The Missouri Mavericks had been playing well, really well as a matter of fact. They had won their previous five games against some tough opposition, and were sitting atop the Western Conference. After a tough road trip to Tulsa and Allen, the winning streak is now in the books, but the string of solid play is far from behind us.
Unfortunately, things like this will happen over the course of a long season. Sometimes, a team plays well, but the other team plays better. Sometimes you go toe to toe with formidable opponents, and they land the final punch in a long bout. That’s exactly what happened to the Mavericks against Tulsa and Allen last weekend. A shootout defeat at the hands of the Tulsa Oilers is nothing to hang our heads about. Tulsa is a team with high expectations now that Jason Christie has taken over behind the bench. So to go on the road and pick up a point, especially in a division where every point will matter this season, is something that has to be seen as somewhat of a success.
The 2-1 loss to the Allen Americans on Saturday night stings a little bit more. This was a much-anticipated match-up across the landscape of the entire ECHL. The defending Kelly Cup Champions going 12 rounds with the redemption-seeking Mavericks. These are two teams that have a long history against each other, and this season the story lines are even more intriguing. Allen dominated the season series last season, nearly sweeping the Mavericks across the board. While everyone likes to talk about Mavericks coach Richard Matvichuk facing his old colleague Steve Martinson, this season it is more about long-time American Trevor Ludwig, who was a key cog in the three championships in as many years for Allen, exchanging the red sweater for the orange. Ludwig was a staple on the blue line for Allen coach Steve Martinson for years, but has crossed that rivalry line to not only join the Mavericks, but also to be named captain of the squad. You can’t find drama like that even on your daytime soap operas.
Saturday night was a rough, tough, defensive game. It was the type of game that we’ve seen the Mavs win on several occasions so far this season. Unfortunately, Allen goalie Joel Rumpel had plans of his own for the night, and those plans included shutting down any decent scoring chance that they Mavs could muster against the solid Allen defense. Allen would get goals from Johnathan Parker and (point machine) Chad Costello that would overshadow a solid performance from Mavs goalie Parker Milner. The Mavs would add a late goal from Tyler Barnes with 75 seconds to play, but that would be as close as they would get. A tough loss against a tough team in a tough environment. These things will happen.
The biggest thing to take away from the loss to Allen is to remember the type of play that we saw from both sides. That is what we will see all season from these two teams, as they battle for supremacy in the Central Division. Sure, there will be the occasional 5-4 game, but that will be the exception, not the rule. The Central Division allowed more goals than any other division in the ECHL last season, and every team spent the off-season molding their blue lines into big, bad, shot-blocking, crease-clearing, check-throwing units that can shut down some of the fire power that each team brings to the fold. Being able to play solid defensive hockey will be key to winning the Central Division this season, and what we saw from the Mavs and Allen on Saturday night shows why they will be fighting tooth and nail all season to reign supreme.