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Examiner
  • With uncertain future, Lewis expresses gratitude

  • For the past three seasons, Carlyle Lewis’ corner stall in the Missouri Mavericks locker room has been a gathering site for players young and old.

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  • For the past three seasons, Carlyle Lewis’ corner stall in the Missouri Mavericks locker room has been a gathering site for players young and old.
    The first real hero on the Central Hockey League team made such an impact during a topsy-turvy first season that he earned the nickname “The Grim Sleeper,” along with the respect of his coach, his teammates and an entire community.
    “I am humbled, truly humbled, to be in a locker room or on the ice with a leader and a great guy like Carlyle Lewis,” said Mavericks goaltender Charlie Effinger, who witnessed Lewis’ impact on the team the first season.
    “We had players come and go. We’d lose a few, win a few, not really know what was going to happen. And the one constant in this locker room and on the ice was Carlyle.
    “He gave us a toughness, a real presence on the ice. And when things went wrong in the locker room, he took care of that, too. He’s been playing this game a long time – and lot longer than I have – but I have never had a teammate who was a greater leader or presence on the team. I love the guy.”
    Lewis was the last Mav standing, the last member of the original team. And now, it appears the icon might have played his last game in the Central Hockey League.
    Lewis, who turned 34 on Tuesday, has to have season-ending surgery on a torn labrum in his left hip. He’s definitely done for this season, and at his age, he does not know what the future holds.
    But because of his presence among his teammates, coach Scott Hillman knows he still can play an important role on this team.
    “I talked with Lewie and we want him to be around the guys, to come to practice, to have a presence off the ice that could be as important as his time on the ice,” Hillman said.
    “He’s been here since Day 1, and he has made an impact since Day 1. Back when players would come and go on a daily basis, we always knew we had Lewie. I can’t imagine what that first year would have been like without him.
    “When Charlie came (in a deal with Allen) and gave us some great goaltending, we made that amazing run to make the playoffs. I think that run was what caught our fans’ attention, and you know what it’s been like since then.
    “We play to a full house every night and have made the playoffs the last two years. This year, we’re fighting for our playoff life, and we want Lewie around the guys to let them know what it takes to win the big games down the stretch.”
    Page 2 of 3 - As the Mavericks go through a light practice session following a grueling eight games in 11 days stretch, Lewis watches from the seats inside the Independence Events Center.
    “I’ve had a problem with my hip for about two years, and I guess it’s just time to get it taken care of,” Lewis said. “I’m going to miss not playing in the final 12 games, but I want to do what’s best for the team.”
    That has always been his approach.
    Following the biggest wins or the toughest losses, he never took the back door out of the Events Center to avoid the fans.
    He and his wife Shanna spent the Fourth of July with fans Judy and Garland Strickland, eating barbecue and telling stories of his colorful career.
    “I love talking with fans after the game,” said Lewis, who is so popular among the fan base that his jerseys reach large sums during post-game No. 24 charity auctions.
    “Some guys don’t feel comfortable, but if a little kid in a No. 24 jersey wants my autograph or a fan wants a photo or wants to talk about the game, I’m there.
    “The fans here are incredible. They have given me much more than I ever gave them. When I got here three years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. But I can tell you one thing, I never expected the type of reception I received from the fans in Eastern Jackson County.”
    Lewis became an icon on the night of Jan. 9, 2009, when he KO’d Arizona’s Cedric Bernier and skated off the ice, holding his head in his hands as he sported a devilish grin.
    Fans in the sold-out center stood and cheered, they ratt’ed the glass, they begged for more.
    “The Grim Sleeper,” joked Lewis, “how about that for a nickname? Jeff (Christian, former team captain and assistant coach) came up with it.
    “I’ve played hockey for 14 years. I’ve played in several leagues and I’ve played over in Europe, and I never experienced anything like I experienced our first season.
    “I remember when the team brought in this young guy – all I remember is he had long blond hair. I don’t remember his name, but he played two periods and then goes up and tells Hilly this isn’t for him, and he quit. Priceless.
    “That was crazy. If someone offered me a million dollars, I couldn’t tell you the name of all the guys I played with that first year. But now, we have some stability.
    “This is the most special organization I’ve ever been a part of. I’m selling homes for Century 21 and Shanna is in nursing school until next spring, so we’re going to be around for a while, whether I’m playing or not.
    Page 3 of 3 - “I’d love to stay here, be a part of the team, and a part of this community because the last three years have been the best three years of my life. I wish I could thank every fan individually, but since I can’t, I want to thank them in The Examiner.
    “Thank you for making this all so special.”
    The feeling is more than mutual.
     
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