Even though his team is embroiled in a tight race with the Rapid City Rush and Allen Americans for the top spot in the CHL standings, Missouri Mavericks coach Scott Hillman is able to maintain a sense of humor.
When asked if this was a big weekend coming up, as the Mavericks host the Denver Cutthroats at 7:05 tonight and the Quad City Mallards at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, he didn't skip a beat.
“It's a big weekend if we win both games,” said Hillman, whose team is coming off a dominating 4-1 road win over the St. Charles Chill Wednesday night. “The two teams ahead of us are not going to slow down, so we need two points every time we skate on the ice – especially when we're playing at home.”
The win at St. Charles put the 25-11-2 Mavericks at 52 points, just two points behind the Rush and Americans. Denver is in fourth place with 47 points.
“I'm not a scoreboard watcher,” said goalie Shane Owen, who stopped 25 of 26 shots after relieving starter Erno Suomalainen in the net after he suffered a minor upper body injury. “But this time of the season, you wonder what the other teams are doing. If we keep playing like we have been the past few games, it's going to be a special season.”
Team captain Sebastien Thinel agrees.
“We are all excited about the upcoming weekend,” said Thinel, who had two assists in the win over St. Charles and is just one goal away from becoming the sixth player in CHL history to reach the 300 milestone. “It would be nice to get No. 300 at home, because we have such great fans. But right now, all any of us are thinking about is getting four points this weekend. But we have to take them one at a time – we are thinking about Denver, then Saturday we will begin thinking about Quad City.”
Veteran defenseman Dave Pszenyczny also is excited about this weekend. After sitting out a three-game suspension, he opened the first period against the Chill with a power-play goal at 5:27.
“We've never had a better blue line,” Hillman said when asked about the team's improved defense. “Chezy comes back and gets that big power-play goal to open the game, and (Anders) Franzon has scored some big goals. And Matty (Matt Stephenson) has been amazing – offensively and defensively. What a great addition he has been this season.”
Stephenson has scored 21 points and has a team high plus-20 rating, which ranks among the top defensemen in the league.
Friday's game is a near sellout, and Saturday's game will feature Buzz Schneider, Dave Christian, Ken Morrow and team captain Mike Eruzione from the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” team that won the gold medal.
“I am very excited about meeting the Olympians on Saturday,” said rookie defenseman Henrik Odegaard, who leaves following Saturday night's game for Sochi, Russia, where he will play for Norway's Olympic team in this year’s Winter Games. “It is an experience I have dreamed about and now, it is all coming true. I want to ask them what their Olympic experience was like.”
Saturday is also Pink in the Rink Night in which the Mavericks will wear special breast cancer awareness jerseys that will be auctioned off following the game.