The Missouri Mavericks, who were suffering through a three-game home losing streak, took a 1-0 lead just 1:26 into the first period of a 5-1 win against first-place Rapid City Saturday night at the Independence Events Center.
Eric Castonguay's quick goal came before Andrew Courtney found the back of the net on a power play at 5:03 and Trevor Kell followed with an even-strength goal at 5:25 to take a 3-0 lead on their first three shots of the game.
That was something coach Scott Hillman had never seen as a player or coach at any level. But it wasn't the only miracle he witnessed.
With 7:31 left in the game and Rapid City's Konrad Reeder streaking toward goaltender Shane Owen, first-time defenseman Sebastien Thinel came out of nowhere, slid in front of the slap shot and prevented the puck from reaching the Mavericks goalie.
“He did it twice,” Hillman said when asked about Thinel's first-ever start on the blue line. “I worked so hard, for so many years to play defense and he and (forward) Evan Vossen come out and play a great game in a new position and make it look so easy.
“That kind of ticks me off.”
Hillman was grinning from ear to ear when he made the final comment. No one in the Events Center was more proud of the Mavericks' defensive effort than the coach.
“I have played some defense,” said Thinel, the veteran team captain who was the CHL's MVP and scoring champion last season, “but I don't recall starting a game on the blue line. We're down some players and Scott asked me about starting on the blue line.
“I said, 'Sure, why not?' We needed a win tonight and it was great to contribute.”
John-Scott Dickson and Courtney scored the final two goals in the game as Mavs defensive standout Matt Stephenson, who leads all CHL defensemen with a plus-17 rating, watched from the press box after being suspended for a hit from Friday night's game.
“I think this team plays best when it's really challenged,” Castonguay said. “Everyone knows what Sebbie can do with the puck – he is a magician. And tonight, he was so good on defense. It was inspiring to watch him play.
“We needed to get the crowd into the game early and shut them down offensively, and we were able to do both of those things.”
Which helped Owen end a personal three-game skid after being named the CHL Goaltender of the Month for December.
“I can't say enough about Voss and Sebbie,” Owen said. “Sebbie's diving on the ice blocking shots and Voss looks like he's played D all his career. Tonight was a test for me and I passed it. We had to win this game and the boys were there for me all night and I wanted to be there for them, too.”