The Missouri Mavericks have been the biggest story so far in the ECHL this season. It is mid-February, and they are still on pace to break the league record for wins, when most people thought that they would come back down to Earth at some point. They boast arguably the most potent top line in the entire league, and have a net-minder who is setting records himself.
However, the Mavericks have been faced with some adversity as of late. Every team faces never-ending threats to their pursuit of a coveted championship, and the Mavericks are no different. Some of these threats have caused a bit of a hiccup for the Mavericks recently, as they’ve lost more games since the start of 2016, then they did in October through December combined. They still only have nine combined losses on the season, but four of those nine have come in the last 10 games. It’s hard to complain about a 6-3-1 stretch for any team, but it is the glaring appearance of the aforementioned threats that should cause some concern.
There are a few things that could derail the Mavericks as they keep chugging along towards an eventual playoff berth, in the hopes of capturing their first Kelly Cup. It’s important to recognize these threats and know exactly what they are up against. Right now, they are playing every night with a giant bulls-eye on their backs, and they need to continue to learn how to be the hunted. Here are those things that threaten the Mavericks and their much sought-after destiny:
(Knock on wood) The Mavericks (knock on wood) have been pretty lucky (knock on wood) to avoid (knock on wood) the injury bug (knock on wood) so far this season (knock on wood). Injuries haven’t taken their toll on their roster like we’ve seen with teams like Allen and Quad City. Unfortunately, this is something that is, for the most part, out of their control. Let’s just hope that they are able to stay healthy and keep their core intact.
Again, this is something that they have no control over, and we should all be happy for those guys that get their shot at the next level. As good as it is for those players, it does create some holes that the Mavericks have to patch on the fly. Players that are currently with Bridgeport that have spent time with the Mavericks this season include: Kyle Burroughs, Loic Leduc, Kane Lafranchise, Pat Cullity, Colin Markison, and Carter Verhaeghe. That is a lot of talent that is currently missing. It really has taken it’s toll on the defensive side of the puck, and that has been showing with some of the recent games. In those four games that the Mavs have dropped in the last 10, they’ve allowed an alarming 19 goals.
There is no guarantee that we’ll see any of those players currently in Bridgeport back with the Mavs this season, so they will have to figure out another way to get back to playing dominant defensive hockey.
Competition Beefing Up
Every team in the Western Conference is doing what they can to catch up to the Mavericks at this point. The trade deadline is less than a month away, but teams have already started to shuffle their rosters to get ready for a postseason run. You don’t have to look far to find good examples. The defending Kelly Cup Champion Allen Americans recently got back two big keys to their recent success, as Vincent Arseneau returned from a lengthy injury and Spencer Asuchak was assigned from Chicago. Tulsa sent Brandon Wong off to Indy and got back some guy named Josh Brittain. I think we’re all familiar with what he can do on this ice. Teams, especially in the Central Division, aren’t just going to roll over and let the Mavs breeze to the finish line.
In the nine losses that the Mavs have had, I’ve often thought to myself (and sometimes aloud) at one point or another “What are they doing?” Coach Matvichuk and even the players at points throughout the season have mentioned that for some reason, the team tends to get away from the things that they do best, and that is what causes their struggles at times. Sometimes, they are able to correctly it quickly and rebound, like we saw in their come from behind win in Evansville back in January. Other times, like we saw Tuesday night against South Carolina, it plagues them for the majority of the game, and things look off and ugly. It is easy to suggest that they just never let that happen, but that’s not reality. There will be times when someone, whether it’s the coaching staff or the team veterans, has to pull everyone back in and right the ship. When this team puts it all together and plays their game, comprised of dominant skating, lightning-quick transitional play, and relentless pressure, there’s not a team that we have seen so far that can stay with them for a full 60 minutes of hockey. When they start getting wrapped up in trying to be physical and trying to go check-for-check with teams, or forcing shots out of frustration rather than resetting the offense (especially on the power play, which was also brutal on Tuesday), or when they have mental lapses in the defensive zone that results in turnovers and scoring chances for the opposition, they are a completely different team. They are a very beatable team. This group of guys has to do whatever they can to stay the course, and do what they are good at, what has led them to this point.
There is still a lot of hockey to be played this season, and the Mavericks have put themselves in a great situation from their hot start. However, no one remembers teams that are great early and falter late. Teams that finish strong, and win the last game of the season are immortalized. Teams that can’t get out of their own way fade into oblivion. The time is coming for this team to decide which route they are going to take.