Before this season began, Missouri Mavericks coach Scott Hillman held a team meeting.
He talked about the importance of success in early-season games – how two points in October were just as important as two points in April.
He stressed the importance of home wins, and how they could pave the path to home ice throughout the playoffs. And he talked about the value of team play.
Now, six months later, the first-place Mavericks are a win away from securing home ice throughout the playoffs. It can happen tonight when Missouri plays host to the cross-state rival St. Charles Chill at 7:05 at the Independence Events Center.
The Mavericks are 43-17-2 and, with 88 points, hold a five-point lead on the second-place Denver Cutthroats (36-16-11, 83). The Mavs own the best home record (20-8-2) and away record (23-9) in team history, and goaltender Shane Owen is the winningest goalie in the CHL and owns the team single-season win record (35, eclipsing Charlie Effinger’s mark of 32 set two seasons ago).
The Mavericks downed the Quad City Mallards 3-1 Sunday at the IEC to complete a three-game weekend sweep and put the team in position to clinch first place with four games left in the regular season.
Andrew Courtney scored two goals Sunday, Eric Castonguay tallied a goal and two assists and backup goalie Erno Suomalainen stopped 21 of 22 shots to pick up the victory.
“From Day 1, Scott has talked about playing as a team, winning at home and getting home ice for the playoffs,” said Courtney, who is one of the hottest players on the team heading into postseason play. “We started well at home this season and kept playing well. In the past, we haven’t won as many games at home as we would have liked, and I don’t really know why. But this season, we’ve won on the road and at home, and with one more win we have home ice in the playoffs and you know how big that can be.”
The Mavericks have been eliminated from the playoffs in Game 7 of the CHL semifinals on the road the last two seasons.
“Game 7 at home is totally different than Game 7 on the road,” said team captain Sebastien Thinel, who assisted on one of Courtney’s goals Sunday. “This is a special team. The guys in the locker room really care about each other and everyone has done what Scott has asked us to do.
“We don’t care about the personal statistics or things like that. We keep it simple, we play the way Scott wants us to play and we go out and win. And now, we can have home ice with a win Tuesday.”
Missouri followed a 5-2 win at Quad City Saturday with a sharp performance Sunday. There were very few penalties, and the Mavericks never relinquished a lead once they got it at 6:53 of the second period on Courtney’s second goal.
Castonguay added an insurance power-play goal at the 10:32 mark of the second period, and the Mallards could not find a way to get the puck past Suomalainen.
“A steady, workmanlike performance by the boys today,” Hillman said Sunday as his players returned to the ice for a postgame skate around with fans. “We scored on a power play and did not allow them to score on their power play opportunities.
“Erno was just outstanding in the net, and we won the way we’ve been winning lately. The boys just go out and have the will to win, and find a way to win night after night. It’s fun to watch.”
Saturday’s 5-2 win at Moline, Ill., was a team effort with Dave Pszenyczny, Tyler Currier, Henrik Ødegaard, Anders Franzon and Evan Vossen all netting a goal apiece. Franzon and Currier each added an assist and Thinel had two assists as the Mavericks jumped to a 4-1 lead at the 6:50 mark on Franzon’s short-handed goal. Goalie Shane Owen blocked 25 of 27 shots for his 35th win.
The Mavericks have won five in a row at home, and a sixth tonight could be the biggest regular-season win in the team’s five-year history.
“The playoffs are where we want to play our best hockey,” said Thinel, who is third in the league with 89 points, “but we want to play well going into the playoffs. You can’t take any opponent for granted. St. Charles (11-46-6) might be in last place, but they beat us earlier this season.
“We will go into the game like we would against any opponent. If we play the way Scott wants us to play, we will find a way to win.”
And a win tonight could give the coach some choices over the remaining three games of the season.
“We’ll see what happens Tuesday, but if we do win (tonight), we have some options,” Hillman said. “You can rest some guys, give other players more shifts and make sure everyone is healthy and ready to go once the playoffs begin.”
The Mavericks will open the postseason April 4 and April 6 at the Events Center. An opponent has not been determined.