When Eric Castonguay signed to play with the Missouri Mavericks, he had no idea he would be a part of the most successful season in the five-year history of the Central Hockey League team.
“I've never had this much fun playing hockey,” said the 26-year-old forward from Drummondville, Quebec, who has eight points and a plus-8 rating in the team's last five games. “I knew it would be exciting to play with Sebbie (team captain Sebastien Thinel), and I knew this team was being built for a strong playoff run, but you never know what is going to happen.”
What has happened is the Mavericks have secured first place in the regular season and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
And the line of Thinel, Castonguay and veteran forward Andrew Courtney is most productive in the CHL with all three among the top 10 in scoring.
Thinel is in third place in the league with 93 points followed by Castonguay with 80 (sixth place) and Courtney with 65 (10th). Castonguay and Courtney are tied with a Mavericks single-season record 31 goals, breaking the mark established last year by rookie Kenton Miller (30) and Thinel, last year’s CHL scoring champion, leads the CHL with 70 assists.
“This is an established line with veteran players and we're all having success and fun,” said Thinel, who has 10 points and a plus-8 rating in his last five games – with the Mavericks claiming wins in the last four. “We knew Castie would bring a lot to the team and we all knew what to expect from Courts. It took a while to get going, to feel comfortable out on the ice, but for the last few months we've been a productive line.”
Castonguay played last season with Thinel's brother, Marc-Andre, in France.
“I was not sure where I would play this season, but after talking to Sebbie and Scott (Hillman, Mavericks coach) I knew that this team was going to do everything possible to win a championship,” said Castonguay, who is tied with teammate Colten Hayes for fourth in the CHL with a plus-29 rating. “And that's all I care about. I know that by scoring points, I am helping this team win. And by being a productive line, we are all helping the team win. We don't care who scores, we just want to win.”
That was made evident in Sunday's 3-1 win over the Quad City Mallards, a game Courtney took over with two goals. Late in the game, the Mallards pulled their goalie and Castonguay had a wide-open look at an empty net. Instead of taking the shot, he sent the puck to Courtney, who was hounded by two defensemen.
He could not get off a clean shot and finished the game with two goals. Two nights later, Courtney got his hat trick in an 8-0 win over the St. Charles Chill.
“That was so funny,” said Courtney, who has 12 points (five against the Chill with three goals and two assists) and a plus-8 rating in his last five games. “Castie wanted me to get the hat trick – and that's the kind of teammate both he and Sebbie are.
“They want me to get my points. They want to have fun out on the ice and they want us to be successful. I've never been on a line like this. Everyone wants to play with Sebbie and Castie because they are magicians out there. They make passes and goals you have to see to believe.”
Veteran Colt King, who was recently named the best power forward in the CHL in a vote of the players, agreed.
“Eric and Sebbie see the game differently than the rest of us. They see things we don't see. They make passes and plays most players in this league can't make. They're great leaders, great teammates and great players.”
When you ask Hillman about Courtney and his French Connection, he just grins.
“With Sebbie and Castie on the same line, we have something special,” Hillman said of the pair of French Canadians. “They love to set up Courtney – or whoever is on the ice at that time. They are the guys who have the biggest smile on their face when someone scores off one of their passes.”
They might be smiling, but opposing goaltenders have been shaking in their skates, especially lately.
“I wouldn't want to play against any of them,” quipped Shane Owen, the Mavericks goaltender who leads the CHL with 35 wins. “Courts can put the puck in the back of the net with the best of them, and Sebbie and Castonguay are amazing. I watch them, and there are times I think to myself, 'How did they do that?'”
Now, the last piece to a puzzle that has fit together so nicely this season, is bringing the championship cup back to the Events Center.
“We want to celebrate with our fans,” Castonguay said. “Sebbie told me about our fans before I came to Independence. He and Courts knew what the fans were like before the season started. And it didn't take me long to learn that they are the best in the league.
“We all want to celebrate a championship with our fans. That is our next goal – our biggest goal – and we will do anything to make it come true.”