Down two players, the Missouri Mavericks pull together and get a 3-1 win over the defending Central Hockey League champions, the Rapid City Rush, before another sell-out crowd.
It might not have been the biggest win in the short history of the Missouri Mavericks, but it was close.
“I can’t think of a bigger win,” original Maverick and team captain Carlyle Lewis said after the Mavs defeated the defending Central Hockey League champion Rapid City Rush 3-1 Saturday night before the fifth consecutive sellout at the Independence Events Center.
“With everything that has happened to our team this week, and playing two men down, this was a big win. The 17 guys who are left in this locker room are going to pull together and do something special the second half of the season – I’ll guarantee that," he said.
While coach Scott Hillman, forward Robby Nolan and forward Nick Sirota were at the CHL All-Star game last Wednesday, assistant captain Olivier Filion notified Lewis that he was leaving the team to pursue hockey interests in Canada.
To find a replacement for Filion, the Mavericks traded defender Dominic D’Amour for future considerations to the Rio Grande Killer Bees.
“Dom has to report, and the player we traded for has to remain healthy for all this to take place,” team president Brent Thiessen said after Saturday night’s victory.
“The way Scott coached tonight and the players played, we’d take these 17 guys and take on any team in the league. I’ve never been prouder of our coach, our players or our fans. We had a playoff atmosphere in here tonight, and it played a key role in the victory.”
Saturday night was the first time in nine games the Mavs had defeated goaltender Danny Battacio and the Rush.
Although Rapid City took an early 1-0 lead, Mavs forward Bill Vandemeer ended 112 minutes and seven seconds of scoreless hockey for the Mavericks to knot the score at 13:39 in the second period.
“I can’t stop and think about goals and things like that, I have to stay focused on my job in the net,” said Nolan, who was victimized 3-0 Friday night in a loss to Mississippi (one late goal came after Nolan was pulled from the game in favor of an extra attacker), “but when we scored that first goal you could see it energize the team and our fans.
“It was pretty sweet.”
Nathan O’Nabigon found Vandermeer in the slot with a pass and the veteran forward rocketed the shot past Battochio to even the score at one a piece.
“About time, eh?” asked Vandermeer, who continues to star in his comeback following breaking the heels in each of his feet in a summer tree pruning accident. “We need to get our offense going, and we were able to do it tonight against a pretty good goaltender.”
Page 2 of 2 - A memorable third period was fast and furious as the Mavericks got goals from Sirota and Simon Watson to put the game away.
Sirota separated himself from the pack on a breakaway and put one over Bottachio’s shoulder to give the Mavs their first lead of the game. Ryan Jardine, who was named an assistant captain after Filion left the team, got the assist on the goal with a well-timed pass at center ice.
The Mavs added some insurance later in the period when Simon Watson blistered a wrist shot into the net. Lewis and Ray DiLauro were given the assists on Watson’s goal.
Nolan finished with 35 saves and lowered his league-leading goals against average to 2.16.
“We have the best goaltender in the league, and the boys really responded to everything that happened this week,” Hillman said. “We beat the defending league champs with 17 players – and those 17 players are very, very special.
“We go into a game against the Rush two men down, with our captain abandoning us. We trade a guy who was popular with his teammates, and they go out and play the game of their lives.
“That’s a pretty special group in that locker room.”