INDEPENDENCE, MO —
The First Hurdle
With eight consecutive wins under their belt, the best record in the ECHL, and the best start in franchise history to boot, the Missouri Mavericks have to be feeling pretty good about themselves. There hasn’t been much to scrutinize so far this season with the wins piling up, and the view at the top looking more and more glorious with each passing day. Yes, the Mavs have been firing on all cylinders, and every facet of their game has been impressive.
That all changed Monday when Mavericks winger Kellen Jones was loaned to the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. A team typically encounters many hurdles over the course of a long season, and this is the first one that the Mavericks will have to clear. The line of Jones, Jesse Root, and Tyler Barnes has arguably been the best in the ECHL to this point, with all three players ranked in the top 12 in scoring, combining for 54 points through 16 games. Not only is that level of production hard to replace, but the chemistry could be even more difficult to replicate.
There is no guarantee that Jones ever returns to the Mavericks given his long stints in the AHL in previous seasons, so the Mavericks will have to move forward under the assumption that Jones has played his last game in a Mavericks sweater. While a player like Jones is anything but expendable, the stellar play of other forwards on the roster makes his departure bearable, and far from insurmountable. Andrew Courtney seems to be finding his grove, with six points in his last five games. Rocco Carzo had been piling up the helpers before netting his first goal of the season, the overtime winner in Friday night’s win at Tulsa. Colin Markison and Tanner Fritz are two of the more promising rookies in the entire league. Losing Jones hurts, but that wound will heal, and heal quickly.
When the Mavericks released their schedule for this season, one of the key dates that I circled on my calendar was Friday, November 27th. For five seasons, Scott Hillman helped build the Mavericks into a perennial championship contender. While many people became frustrated with Hillman’s style towards the end of his tenure behind the bench, the mark that he left on this organization will withstand the test of time. Without Scott Hillman, Sebastien Thinel never comes to Independence. Without Scott Hillman, we would have never known of some guy named Andrew Courtney. Without Hillman, there is no Game Five, no David Simoes, no thunderous hands of Colt King, no chirps from Dave Pszenyczny, and no lightning-quick glove of Charlie Effinger.
This organization has brought so many great memories for so many of us, and the majority of those involve Hillman. He always had time for the fans, and was always candid with the media. He had the respect of his players, and he respected them in return. His departure may have come at a good time for everyone. The Mavericks moved on and brought in the best coaching candidate on the market in Richard Matvichuk, and the Indy Fuel got a coach that knew a thing or two about building an organization from the ground up. It seems to have been the best for all parties involved, however I’m sure if you ask Hillman, the Orange Army and the rest of this organization will always have a piece of his heart.
So when Hillman is announced prior to Friday night’s game, I hope that he is cheered and revered. I hope he is shown respect by the Orange Army, because he’s earned that. He may not have brought a championship to Independence, but he championed those memories that we all hold so near and dear. For five seasons, Scott Hillman embodied what Missouri Mavericks hockey was, and for that I will shake his hand after the game and welcome him home.