Missouri Mavericks president Brent Thiessen and head coach Richard Matvichuk can’t rest easy at this point.
But with the Mavericks now officially part of ECHL this week – part of what’s being called an expansion that absorbed the remaining seven teams from the now-defunct Central Hockey League – Thiessen and Matvichuk can at least rest with some certainty.
Following a summer of CHL upheaval and rumors flying around various media waves, Thiessen delighted in the opportunity Thursday to finally provide Mavericks fans at the Independence Events Center with definite news. He and Matvichuk provided some background on the move, as well as several changes that will happen because of it.
The CHL had been a 10-team league last season, two of those being the expansion St. Charles Chill and Brampton Beast. When the Chill folded and Arizona and Denver elected dormancy, the wheels really started churning among the remaining executives to possibly combine forces in some way with the ECHL and form one AA minor hockey league.
“This was the best opportunity we had, with the changing landscape of North American hockey, of becoming one Double-A league,” Thiessen said. “We had one vote, one voice, and people didn’t always agree with the Missouri Mavericks or with the process.
“Throughout the summer, many times, things changed. There were a lot obstacles, a lot of hurdles, a lot of sleepless nights. This ensures we’re in a stable hockey league for years to come.”
The Mavericks’ new setting is what Thiessen said he hoped to achieve.
“From my first day, we talked about having one double-A league,” he said. “In the short term, there’s a lot of headaches. My life would be easier if we played in the CHL this season and then made the move. But that’s not what’s best for hockey.”
Now, Thiessen and Matvichuk have to move fast to adjust and finalize the Mavs roster, which is due Monday.
Training camp started Thursday, sooner than originally scheduled because the ECHL season starts a week earlier (Oct. 17) than the CHL had been scheduled (Oct. 24, which will still be the Mavericks’ first game date). The move to a new league meant a new collective bargaining agreement for players and made them free agents since the previous CHL contracts were nullified. To that end, Matvichuk said he worked through the night and slept in his office to scramble with the new contracts and retain players.
Furthermore, ECHL teams are limited to four veterans – those with 260 games in a professional league – on the active roster. The CHL allowed for five veterans, which were classified as those with more than 300 pro games, plus one more if resigned from the previous year’s roster. Goaltenders were exempt from the limitation in the CHL, and the ECHL also exempts a veteran goalie.
The veteran squeeze claimed its first victim Thursday when fan-favorite Dave Pszenyczny, widely considered one of the CHL’s best defensemen, learned that he would not be signed by the Mavericks (see related story).
“It’s not a good day, knowing he was a fan favorite,” Matvichuk said of the move. “My hands were tied. It’s tough knowing there’s upwards of 20 players that were in the CHL last year that won’t be playing.”
Missouri still has five veterans – forwards Garett Bembridge (CHL scoring champ and CHL MVP last year with Denver), Sebastien Thinel (two-time CHL MVP, 75 goals and 197 assists in three seasons with Mavs), John-Scott Dickson and recently signed David Rutherford, plus defenseman Scott Langdon (former player for Matvichuk in Allen).
Thiessen said the team had an “A” roster and “B” roster in mind depending on whether the ECHL move took place.
“We had to alter a roster we thought, quite frankly, was really (darn) good,” he said. “We were ready to go.”
With their schedule going from 66 to 72 games, the Mavericks will have three more home games, likely filled with another matchup against a former CHL team. Thiessen said he doesn’t anticipate changes to the dates of home games, but rather the opponent in some cases. Season ticket holders aren’t obligated to purchase those three extra games, but they can do so with a buy-two-get-one-free deal.
The first game Oct. 24 was scheduled to be at Brampton, Ontario, but Thiessen said he anticipates that will change. The ECHL is expected to release its revised schedule in the coming days. The former CHL teams are expected to comprise one of the four seven-team divisions in the new-look ECHL. The top four teams will make the Kelly Cup Playoffs, which will be three rounds of best-of-seven.
Other points discussed at Thursday’s press conference:
• The ECHL allows for an active roster of 20, plus two reserves, with an unlimited injured reserve of 21 days – “So you’re not going to put anyone on injured reserve unless they're really hurting,” Matvichuk quipped. The CHL’s roster standard had been 18 plus one.
• The salary cap is $12,200 per week ($12,615 for the first 30 days), up from $11,000 in the CHL. Thiessen noted that ECHL players are entering the second year of a five-year CBA.
• The Mavericks will continue their American Hockey League affiliation with the Chicago Wolves. The Wolves are affiliated with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. The AHL is considered a AAA league and direct feeder for the NHL.
• Overtime will be 4 vs. 4 with no resurfacing, followed by a shootout if necessary. The CHL had done resurfacing and was slated to switch to a 3 vs. 3 format this season.
While Thiessen wouldn’t get into monetary specifics, he acknowledged that the Mavericks incurred a “significant financial expense” to make the move and would have to get plenty of new equipment since the ECHL used a different supplier. In the big picture, he believes it’s a worthwhile cost.
“The Missouri Mavericks are committed to bringing competitive professional hockey to Independence,” he said, “and we’ve made a big step in securing that.”