the other side of the coin. Don’t mistake these for excuses, because they are not. These are facts.
The Mavericks have an incredibly young team, and those players with experience have had next to no playing time with each other. Of the 20 players that took the ice for Missouri over the weekend, 10 of them were rookies, and 13 of them played their first game for the Mavericks. To expect immediate cohesion and chemistry is incredibly far-fetched and unreasonable. Allen returned numerous players from last year’s squad and others have played for Allen and Steve Martinson in the past. Watching that game, it was easy to see how comfortable the Americans were on the ice together. That’s a huge deal.
It was also an incredibly emotional night in Allen. The team raised their championship banner from last season, the players received their championship rings, and it was their home opener. We all know what the atmosphere is like inside the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena for the Mavericks’ home opener. Imagine celebrating a championship on top of that. Yeah, pretty electric. Also, let us not forget the season opener last year up in Anchorage. The record-breaking Mavericks dropped a game against a far inferior team in Alaska as the Aces really seemed to get that extra jolt from the crowd and atmosphere. Players talk all of the time about how much of a difference the fans make over the course of a game, and while many people view that as pandering to boost fan morale, there is a lot of truth to it.
Next is a point that any Mavericks fan hates to admit: Allen is a very, very good team. I know, choke back the vomit for a second and think about it. To take it one step further, Allen is a scary good team. Martinson himself referred to this team as the best he’s had in his 21 years of coaching. That says a whole hell of a lot. There is depth and talent on every single forward line and defensive pairing. They have the recurring nightmare inducer Riley Gill between the pipes, oh and their backup, Jamie Murray, just happens to be the guy who posted a 35-save shutout on Sunday. That’s not exactly an average tandem protecting the cage. There is a reason that this team has won four consecutive championships, two of those being Kelly Cups, which many thought that a Central Hockey League team being a contender for was a pipe dream at best.
Okay, that’s enough good stuff about Allen. I need a shower.
The final point is probably the most important point of all. This Mavericks team will be good, very good in my opinion. They have talent. They have depth. They have solid goaltending. There are obviously issues to work out on special teams, but that will come over time. The defensive lapses are concerning, especially the number of odd man rushes given up over the weekend, but hopefully John-Scott Dickson and his staff will correct that sooner rather than later. I would fully expect him to, knowing the importance he places on sound defensive hockey.
There are many good things to take out of this weekend, even if the box score says otherwise. The Mavericks didn’t play as poorly as it would seem, however, Allen played that much better than them. The goalies played incredibly well but fell victim to a good team making their opposition pay for their mistakes. There were flashes of what this team will be capable of on the offensive side of the puck once that aforementioned cohesion and chemistry settle into place. So what I’m saying is to take your finger off of that panic button, put that button back into your drawer, and leave it there for a while. This team will do what we all expect them to do, given the time and opportunity to come together. To expect this team to be on the same level as Allen at this point is a little too hopeful. What is completely reasonable to expect is progress, and the Mavericks will get their chance to show that Friday night in Wichita.