As the Missouri Mavericks wrap up the regular season, no one on the first-place CHL team is looking past tonight's opponent.
“We're thinking about Quad City, and that's about all we're thinking about,” said Mavericks coach Scott Hillman, whose 40-17-2 (82 points) team holds just a one-point edge over the second place Denver Cutthroats (35-15-11) in the Central Hockey League standings.
The Cutthroats have played two more games than Missouri, and the Mavericks wrap up regular-season play with three games this weekend against Quad City – at 7:05 tonight at the Independence Events Center, 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Moline, Ill., and 4:05 p.m. Sunday at the Events Center – and then play host to St. Charles next Tuesday, Tulsa next Friday and Saturday to conclude the best regular season in the five-year history of the team March 30 in Moline.
The team's magic number is 9 – any combination of Missouri wins or Denver losses that total nine gives Missouri first place in the CHL standings and guarantees home ice throughout the playoffs.
Anyone on the Mavericks who was on the roster the past two years knows the importance of that advantage because Missouri lost Game 7 of the CHL semifinals on the road the past two years.
“Someone came up to me the other day and started talking about magic numbers and all that, and I just said, ‘If we win, we're in first,'” said Shane Owen, who has the most single-season wins (33) in team history, 33, a number that also leads the CHL this season. “We don't care about magic numbers or what Denver is doing.
“We have seven games left, and if we win five of them, we're in first place. We want to get seven wins, but if we get five, we're home throughout the playoffs and that is huge. Scott and Brent (Thiessen, team president) built this team for a playoff run, and so far, we're looking pretty good. We can't let up. We have to take every opponent seriously.”
And Owen said it doesn’t matter that the majority of those games are at home.
“The schedule maker did us a little bit of a favor with five of our last seven at home,” he said. “But each one of those teams have beaten us this year, so we have to play as hard against them as if we were facing them in the playoffs. Really, this last week will prepare us for what it's going to take to be successful in the playoffs because we have to finish strong to get that home-ice advantage.”
John-Scott Dickson and Andrew Courtney have been on the Mavericks roster the past two seasons, and they know the thrill of victory and the agony of those Game 7 semifinal losses.
“This team is different than the teams we've had in the past,” Courtney said. “Look at all the guys Scott and Brent brought back from last year's team. This is our fifth year, and we went into this season with a solid nucleus. We know what it takes to win, and we're having a great year. But the biggest, most important games are the playoff games.”
Dickson agreed, adding, “One at a time – one practice at a time, one (regular-season) game at a time and then one playoff game at a time. We're going to finish the regular season strong and carry that momentum right into the playoffs. We all know this has the potential to be a special year.”