INDEPENDENCE, MO – The steely eyes peer through the cage of the mask as the assassin makes his approach. He crouches, helpless, as the predator stalks his prey; deking right then left, then cutting across the slot in a flurry of icy particles. The rubber disk rockets off the blade of the stick and whistles towards its intended destination. There’s a flinch, brief as it may be, up with the left arm and the stick held by it. It’s a save, and a beauty, until the flash of a white jersey embroidered with a large black “M” on it swoops in, scoops up the juiciest of rebounds and lifts the puck up into the upper twine. With a pumped fist dragging the ice before pumping upwards towards the heavens, the celly is on and somewhere John Scott is smiling.

The goal scorer hearing his name chanted down from the rafters of the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena? Missouri Mavericks forward, Dane Fox.

Photo courtesy of Dianne Webster/The Sin Bin

When Fox signed with the Mavericks over the summer, excitement was definitely in the air around the Mavericks organization. The chance to sign a player with so much upside, experience, and goal scoring ability would have any coach staying up late with a whiteboard to draw up plays for their new addition.

Fox brings an impressive stat line from his years in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights and the Erie Otters. After a couple of successful years with the Knights, Dane found his stride after moving over to Erie halfway through the 2011-12 season.

Then, there was the 2013-14 season.

A quick walk down memory lane shows the young Canadian had the opportunity to play alongside a certain #1 NHL draft pick in Connor McDavid. Interestingly enough, Fox (64 G, 43 A) and fellow winger Connor Brown (45 G, 83 A) both enjoyed better statistical seasons than McDavid that season (28 G, 71 A).

What did Fox learn from the future face of the Edmonton Oiler franchise?

Two words…work ethic.

“If it was going to a community event, he’s 100 percent for that event. If he’s watching video, it’s 100 percent video. He’s very focused and a hard working young kid and he’s getting rewarded for it,” Fox Said.  “Watching his off-ice workouts made me a better player…him and Connor Brown.”

Not surprisingly, you can see Fox’s work ethic on full display by watching a shift or two during a game. His motor is unmatched shift after shift. Watching a recent game, Fox easily could have headed for the bench at the end of his shift. Instead, he provided on-puck pressure to hold the opposing team in their defensive zone and delay the offensive breakout until his team could finish their change and get fresh legs on to defend the oncoming attack.

Little things like that haven’t gone unnoticed by the Mavericks coaching staff. With Bryce Aneloski being in Bakersfield on an American Hockey League professional tryout (PTO) contract for much of the season and Reed Seckel and Andrew Courtney battling injuries for much of the last month, this team has sought out leadership and seems to have found one in Dane; alongside Rocco Carzo and Tyler Elbrecht.

“We’re a very inexperienced team, but as the games go on and guys are put into certain situations, they’ll learn and grow. It’s the job of Courts, Carzo, Elbrecht, me, Doty, to keep guys comfortable and hold them accountable at the same time,” Fox Said.

As much as his scoring and leadership has helped this young Mavericks team, his physical presence has been appreciated, I’m sure, by his teammates as more than once he has stepped in to defend one of them. While Fox models his game after Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn, Fox also credits his father for teaching him to stand up for his brother as his motivation for adding that to his game. Additionally, he credits his family with being a constant source of support for his playing career. While it’s common to hear players say that, with Dane, it is easy to read just how genuine he feels about his family as he talks about them.

Every player has goals for their career and as Dane and I discussed the next step in his career and what it takes to stick at the next level in the American Hockey League, it was summed up in one word…execution.

“At the end of the day, both leagues are comparable. Both leagues are good leagues, you just have to work to get to the next level.”

There’s that word again…work. Used in conjunction with execution and ethic, a picture of this young man’s convictions and guiding principles is painted with a wide brush stroke that one can only hope with rub off on this team’s young rookies. Dane’s eyes show a man with a lot of knowledge and guidance to pass on to this team while understanding what it takes to make a career of this sport. As in most things in life, it boils down to a person who just wants it more than the next guy. Life is a puck battle in the corner and Dane Fox isn’t going to lose many of those.

The relationship between veteran players and their coach is pivotal to the success of a team, but the work ethic that John-Scott Dickson displayed as a player is mirrored by his young player each time #74 suits up. The son of a farmer is no stranger to the commitment that is required to achieve the task at hand. A smile crosses the warrior’s face as the conversation turns to his coach. Dane could have signed anywhere this offseason, but he seems to enjoy being around JSD and learning from the veteran player turned rookie head coach.

“He likes the F word”, Fox says with a smile. “Some of the guys are going to start a counter on how many times he uses it.”

The Sin Bin can neither confirm nor deny the counter has officially begun at the time of this writing.

Fox continued, “He’s so smart. He’s given us every tool to work with. We’ve just got to apply it and good things are going to happen.”

That optimism plays out well in the locker room and with the fans of this franchise. Speaking of the fans, Dane’s eyes lit up as he spoke about the Orange Army.

“The fans are wild, you can’t get much better than this. They’re awesome; it’s like having another man on the ice. When you hear the fans get into it, it boosts your energy level and gets the adrenaline going. You want to keep them happy so they keep coming back.”

In a professional sports environment where the fans often seem to be an afterthought, to hear such enthusiasm about the fan base that this team has worked so hard to establish in the Kansas City area is so encouraging and motivating. This team needs its Orange Army to continue to support them.

There is a softer side to this tough guy. The owner of a boxer puppy, Dane’s gameday agenda include a couple of walks with his furry friend, a nap, some video games and time to focus on the upcoming opponent. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to work and execution to make Fox successful. His dream of making the National Hockey League is still very much alive. With the talent, smarts, and leadership that Fox possesses, Dane Fox is a guy every Mavericks fan can root for.

It’s not often to find an athlete so talented, yet so humble. The athletes we’ve been blessed with in Missouri over the last eight years that have possessed that humbleness have went on to become instant fan favorites. With the roster turnover we’ve seen over the years, Dane Fox is a guy to get behind and cheer for. I always look for role models for my own sons to look up to. Dane is a guy I would be happy to see my son’s model their hockey game after, but more importantly, their work ethic after. To watch him play shift after shift, each time the puck is on his stick is absolutely electrifying because the expectation of something great happening is there.

He truly is a predator stalking his prey and may God have mercy on the souls of opposing goaltenders.

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