As I was sitting in a high school graduation last week just one day removed from saying goodbye to the 2015-16 Missouri Mavericks and seeing them off to their offseason destinations, I found myself reflecting on the past year. As senior after senior crossed the stage, many of them cracking a smile, I was reminded that it’s always nice to look back and remember the good times we’ve had before looking to the uncertainty of the future.
We could choose to remember the 2015-16 Missouri Mavericks for what wasn’t accomplished. We could continue to have that sinking feeling in our stomachs as we heard the horn at the SEC Arena sound one final blast and watched Andrew Courtney take one final look at the crowd and the ice before heading into the tunnel. We could labor over our disappointment of not getting to raise the Kelly Cup. Or, we could choose to remember this team as the beginning of something incredible in Kansas City. As an eternal optimist, I’ll choose that route. For you see, I’m going to remember the joy I felt each time I heard the horn sound and the Orange Army leap to its collective feet to call out the last name of whatever player had just scored another MISSOURI MAVERICKS GOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!
Coming into this season, expectations were tempered. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, considering what had happened the previous year. We had a new affiliation with the New York Islanders, which seemed to be a good thing, but what would it really mean for the Mavericks? We had a new owner; Lamar Hunt Jr. had an entire offseason to craft this organization into the image he envisioned. We had hope.
One year ago, would anyone have thought we would have Missouri Mavericks hockey on network TV? Would anyone have thought that the Mavericks, coming off the worst season in franchise history, would have their first NHL player? Would anyone have thought at this time last year that we’d have a roster full of potential NHL caliber talent? Could we imagine raising a Brabham Cup banner and having the ECHL Coach of the year, ECHL Executive of the Year, and the ECHL Goaltender of the Year? Doubtful.
We have those memories now and many more. We enjoyed time with friends and our hockey family. We cheered each time our heroes raised their sticks at center ice in salute to us as Bob Rennison turned the “M” into another “W”. We jeered the opposing goalie relentlessly. We chucked pucks, watched dads dance and decided who had the best hat hair. We never gave up even as we raised one final “Let’s Go Mavericks!” cheer after the final horn of Game 6. We were the Orange Army again; the best fans with the banners to prove it.
As I shook the hand of each and every member of the 2015-16 Mavericks at the year-end celebration, I took a moment to thank them for the memories that they had given each of us. Flanked by my three little boys, the smiles on each player’s face as they saw my boys looking at them in awe was more than enough for me to remember why I love this team. When the towering figure of Bryce Aneloski came out from behind his table to give my boys’ high fives, I knew just how much this team loved these fans. This is the beauty of minor league sports; the fans connect with the players. After watching Eric Neilson steal my son’s St. Louis Blues hat, I finally got to a smiling Andrew Courtney and I gave my hockey hero a hug. Try to do that to a Kansas City Royals or Chiefs player and let me know how that works for you. Maybe it’s that connection to the players that makes the pain worse when they fall short, but I’ll take that every day over never meeting them or sharing moments of life with them.
So, let’s choose to remember the times we saw Rocco Carzo sacrifice his body to block a shot, the times we saw Bryce Aneloski line up another massive slap shot, the times we saw Jesse Root dazzle us with his all-around game, and the times we saw Courtney destroy another opponent into the boards. I’ll remember watching Eric Neilson’s hair flying as fast as his fists, Tyler Barnes rush a puck into the zone, Sebastian Sylvestre slap a puck out of the defensive zone from his stomach, and Josh Robinson dazzle us with another save. How could I forget watching the Ludwig brothers go full on Mighty Ducks “Bash Brothers” on unsuspecting opponents? I can’t. ..and that’s just it. This team will stick with me…and you…and us. They are our team and we’re their Orange Army.