The Missouri Mavericks stayed hot this past weekend, once again sweeping the Wichita Thunder for a perfect weekend. Parker Milner stopped 47 of the 48 Wichita shots in the two contests, pitching a shutout on Saturday night, then backing it up with another strong outing on Sunday. The Mavericks improved to 4-0-0 against their Independence Cup adversaries this season, and maintained their lead in the Western Conference over the Allen Americans.
If there is one thing to take away from this past weekend, it is the realization that there has been a earth shaking culture change within the Mavericks organization. This is not the same type of team that we’ve seen over the last six-plus seasons. This is a far cry from the style of hockey we saw under the Scott Hillman regime. While that style was very entertaining, and brought some incredible moments to the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, the product on the ice right now has become a breath of fresh air.
For far too long, this team has had a reputation, one that I’m sure Richard Matvichuk would like to shed. The Mavericks have always been a team that can put the puck in the net with the best of them, a team riddled with offensive firepower (outside of last season, that is). However, it is also a well-known fact that the defensive unit has always been underwhelming, and in fact, been the biggest factor to some talented team flaming out in the postseason. Prolific goal scoring, squandered by sub-par defensive capabilities. That is what this team had become.
All of that changed when Hillman left for Indy, and Matvichuk took over behind the bench. Despite the struggles of last season, it was clear that his message and system was centered around team defense. After a true off-season, complimented by a terrific (so far) affiliation, Matvichuk has put together a team that has completely bought into the idea of team defense. It is no coincidence that every player talks about the important of defensive hockey during their postgame interviews. It is no coincidence that Josh Robinson and Parker Milner are both in the top five in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage, yet give all of the credit to the guys in front of them every night. It is no coincidence that this team leads the league in Goals Allowed and has the most points in the standings in the entire ECHL. Playing unified, gritty, defensive hockey is what has put this team in the spotlight early on in the season.
Now, if you ask Matvichuk about their stand out defensive efforts to this point, he’ll deflect praise to his netminders, or his captain Trevor Ludwig and the rest of the defensemen. He’ll also talk about how the Islanders and Sound Tigers are playing the same system, giving credit all the way to the top. Make no mistake though, while the x’s and o’s on the ice may come down the pipe from New York, the message and the mantra have been touted by Matvichuk since he was announced as only the second head coach in the organization’s history. He saw the weaknesses that plagued the Mavericks on the ice first-hand while in Allen, and knew what needed to be done to get this team over the hump. While it has taken a little longer to come to fruition than anyone had hoped, Matvichuk included, it is impressive to see. While many people would consider a 6-4 win exciting, I’ll take the 1-0 victory like we saw on Saturday night. That is what has me on the edge of my seat. Every pass, every check, every shot, every penalty, every rebound, every backcheck, every line change matters. The smallest intricacy that is often overlooked, could be the difference between victory or defeat. Up and down the ice as one, a complete team victory.
While this journey up the mountain is still in its infancy, the first few steps have been solid ones, and the ability to envision reaching the summit is something we have all regained.