It’s not a must-win weekend for coach John-Scott Dickson’s Kansas City Mavericks, as they travel to Toledo and Cincinnati to face two ECHL Central Division rivals, but it’s about as close as it can come to a dramatic midseason playoff atmosphere.
His 20-16-0-1 Mavericks (41 points) are in fourth place in the Central Division, but trail first-place Toledo (45) by just four points and third-place Cincinnati (43) by two. However, the Mavericks have played four more games than the Walleye and three more than the Cyclones.
“We’ve played four games more than Toledo and have three in hand on Cincinnati so it really is big for us to win both games,” Dickson said following Wednesday’s practice, as the players packed their gear and prepared for the long bus trip to Ohio. “Each game is really worth four points – two points we can possibly get and two points we keep them from getting.”
While the Mavericks are just four points out of first place, they are ahead of fifth-place Kalamazoo (37) by just four points and they have played five more games than the Wings. The top four teams in each division advance to postseason play.
“The schedule maker didn’t do us any favors, but we don’t mind. We just go out and play,” Mavericks captain Tyler Elbrecht said. “And we’ve played some of our best hockey on the road. The boys are like, ‘Let’s go win two games on the road.’ And that’s what we’re going to try our best to do.”
And that approach pleases Dickson, whose team has experienced a roller-coaster first half of the campaign.
“We played more games the first half of the season than any other team, so we have to keep winning,” said Dickson, whose team has won six of its last seven games. “And that’s fine. We can’t do anything about the schedule, and we’re playing some of our best hockey of the season right now.
“The boys are fired up for this trip and so are Hoodie (assistant coach Kyle Hood) and I.”
Mason McDonald – who has been a rock in the net for the Mavericks, sporting a 6-3-0-1 record in his last 10 starts as he played for the injured Tyler Parsons (who has since been called up to the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat) – will be on the bench cheering Friday night as new goalie Chris Nell gets his first start in Kansas City.
When both McDonald and Parsons were in Stockton, the Mavericks sent out an SOS and Nell was sent to Kansas City by the New York Rangers, who had an abundance of goalies for their ECHL team, the Adirondack Thunder.
“We like what we’ve seen of Chris in practice, and he’s been great in games – cheering on the guys from the bench, really supporting them,” Dickson said. “Mase is the backbone of the team right now, he knows he’s our No. 1 guy and he’s going to get most of the playing time, but he’s played a lot of games in a row and it’s time to give Chris a shot.”
Which McDonald applauds.
“I really like Chris,” McDonald said, “we’ve become good friends and have done a few things away from the ice and the arena. He fit in, became a member of the team right away and we’re all excited to see what he does Friday night.
“I know the guys are going to do everything possible to help him win, just like they have done for me all season.”
Nell, 1-3 with a 3.75 goals against average with Adirondack, is excited about his first start for the Mavericks.
“It’s been a week or so since my last start, so I’m not rusty, I’m ready to go,” said Nell, who was also 5-5-0 with a 3.27 goals-against average with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack this season. “Change is always something new and Coach Dickson and the team have made me feel very welcome. I’ve been here a few days and I feel like a part of the team and I want to play my part Friday.
“I’m very excited about this start and the opportunity to help us win a big game against a division rival.”