Just because his Missouri Mavericks are the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season doesn’t mean coach Scott Hillman is breathing easy.
In fact, it might add a bit of pressure to the coach and his squad as they attempt to finish the regular season atop the Central Hockey League standings for the first time in the five-year history of the team.
Missouri takes a 36-16-2 record and 74 points into tonight’s 7:05 home game against the Allen Americans at the Independence Events Center, where the Mavericks are 16-8-2.
“They are such a formidable opponent,” Hillman said of the Americans, who come into the game in a third-place tie with 66 points. “Every time you play the teams directly behind you, it’s a four-point game. We play Allen and Rapid City (67 points), but we don’t have any more games with Denver (66), so we need to have success against Allen Friday and Rapid City next week because we can really put some distance between us and them with a win.”
With a 5-2 win Wednesday night against the Quad City Mallards in Moline, Ill., the Mavericks clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth. It was the earliest time they had reached that goal, and it didn't surprise veteran defenseman Dave Pszenyczny.
“Scott talked to all the guys before the start of the season, about the importance of getting off to a good start and playing as a team,” Pszenyczny said. “And that’s what we’ve done all season. This is a team built to win a championship.
“Scott and Brent (Thiessen, president of the team) went out and got the right guys to be on the team. They brought back a lot of guys from last year and brought in new veterans and some younger guys who are great in the locker room and on the ice. This has been a great season for us and our fans.”
The biggest difference between this year’s team and past Maverick squads has been consistency.
“We have had 10 of our 11 forwards since day one,” Hillman said, “and Obi (Aduba) joined us right after the start of the season. Both goalies have been here since day one, and five of our seven defensemen have been here since the start of the season.
“That’s been the biggest difference. And the guys on the team enjoy being around each other. You have to kick them out of the locker room after a game – they just want to sit around and talk hockey. It’s a special group.”
Hillman said by reaching the playoffs. The team’s first goal has been accomplished.
“Now, we go after goal No. 2, and that is finishing in the top four to get home ice in the first round,” the coach said. “Then, we want to finish on top to have home ice throughout the playoffs. We’re playing some of our best hockey of the season right now. You can just sense how excited the boys are about playing – especially playing at home in front of the greatest fans in the league.”