Garett Bembridge is leaving the majesty and grandeur of Denver and heading to Eastern Jackson County, and the reigning Central Hockey League MVP couldn’t be happier.
“I loved it in Denver,” said Bembridge, who played for the Denver Cutthroats, winning the MVP Award last season, “but Independence has hockey, and right now, that’s all I care about.
“And you don’t only have hockey, you have one of the best teams and best operations in the CHL. When you come from a team that folded, that’s important. I can say goodbye to the mountains. I can’t wait to get to Missouri.”
The Mavericks announced Wednesday afternoon that they have signed the veteran right wing star to a standard player contract for the 2014-15 season.
Earlier the same day, his former team announced it was going dormant for the upcoming season, leaving the CHL with just eight teams. The Cutthroats have suspended operations and will not compete in the 2014-15 season. The team will look to secure additional investors with the hope of returning for the 2015-16 campaign. Any players signed to contracts for Denver for the upcoming season immediately became free agents.
“We feel the Denver market remains a strong, viable area for minor league hockey, and has an ownership group that is passionate about making it work,” Steve Ryan, CHL commissioner, said in a media release. “We are confident that with time, they will return to the ice and re-establish themselves in the community for the years ahead.”
It didn’t take the Mavericks long to sign a player who posted one of the most potent offensive seasons in the history of the CHL.
“None of us knew a thing about the Cutthroats folding until this week,” said Bembridge, who said he was blindsided by the news. “We thought we might go to the ECHL. I got a call from our GM, about 11 at night, and he told me it looked like the team was folding.
“He told me the Mavericks were interested in signing me. I’m a veteran guy, and I appreciated his call. I couldn’t wait to talk with the Mavericks.”
The feeling was mutual.
“Obviously to get a veteran of his caliber, a player who was drafted by the NHL, and the 2014 Central Hockey League MVP is an opportunity that we could not pass up to make this Mavericks team better,” Mavericks coach Richard Matvichuk said.
“After my conversations with Garett, the organization is very excited to add him as a cornerstone to the Mavs hockey program here in Independence.”
Bembridge said it took just one phone call for him to commit to the Mavericks.
“Mr. Matvichuk is a proven winner and so are the Mavericks,” Bembridge said. “Look at what they have done, winning all the Franchise of the Year Awards (a CHL record four in a row).
“I am so excited to be a part of the franchise. It was fun to come to Missouri and play with the Cutthroats because you knew the building was going to be full and they have such a great fan base. Now, they’re going to be cheering for me, instead of against me. That's exciting.”
Bembridge led the CHL in scoring last season, netting 42 goals and racking up 62 assists (104 points) to claim the league MVP award and lead the Cutthroats into the CHL finals, in which they lost to the Allen Americans. He played for Denver last season after sitting out a season following three seasons in Germany and Italy.
“We are very excited to come to terms with the reigning CHL MVP,” team president and general manager Brent Thiessen said Wednesday. “We believe that we got a lot better today and are excited for October.”
So is team captain and former two-time CHL MVP Sebastien Thinel.
“I don’t know Garett personally, but I know what he can do on the ice,” Thinel said. “It’s exciting to see this team come together. Brent and Coach Matvichuk are doing a great job.”
“BUSINESS AS USUAL” DESPITE CHL TURMOIL: Missouri Mavericks president and general manager Brent Thiessen talked about the future of the CHL in light of Denver and (earlier this summer) St. Charles ceasing operations, which leaves the league with just eight teams. Later Tuesday evening, hockey agent Darryl Wolski tweeted that the Arizona Sundogs also have ceased operations, which would bump the league down to seven.
“I can’t speak for other teams but it’s business as usual for us here,” Thiessen said when news of the Cutthroats folding came to light. “We are focused on building the best team possible and providing the best experience possible for our fans – nothing changes.
A rampant rumor has the league folding before the start of this season. Thiessen does not buy into that proposition.
“The CHL and its owners have never once talked about folding,” he said. “Again, I cannot speak for other teams, but we continue to build our team and create the best fan value proposition.”
If the league would fold, what would happen to the Mavericks?
“I don’t like ‘what if’ questions because we could play that game forever,” he said, “but as far as our commitment to playing professional hockey at the IEC – we will. We believe we have a top franchise in North America. If the league folded, we would have options and there would still be hockey at the IEC with the Mavericks.”