As the seconds ticked down on Game Five of the 2012-13 Semifinal series against the hated Allen Americans, the Mavericks season appeared to be coming to a close. A team that had battled so hard, through so many injuries and hardships, was about to see the sun set on another campaign without a championship. Little did we know that the course of the series, and possibly Missouri Mavericks history, was about to get rocked off its axis.
I have said many times that there are so many incredible moments that I’ve witnessed from my perch in the Press Box at The IEC. I often struggle ranking them, as each of them had a different, yet equally profound effect on me. However, there has always been a night that sits at the pinnacle of my fandom, and “Game Five,” as I so affectionately refer to it now, is it.
The Mavericks had a good season that year, but not necessarily a great one. The injury bug bit them, and bit them hard so many times throughout the season, but they still managed to advance to the semifinals against an Allen team that was so dominant from start to finish. They were a huge underdog, and no one outside of Independence really expected them to dispatch the favorite Americans. Just as it looked like everyone was right, and the Americans would quickly dispel the Mavericks in five games, Andrew Courtney forever etched his name into the lore of Mavericks history. His goal in the final minute of regulation tied the game and sent it into overtime.
In the extra session, another Mavs great, Ryan Jardine, picked up a loose puck, split the Americans’ defensive pair with a burst of speed, drew goalie Aaron Dell to his right just enough to slide a pass across the slot to Courtney to bury the game winner and save the Mavericks season for another game. I remember the game like it was yesterday. When the puck hit twine, I shot up out of my chair as it was impossible to not be a fan at that moment (as much as that is frowned up by journalism elitists). When I turned to my right, David Simoes threw a bear hug around me so quickly, you would have though he had just won the lottery. We both knew the gravity of the goal that Courtney just buried. It wasn’t your typical overtime winner. It was a goal that will forever be remembered by anyone lucky enough to be in the building that night.
Courtney will long be remembered for his goal scoring ability, but there is so much more to him that will live on forever. After his game-winner in Game Five, he was announced as the first star of the game. Like so many times before, he skated out of the tunnel, giveaway shirt in hand, skated to the far end of the rink and threw it into the arms of what could be the luckiest fan in the history of the Orange Army. What happened next is what makes Courtney a permanent fixture in this organization’s history. As he turned and started to skate back in the direction of the locker room, the crowd was still going nuts. The party wasn’t ending anytime soon. Courtney slowed his pace to enjoy the moment a little bit longer. He knew that this moment could possibly be the biggest of his professional career to that point. He panned the crowd for a moment to see the thousands of people that were still there, paying homage to the greatest moment ever witnessed between those battered walls. He then gently patted his chest above his heart, a moment of respect and admiration for all of those that had grown to adore and support him since the first time he pulled on a Mavericks sweater. That was a defining moment that will eternally burn for as long as the boys in orange call Independence home.
While this season has not gone according to plan or expectation, Courtney has not skipped a beat. His start was slow, but since he flipped that switch, he has been the Mavericks most reliable player on a nightly basis, and his knack for scoring clutch goals continues to amaze. He comes up big in the biggest moments, throws checks that finish with a resounding boom, and he fights the fights worth fighting. However, just like that gesture in Game Five, it’s the little things that make Courtney stand out. Whether it is his interesting choice of hat while joking with the media after the game, the way he makes kids light up after the game while signing endless autographs, or his patented accidental trip over the blue line, he is so endearing because he seems so normal, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Often we hear hockey players use the cliché that they “stand on the shoulders of giants” when referring to teammates that are irreplaceable. Andrew Courtney is the giant of all giants. With all due respect to the ever-amazing and legendary Sebastien Thinel, who will go down as the most successful and decorated Maverick, Andrew Courtney has become the Maverick of all Mavericks. If you haven’t already realized that, I hope you start to, because one day, he will be gone. He will hang up the skates, move on from the game of hockey, and eventually have his number raised into the rafter at The IEC. That will be another amazing moment, but don’t wait until then to appreciate what we get to witness with our own eyes and hearts, right now.