A large dent in the door that leads to the Missouri locker room inside the Independence Events Center was just one indication that a 3-1 loss to visiting Tulsa Friday night did not sit well with the Mavericks.
“We lacked an urgency that we have been playing with for quite a while,” said coach Scott Hillman, whose 44-18-2 squad wrapped up first place with a convincing 8-0 win over the St. Charles Chill last Tuesday at the Events Center.
“This is like a kick in the teeth. It’s our Fan Appreciation Night, we’d been playing some very good hockey and we just didn’t play a good game tonight. We had plenty of opportunities to score, but couldn’t get the puck in the back of the net.
“That’s a team we might face in the first round of the playoffs and everyone in that locker room knows we have to play much better than we played tonight. There is not a happy player in that locker room. The boys are upset.”
Goaltender Shane Owen, who leads the CHL with 35 wins, struck his stick against the glass as he came off the ice Friday night. Colten Hayes, who was hit with a roughing penalty with just six seconds left in the game, took his frustration out on that door that leads to the locker room.
“This isn’t the way you want to play a week before the playoffs, especially at home,” said defenseman Dave Pszenyczny, who assisted on Andrew Courtney’s lone Missouri goal. “It’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to go undefeated in the playoffs, and this game had a playoff feel. And we’re a frustrated team right now.
“That’s a frustrated locker room. None of us expected an outcome like this tonight. We have to regroup and come out more focused tomorrow night. We can’t play back to back games like we played tonight. We can’t let this happen again.”
For nearly two periods, it appeared the Mavericks might maintain their momentum into next Friday’s playoff opener against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. Courtney scored at 13:39 in the first to give Missouri a 1-0 lead.
But with just 24 seconds left in the second period, Todd Robinson slipped the puck past Owen to knot the score at 1-1 heading into the third.
Matthew Larke then scored the eventual game-winner at 18:27 of the third period, and Ben Gordon’s empty-netter accounted for the final 3-1 score.
“We need to see a big improvement tomorrow night,” Hillman said. “Tonight, everything was just a little off. It happens, but you don’t want it to happen now. Shane was amazing in goal – they had so many scoring opportunities and he turned most of them away.”
Owen stopped 25 of 27 shots, while Tulsa’s Shane Madolora stopped 26 of 27 shots.
“This was a tough one – a tough one for us and a tough one for a fans,” said Courtney, who took over the team lead in goals with his single-season record 32nd (he had been tied with Eric Castonguay at 31 heading into the game).
“Our fans are so great. They wait after the game to bid on our playoff jerseys (the jerseys the players will wear in pregame warmups throughout the playoffs) after we turn in a performance like that. We have to step it up tomorrow night.
“We have to step it up big time. We can’t play another game like the one we played tonight. I hope this is a wakeup call, because it was like we were sleepwalking though the game. We didn’t play the way we have been playing. The way we’ve been playing is the reason we’re in first place and have home ice throughout the playoffs.
“This was just embarrassing. Our fans deserve so much more, and we hope to give it to them tomorrow night and Sunday in Quad City.”
Rookie defenseman Anders Franzon agreed with everything Courtney said.
“This is a game you can learn from,” Franzon said. “We can take away a lot of things from this game – things we don’t want to repeat in the final two games of the regular season or the playoffs. We have to play with more urgency, and we have to find a way to score.
“When we play our best, we keep it simple and go out and play the way Coach wants us to play. If we do that tomorrow night, we’ll be fine.”