As I pulled into the driveway of Scott and Dalyn Hillman's fashionable home in Lakewood, the former Missouri Mavericks coach was cleaning the glass on the front door.
The garage was overflowing with items that will be piled into a moving van this weekend, and his youngest son, Guhnar, was sitting on the living room floor watching television while he was eating his breakfast as the two family dogs were scurried throughout the house with new rawhide chews.
“Every time we go to a new community, we say, 'This is the last time we're doing this,'” the coach said, referring to the rigors of moving a family cross country. “But we know it's going to happen again. At least when we moved here, we were able to stay five years.”
After making the comment, he shook his head and grinned.
“Five years? Has it really been five years? You know, I can think back to the day I was introduced as the head coach of the Mavericks. I remember each season, I remember everything. It's going to be hard to say goodbye to our players, the people in the Mavericks front office, all our friends – this is home.
“I don't know if we'll ever have it better than we had it here in Missouri.”
That's what made Hillman's decision to leave the Central Hockey League’s Mavericks to jump to the more elite East Coast Hockey League, where he will be the head coach and general manager of the first-year Indianapolis Fuel, so difficult.
He has already signed a couple of names who will be familiar with Mavericks fans – sorry, it's too early to let you know who those players happen to be – and he is excited about the prospect of starting a new team from the ground up.
He did it in Missouri, and he did with class and a love of his team and the community that surrounded it.
“I'm excited about helping to build something special in Indianapolis,” Hillman said. “It's going to be a challenge. It's a much larger community, city, than we had here in Independence. You know, Independence, Blue Springs, Lee's Summit – the surrounding communities – the support we received was just amazing.
“It's very difficult to say goodbye, but this opportunity was just too good to pass up.”
A former CHL teammate with ties to the new ECHL franchise in Indianapolis suggested the ownership group interview the only head coach in the history of the Mavericks.
It goes without saying, that he nailed it – hit it out of the park, wowed those conducting the interview – just like he did five years ago with the Mavericks.
Now, it's time for the coach and Dalyn to pack up the house, help their boys Corbin and Guhnar prepare for a new life in Indianapolis and say their goodbyes.
“Our fans, my goodness, what can I say about our fans?” Hillman said, softly. “They were the reason we were the Franchise of the Year in the CHL the past three years. We had some good times together; I still regret we couldn't give them a championship.
“That's what made my decision so difficult, because I wanted to come back and take care of some unfinished business. But I know Coach (Richard) Matvichuk is going to have great success with this team.”
When asked if there were any special moments, Hillman grinned and ran his fingers through his hair as he sported the same look a high schooler might have during an ACT test.
“That's a tough one,” he said. “But I'll never forget our first win at home against Wichita. We won in a shootout.”
A rivalry was born, so was a love affair between the fans and their Mavericks.
“I remember the night Charlie (Effinger, a goaltender) was challenged to a fight. He just looked over at me on the bench like, 'Coach, what do I do?' He didn't want to fight, and I certainly didn't want him to. But he took care of business.
“And there was that great playoff win against Wichita when (Nathan) O'Nabigon scored the winning goal. When I think back on the seasons, I think of the Charlie season the first year, the Robbie Nolan season the second year, Charlie coming back the third year, Mike (Clemente) the fourth year and Shane (Owen) this past season – I think in terms of our goalies.
“We've had some great players, some great community guys. You know, we might have won some more games, but Brent (Thiessen, team president and general manager) and I wanted guys who could represent the team on the ice and in the community. And we did that, and that's something I am proud of.”
As the hours wind down before the Hillman family makes that trip to Indianapolis, it's evident that he made the right decision. I'm going to miss Scott Hillman. He would call me – win or lose – after every road game. I had open access to the team, and a seat on the bus whenever the Mavericks left for a road trip. He made me feel like a part of the team, and I will always appreciate that.
When I celebrated my 60th birthday, he asked me to come into the locker room after a game and presented me with a stick signed by the team as the guys applauded and cheered. Later, at a birthday party at the Grain Valley Community Center, Thiessen surprised me with an ALTHAUS No. 60 jersey that is hanging with pride in my family room.
Just because he is going to be in Indianapolis doesn't mean I'm going to lose touch with Hillman. I got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the man who would call his boys on the phone after each road game to see how their day had gone.
He always showed care and concern for my 82-year-old mom and No. 1 Mavericks season ticket holder, “Grandma Bubbles” Althaus.
I hope to develop the same kind of relationship with Coach Matvichuk; and I know the Indianapolis Fuel are going to be successful. Good luck Scott, and thanks for all you have done for me the past five years.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC