It seems like only yesterday when the Missouri Mavericks claimed the first playoff spot in the Central Hockey League and had a little breathing room against a trio of teams who were chasing them for first place and home ice advantage throughout postseason play.
“That’s because it was only yesterday,” quipped Mavericks coach Scott Hillman, whose team plays host to the Rapid City Rush at 7:05 tonight at the Independence Events Center. “Well, not quite yesterday, but with eight games left in the regular season, a lot of things can happen.”
The 37-16-2 Mavericks are in first place with 76 points. The Rush, who have played two more games than Missouri, won three contests over the weekend (picking up four points on Missouri), clinched a playoff spot and bring a 36-20-1 record and 73 points to Independence. A win tonight would leave the Rush just a point behind the Mavs.
The Denver Cutthroats have 70 points entering Monday's game at Brampton, and the Allen Americans, fresh off a come-from-behind win in St. Charles, have 68 points.
“It's so close. It’s never been this close since I've been in the league,” Mavericks veteran forward Mike Ramsay said. “We need to win Tuesday night. That pretty much sums it all up. We have two games in hand on the Rush, so that helps. Right now we control our own destiny.
“If we take care of business, especially at home, we’ll be fine.”
Forward Colt King, who won a CHL championship with the Rush in 2010, knows what it takes to win it all.
“You have to play your best hockey at this point of the season,” King said. “And we’re doing that. We had that bump in the road (with back-to-back losses to Allen and Quad City early last week), but we have come back strong.
“This is where you want to be with eight or 10 games left in the regular season. We know how important home ice is, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we get it.”
The Mavericks are coming off a rare weekend where they only played one game – a 3-1 victory Friday over Allen, a team that has replaced Wichita as Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of Missouri hockey fans.
“The win over Allen was huge,” said goaltender Shane Owen, who leads the CHL with 30 wins, “but we have to keep it going. We know how good Rapid City is, and right now they are a hot team.”
The Rush beat Tulsa on Friday and Saturday and Wichita on Sunday. Rapid City goaltender Tim Boron shut out the Oilers on Saturday night and went 3-0 on the week, allowing just four goals. His efforts earned him the Oakley Goaltender of the Week honor for the third time this season.
Rush forward Jesse Schultz won the Oakley Player of the Week thanks to three goals and four assists during the week.
“We can never afford to take a game, or a practice off,” Mavericks forward Trevor Kell said after a spirited practice Monday morning. “We’re in first place for a reason. We’ve worked hard all season and dreamed about winning a championship. Our first goal was making the playoffs – we can check that off.
“Our second goal is finishing in first place, and that’s what we're working towards now. And the ultimate goal is a championship. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what happens.”