Rocco Carzo is the new face of the Kansas City Mavericks. He inherited that title with the retirement of longtime fan favorite Andrew Courtney following last season.
The heart-and-soul forward is not only fan favorite, he’s one of those athletes the younger members of the team admire – like second-year forward Shawn Pauly.
“When I came to Independence last season, the first thing I did was watch the way Rocco worked – on the ice at practice and in games,” said Pauly, who has become a new fan favorite with a game-winning overtime goal and hat trick in two Mavericks home wins this season. “He’s a born leader, a guy who knows how to play the game the right way and how to inspire his teammates. He probably doesn’t even know what he means to the young guys on the team, because everyone looks up to him.”
Now, Carzo is on the bench in a suit and tie. He tore his ACL last week in a 2-1 overtime win at Wichita, in which Darren Nowick corralled a rebound of a Pauly slap shot and fired it into the back of the net for the game-winner.
The associate captain wants desperately to be a part of the team, and while he undergoes a season-long rehab process, he will be a second set of eyes on the bench for head coach John-Scott Dickson and assistant coach Kyle Hood.
And one player who has attracted his attention is the likeable Pauly.
“Shawn’s the type of kid you root for,” Carzo said. “Last year, he worked hard. He’d sit out some games, and come back and work harder. He kind of forced JSD (Dickson) to put him in the lineup because of his work ethic. When we were down some defenders, he played great D. He’s improved so much this year and has really made an impact in some of our big wins at home.
“No one is going to work harder than Shawn, and that’s the type of guy I want on my team.”
“He’s playing well on our No. 1 line,” Dickson said after Pauly scored the lone goal in a 4-1 home loss to Kalamazoo Wednesday night. “I believe in him, and more importantly, he believes in himself. He’s grown so much over the past two years. You know, he sat a lot of games last year, didn’t dress for games, and I always want to see how a guy reacts to that.
“Shawn did what you would hope all your players would do. He didn’t get PO’d. He worked his (rear end) off and made me put him back on the ice. He played great defense for us last year, really, he did everything we asked of him. I’m so happy he’s back this year, and he has really improved in all phases of his game.”
With Carzo, Matt Robertson and Eric Freschi out with injuries, Pauly has been asked to step up his offensive game, and he has risen to the occasion.
He has scored eight goals and added three assists to be among the team’s leading scorers.
“You hate to see the injuries to the guys, but unfortunately, that’s a part of the game,” Pauly said before spending some time with the fans outside of the Mavericks locker room as the team prepared for today's 7:05 p.m. game against Kalamazoo. “I’m not the only one stepping up his game, we’re all doing it. Even without Rocco and the other guys, this is the best team I have ever been a part of, and I think we can do some special things this season.
“I feel more like a part of the team this year, and I’m going to work hard, as hard as I can, to help us win – for this organization, the guys who are hurt and the best fans in hockey.”