The Independence Events Center was rocking Thursday night as nearly 1,000 fans flooded the floor to party with and share in the celebration of the Missouri Comets’ first MISL championship.
And the man with the biggest smile on his face – decked out in his own customized jersey – was Independence Mayor Don Reimal.
“What Mayor Reimal has done for me, my teammates, this organization and all these fans is just unbelievable,” said goalkeeper Danny Waltman, who led the MISL in regular-season wins and then went on to turn in a playoff performance for the ages.
“We all know he’s one of the folks most responsible for this great arena. It’s our home, and every team that comes to Independence tells us how lucky we are to play here. And we are lucky – thanks Mayor,” he said.
Defender Brian Harris, the Championship Series MVP who scored the game-winning goal in the 15-minute mini-game, agreed with his championship teammate.
“I played at UMKC, this is my home, and to have something like the Events Center – to call it our home – is so special,” said Harris, who, like Waltman, spent more than 2 1/2 hours signing autographs, posing for photos and tossing accolades toward Reimal, who is enjoying his final term as mayor with the possibility of two championship teams in his own backyard. “We owe so much to Mayor Reimal and everyone who made this possible.”
The Comets have their championship and the Missouri Mavericks, the Top Franchise in the CHL the past three years in a row, are in first place with seven games left in the regular season.
Reimal was one of the first speakers to welcome the surprisingly large crowd and the passion in his voice was evident.
“When we talked about building this Event Center we had a lot of critics,” Reimal said. “Well, I wonder what they think now?”
The remark drew a long ovation.
“It’s just wonderful to be celebrating a championship. We haven’t had one in a long, long time. And the Comets won theirs by bringing back the right people and having the right coach.”
The championship team had eight players who have been with the team from Day 1, and nine if you count Byron Alvarez, a former MISL MVP who parted ways with the team during the season. The other players are team captain Vahid Assadpour, scoring champion Leo Gibson, Bryan Perez, Sefan Stokic, Lucas Rodriguez, Waltman, Harris and Coady Andrews, a Kansas City kid who joined the team midway through the first season.
“You look out there (in the crowd) and see all the happy faces, you see that MISL championship trophy and you know we did the right thing,” the mayor said. “This is a special night for me, the Events Center and Independence and Eastern Jackson County.”
Coach Vlatko Andonovski agreed. He got very emotional talking about his love of Independence and the Comets’ home field.
“I want to thank the Mayor and all our great fans,” said the personable first-year coach, who was an assistant to former head coach Kim Roentved. “When we won in Baltimore, something was missing. I found out what it was tonight – our home and our fans. This is the real celebration.”