It all started with a simple, harmless message. “I’m going to be the best goalie in the league this year. I’ve worked too hard not to be.” That was the message I received from Missouri Mavericks netminder Josh Robinson back in September. I didn’t read too much into it, because professional athletes are supposed have the utmost confidence in their abilities. That’s one of the reasons why they are the best of the best. Little did I know that this prediction would not only come true, it would lead to a season unlike any other.
Mavericks fans got a small taste of what kind of goalie Robinson was when he signed halfway through the dreadful 2014-15 season after returning to North America from a brief stint in Europe. His first impression wasn’t the best, but it was clear that he was still readjusting back to smaller ice, learning his new team, and his opposition on the fly. After four rocky appearances between the pipes, Robinson started piecing together brilliant performances one after another, until a lower body injury derailed his season, leaving many of us to wonder what could have been.
Robinson re-signed with the Mavericks this offseason, and there wasn’t much fanfare around the announcement, largely in part to the rumors of Parker Milner headed to the Mavericks by way of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. After all, Milner was coming off a year where he was second in the league in goals against average and fourth in save percentage. The Orange Army, myself included, were salivating at the thought of having one of the best goalies in the league protecting the cage at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, and being the backbone in their year of redemption.
(ECHL Coach of the Year) Richard Matvichuk and GM Brent Thiessen rebuilt this team with the defensive unit, led by the goalie tandem of Milner and Robinson, as the top priority. The first game of the regular season started exactly how all of us thought it would, with Parker Milner between the pipes against the Alaska Aces. After a solid performance by Milner, albeit in a losing effort, an injury in Bridgeport resulted in the first call-up of the season. Milner was out, Robinson was in. The rest is history.
Robinson would grab that opportunity with both hands, and never let go. His bold claim back in September would resonate through the halls of the SECA night after night, piling up wins and frustrating the hell out of the opposition. He made the tough saves look routine, and the routine saves look boring. More importantly, there seemed to be a calming affect to hearing his name announced during the starting lineups. Everyone in the buildling, fans and players included, seemed to be at ease knowing that #30 would be protecting the cage.
Here’s the crazy thing, we were all right about Milner. I think that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. That speaks volumes to the historic season the Robinson has put before us. All Milner has done is finish sixth in GAA and fourth in save percentage with a record of 17-7-1. Those incredible numbers have been completely overshadowed by the video game-like numbers the Robinson has posted. Robinson led the ECHL in GAA at 1.88 (fourth best all-time in ECHL history), save percentage at .931, tied for second with 28 wins (Joel Martin from Kalamzoo had eight more wins, but needed 32 more games to get there), and set a new ECHL record with 21 consecutive victories. That is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
For so long now, goalies on the Missouri Mavericks are compared to one player: Charlie Effinger. Not one goalie has lived up to the bar set by Effinger. Shane Owen had come the closest back in 2013-14, but even his own coach said that it did not surpass the feats of Effinger. After this season, that all has changed. From here on out, any and all future goalies will be compared to the tandem that have graced the blue paint all season, led by Robinson. The odds of anyone overtaking him and the season he has put together are worse than winning the Powerball. I’m only half-kidding. I don’t know what the math would be on that, but it’s probably pretty close.
The Mavericks now prepare for their first appearance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. If they are able to accomplish what we all know they can, Robinson will be the backbone of a team that will be forever remembered. This has been the year of redemption, much like we had all hoped. However it didn’t start with a harmless message. It didn’t start in October in Anchorage. It started on February 6, 2015, the debut of Robinson in a Mavs sweater. In a mere 50 games since then, a goalie who looked like he would be an above-average player, turned into a superstar right before our eyes. The only one who knew it was Josh Robinson.