The off-season is always tough. We go from the crazy, hustle and bustle of the regular season and playoffs (if your team is lucky enough to make it) to nothing. Silence. It’s one of the worst parts of the year. Sure, we all find ways to keep ourselves busy over the summer months. Baseball is booming in Kansas City right now, if that tickles your fancy, but I prefer angry, toothless Canadians beating the hell out of each other. There’s always vacations to go on too, I suppose. I recently took a trip down to the Lake of the Ozarks, and came back looking like the Kool-Aid man. So, there’s that. Enjoy that mental image.
It’s not the same though. Not even close. I hate Summer. I hate the heat. I hate the bugs. I hate the seemingly endless countdown to the start of the best time of the year – hockey season. Often times, we almost feel a little overwhelmed during the season. There are several games throughout the week, mixed in with roster moves, and team events at local pubs. There’s barely enough time to sprinkle in our normal lives outside of the hockey family, but we make it work. Any possible negative connotation surrounding the months between October and May can be rationalized because it’s hockey season. If it’s too cold in the arena? No problem. I’ll just run down to the team store and buy a new hoodie. I needed one anyway. If I’m short on cash this week? No worries. I’ll go to the game myself, after all, I wouldn’t say that my normal guest is a great friend by any means. I’m not sure what to get (fill in the blank) for Christmas. Problem solved. Hockey tickets. We don’t just embrace hockey season, we embrace our hockey lives and who we are during those glorious months.
When your team has a rough season, it’s hard to look back fondly on your hockey life for that year. There’s often more bad than good to remember, and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Doubt can become poisonous, and it spreads like the plague. Any team besides the Allen Americans didn’t do enough last season. Any team that didn’t put themselves in a situation to make the playoffs and even have a chance at the Kelly Cup really has a lot of doubt hanging over their heads. It’s normal to doubt the events that occur over the course of a losing season. We all do it, myself included. The most important thing that comes out of a losing season is that the organization knows what they can do to prevent it, and also be able to recognize the factors outside of their control that led to a few lumps.
If you’re a fan of the Missouri Mavericks, you have to be excited about the off-season so far. I’ve had the chance to speak with General Manager Brent Thiessen a few times this summer, and at some point in every conversation, he says the same line: “We will not repeat last season.” It seemed like an obvious statement to make the first time that I heard it, but as he reiterated it over and over again, in every conversation, I realized that this was more than some cliché that we get from a GM. This was the attitude of the entire organization. Coach Matvichuk, while not saying those words exactly, exuding the same message when I spent some time with him last month. Having talked to some of the returning players, they all spoke of the direction this team is heading, and how exciting it is to be a part of it. We all hoped that last season was an anomaly, and hoped that this next season would be back to the winning ways for the Mavericks. The Mavs aren’t trying to spin it like that. It was a bad year. They are owning it, and now doing whatever they can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Now, I’m a realist. At some point over the course of the entire future of the organization, there will be another bad year, but it is how you respond and rebuild from those bad years that shape the character of your organization. Thiessen and Matvichuk have been hard at work to build the 2015-16 Missouri Mavericks not only into a team looking to bounce back from a rough campaign, but a team that will be a legitimate Kelly Cup contender. They started by bringing back the face of the franchise, Andrew Courtney for his sixth season in orange. Since then, all they have managed to do is bring in proven players, some with AHL experience, that will be next in line to put their stamp on this team. Sprinkle in some prospects being sent our way from Bridgeport and New York, and this is going to be quite the squad on paper. Unfortunately, there has never been an “on-paper” squad that has ever won a championship. It will be up to Matvichuk and (Associate Coach) Simon Watson to take this group of guys that they’ve brought together, and unite them in such a way that winning on a nightly basis is the expectation. The Mavs say that they refuse to repeat last season. So far they are on their way to fulfilling that promise.