It's almost becoming a running joke between Missouri Mavericks coach Scott Hillman and the media.
“So coach,” the question goes, “how big are these upcoming games?”
Although he has been asked the question countless times this season, Hillman always has an answer.
“Our biggest game is our next game, and that game happens to be at Quad City Wednesday night,” Hillman said of tonight’s game against the Mallards after the first-place Mavericks racked up a six-point weekend with road and home victories over the Allen Americans Friday and Saturday and a home win over the Mallards Sunday.
Ironically, all three wins came by identical 5-2 scores.
“That's a rut we'd like to be stuck in the rest of the season,” the coach said, as Shane Owen starred in the net in Friday’s and Sunday’s wins and backup goalie Erno Suomalainen helped the Mavericks down the Americans on Saturday.
Following Denver’s 5-3 win over Allen Monday, the Mavericks (31-13-2) stand atop the CHL with 64 points, followed by Denver (60), Rapid City (59) and Allen and Quad City (56 each).
Both home games were sold out this weekend and the Mavericks have now sold out eight games in a row at home and lead the league with 13 sellouts on the season.
“We get so much energy from our fans,” said red-hot Mike Ramsay, who had two goals both Friday and Saturday. “We love playing at home, but we also enjoy playing on the road. This is a special team. I've been playing a long time, and you don't get many teams that have this type of chemistry.
“We like each other, and we're all on the same page. We've pretty much been together as a team the entire season with very few changes and the buys coach have brought in fit right in with the rest of the guys and really contribute.”
Veteran defenseman Dave Pszenyczny, who scored a key insurance goal in Sunday’s win over the Mallards, agrees with Ramsay.
“I've been lucky enough to play on a championship team, and we're playing like a team that could do something special in the playoffs,” Pszenyczny said. “Rammer (Ramsay) and Sebbie (Sebastien Thinel) make plays out there you can't believe. That goal Sunday was a result of their passes. I was just in the right place at the right time.
“This group is so close, and now, we just know what to expect out on the ice. We know what each other is thinking. We have two great goaltenders, and we're playing our best hockey when it matters the most. We love playing at home with a sold-out barn, and we got a lot of energy from our fans Saturday and Sunday – how about that sold-out Sunday afternoon crowd?
“But we don't mind going on the road. We know Quad City is going to be gunning for us after losing here Sunday, and then we go to Denver for two big games Friday and Saturday. And we can't wait.”
The Mavericks are 15-7-2 at home and 16-6-0 on the road. No other team in the CHL has a better road record. That will be tested tonight when they face Quad City, which has the CHL’s best home record at 14-5-3.
“I think the reason for our great road record is because we've basically had the same team all season,” said veteran forward Colt King, who sat out this weekend with a minor lower body injury. “I watch the boys out on the ice and I know what they're thinking. When I'm playing, I know what they're thinking.
“We're all on the same page. This team has bought into Scott's philosophy and have a great mix of veteran guys like Stevie (Matt Stephenson) Rammer, Sebbie and Chezy and me and the stud rookies like Anders (Franzon), Boomer (Tyler Currier) and (Rob) Kleebaum. Those guys aren't rookies anymore, they're Mavericks – and they're playing their butts off.
“When I was with Rapid City (2009-2010) we had a team a lot like this one. We had the good mix of veterans and young guys and great goaltending. And we won a championship.”
And that was the type of team Hillman and team president Brent Thiessen wanted to build in this, the Mavericks’ fifth season.
“This past offseason, we said this could be the most solid team we have had in the five years we've been here in Independence, and it's looking like that is the case,” Hillman said. “We brought back the strongest group of players from last year's team and everyone is on the same page this season.
“We have made very few changes among the forwards and all the moves we have made on the blue line have strengthened the team. And the chemistry is noticeable on the ice and in the locker room.”