The Missouri Mavericks and Allen Americans shake hands after the series victory for Allen. (Photo: John Howe/The Sin Bin)
Hello darkness, my old friend……..
It has nearly been a week since we witnessed the end of Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals, the end of that series as a whole, and the end of the Missouri Mavericks 2015-16 campaign. Writing this piece is what I dreaded, and hoped that I didn’t have to ever write. Writing this piece means that the season has ended prematurely, and that the post-hockey feeling of emptiness has already begun to rear its ugly face. This one stings more than the previous six, because writing this piece, in this season, is something that I never thought I would have to do.
I’ve come to talk with you again…….
It seemed like destiny. After the Mavericks swept the Quad City Mallards out of the playoffs, I sat back and watched the prognostications from fans and media alike, those rooting for the Allen Americans to win their opening round match-up with the Idaho Steelheads, and those wanting Allen to get knocked out early. To be honest, I was rooting for Allen. It seemed like fate. If the Mavericks were going to capture their first championship in team history, it was only fitting that they knocked off the team that was not only the defending champions, but the team that has brought so much heartache to the Mavericks organization and fan base. These two teams are always talked about in the same breath, due in large part that they both came from the Central Hockey League. However, as successful as the Mavericks have been in their brief history, and the many organizational and regular season awards that they have won, there has always been one glaring omission from their resume. It just so happens that Allen, a franchise that was born the same year as the Mavericks, has three of those that the Mavs covet so dearly. The story practically wrote itself.
Because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping………..
Sure, the trip to Allen didn’t go according to plan. The Mavericks were supposed to win two of three, then have two opportunities to send the Americans to the golf course early at home, inside the friendly confines of the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, in front of the Orange Army who had packed that barn to the brim all season. That wasn’t the case, but the Mavericks were able to bring the series back to Independence, and since they were the best team on their home ice all season in the entire ECHL, they had more than a fighting chance to come from behind and take the series. You could almost envision it, the Mavericks would win a close Game Six at home, maybe even in overtime, maybe even with yet another huge goal in a huge game by Andrew Courtney, then ride that momentum to an impressive Game Seven clincher en route to the Western Conference Finals. If you closed your eyes, you could see that play out. It wasn’t far-fetched.
And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains………..
Even after Allen struck first in Game Six, there was still a big part of me that thought the Mavericks would pull it out. It would only make the hypothetical situation in my head that much more dramatic if they were to come from behind to eventually win in overtime. Yes, it was playing out perfectly for my dream scenario. Then, Ross Johnston ties the game. Ok, here we go. We had ourselves a game. Casey Pierro-Zabotel scored, and there was still not an ounce of panic creeping into my thoughts. It was a rough sequence of events that led to the Zabotel goal, and everyone could see that. If anything, I thought it would, frankly, piss the Mavericks off and they would roll the rest of the game. Then, Greger Hanson fired a heart-buster past the best goalie in the league all season to start the third period. That dream scenario that I was clinging to since the end of Game Five was slowly fading away, like Wilson floating away from Tom Hanks in “Castaway.” Granted, a two-goal lead is something this team had overcome several times throughout the course of the season, so they could do it again. Like a boxer, knowing that the knockout was his for the taking, Hanson added the empty-netter, the finishing right hook that knocked the mouthpiece and spit right from the mouths of the Mavericks. Every dream, every wish, every plan came crashing to a screeching halt.
People talking without speaking……….
The final horn sounded, both on the game and on the season. While many of the 4600-plus that were in attendance had already made their way to the parking lot, there were still a large number of people that stuck around to salute the 2015-16 Mavericks one last time. As they clapped and cheered, I stood in the press box and absorbed the pain that couldn’t be heard in their voices, but could be felt through their eyes. There was a sense of pride in the air, and there should have been to an extent. After all, for 82 games, we saw the greatest team in the organization’s history. There was an entire new batch of fan favorites, like Eric Neilson, Rocco Carzo, and Bryce Aneloski. There were also players that etched their name into this team’s history books with performances that would be tough to match like Josh Robinson, Jesse Root, and Tyler Barnes. There were overtime winners, heavyweight fights, booming checks, and speed, oh so much speed. There were moments of adversity that were overcome. There was domination, broken records, and numerous awards.
It was about as close as you can get to a perfect season, but it was over. As hard as it was to believe, and as hard as it was to watch player after player come out of the locker room, tearfully greet their families, thank the media, arena staff, and members of the front office, the harrowing reality was setting in and the only way to wash it clean was still months away. It was close to a perfect season, yes, but close doesn’t end in champagne, rings, and banners. Close ends in tortuous pain, goodbyes, questions without answers, unrealized potential, and silence, haunting silence.