The captain returned and Silverstein Eye Centers Arena was rocking with its second consecutive sellout.
With that setting, coach John-Scott Dickson’s Missouri Mavericks said goodbye to a disappointing 2016 with a nail-biting 3-2 victory over the Quad City Mallards Saturday night.
Captain and longtime fan favorite Andrew Courtney returned after missing 19 games with a lower body injury and his on-ice and locker room inspiration paved the way to the victory, said associate captain Rocco Carzo, who scored the game-winning goal at 9:49 of the second period.
“Courts is a heart-and-soul player and having him back on the ice and in the locker room is huge,” said Carzo, who was part of a closed door meeting with Dickson following a 3-2 loss to the Mallards Friday night at the iWireless Arena in Moline, Ill. “Dix (Dickson) had a meeting with a few of us, and told us we need to start leading – and I agreed with what he said. We have so many young guys (11 rookies) who are still learning about the pro game, and I’m comfortable with letting them know what this game is all about.
“It was a positive thing and everyone responded tonight. I thought this was one of our better games this season, and the fans were amazing.”
Courtney, who greeted several fans after the game, agreed with Carzo.
“This game had a playoff atmosphere, a playoff feeling,” Courtney said. “It just feels so good to be back, to be back out on the ice with the boys. They say you don’t miss something until it’s taken away from you and I can’t even tell you how much I missed playing – especially playing in front of our fans. I can’t think of a better way to bring in the new year than by a game like this.”
The Mavericks registered the first six shots of the game, and nine of the first 11. The ninth shot nearly blew the roof off of the building as Reed Seckel buried a breakaway goal behind Quad City's C.J. Motte for a 1-0 Mavericks lead.
A steal at center and a pass by Kyle Schempp sent Seckel in all alone for his third goal of the season.
In the post-goal celebration tempers flared and Jacob Doty picked up a roughing minor, as he shoved a Mallards player to the ice. Just seconds after the Mavericks killed off that penalty with just a single shot allowed, Doty atoned for it. He picked up a loose puck upon exiting the box, beat the Mallards defense wide and wristed his third goal of the season past Motte.
“That was a good start,” Dickson said as the Mavericks improved to 12-15-1-4. “I saw the type of energy out there that had been missing. Plus, we added a couple of guys who made a big impact.”
Before the game, the Mavericks announced that the New York Islanders had reassigned forward Carter Verhaeghe and defenseman Jesse Graham from the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers to Missouri.
Graham began the season with the Mavericks and racked up 11 points in 12 games. The 6-foot, 180-pound defenseman was promoted to Bridgeport on Nov. 16 and still ranks second among Mavericks defensemen in scoring.
Verhaeghe, a second-year pro, joins the Mavericks for the first time this season. As a rookie in 2015-16, he averaged over a point per game with the Mavericks, notching 25 points in just 20 games. He also racked up 15 points in 30 games as a rookie with Bridgeport.
“You watch Carter and Jesse and you know how special they are,” Dickson added. “They make us a much better team.”
The Mavericks started the second period with the same spark as the first and generated three quality scoring chances on their first four shots. Motte, though, rose to the occasion, and the Mallards’ Sam Warning broke behind the Mavericks' defense and slipped a backhander between Josh Robinson's pads for his 10th goal of the season, making it 2-1.
Carzo, riding a two-game goal streak, kept that alive with a goal just before the second period was 10 minutes old. He took a wrist shot from along the goal line just as a penalty to Quad City's Mike Monfredo expired. Motte made the initial save but Carzo poked the rebound home to restore Missouri's two-goal lead.
“I think I can speak for Brent (Thiessen, general manager) and Lamar (Hunt Jr., owner), and certainly for me – as long as I am coach of this team and Rocco Carzo wants to be a Maverick, he will be a Maverick,” Dickson said. “He’s such an important part of this team.”
The Mavericks and Mallards battle through a scoreless first 17 ½ minutes of the third period. Robinson stopped the first 10 shots he faced in the third, but the Mallards went into desperation mode to chip away at the Mavericks' advantage. Motte was pulled for the extra attacker with just over three minutes left and the gamble paid off when Michael Parks punched home a rebound with 2:35 to play.
Robinson had to defend the shot without a stick as it appeared a Mallards player yanked it from his hands, prompting a protest from Robinson.
The goal stood, and the final two minutes of play were tense, nerve-wracking and exciting.
“They were certainly exciting, that’s for sure,” said Robinson, who made 32 saves and was named the No. 1 star. “We needed a win – really needed a win – and we were able to get it tonight. I don’t really even know what happened the last couple of minutes, but we were able to hold them off and get a big victory.”
The Mallards outshot Missouri 13-2 in the final period and 34-31 overall but the Mavericks killed off all three Quad City power plays.