When Brett Hammond slammed the puck past Mississippi RiverKings goaltender Kyle McNulty just 1:14 into the first period of Thursday night’s must-win Central Hockey League Northern Conference playoff finale, the crowd at the Independence Events Center went crazy.

When Brett Hammond slammed the puck past Mississippi RiverKings goaltender Kyle McNulty just 1:14 into the first period of Thursday night’s must-win Central Hockey League Northern Conference playoff finale, the crowd at the Independence Events Center went crazy.

That’s right, the crowd at the Independence Events Center – which totaled more than 400 rabid fans.

“I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” said Blue Springs resident and season ticket holder Rich Montgomery, as the Missouri Mavericks rode the goaltending of Charlie Effinger to a 3-1 victory.

The Mavs downed the RiversKings 2-1 in the best-of-three series, which means Northern Conference champion Rapid City invades the Events Center for the first game of the best-of-seven series which begins at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

“If we have 400 here tonight, can you imagine how many fans we’re going to have here Saturday night?” asked Independence season ticket holder John Marsden. “I never thought we’d have something like the Events Center, and I never thought we’d have a team like the Mavericks.

“They do everything they can to make the fans feel special, like opening up the Events Center tonight for this watch party.”

By some accounts, there were more fans watching the game in Independence than there were fans watching the game live at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss. The announced attendance at Mississippi was 1,972 but that may have been tickets sold.

“From the first game I saw in the Events Center, when we beat Wichita in a shootout, I have been in love with this team,” said Belton resident Steve Bell, who rarely misses a home game, or a watch party. “The bond this organization has with its fans is amazing. The Mavericks do everything they can to make us feel special. Watching the game tonight, with all the fans, was amazing – just amazing.”

Josh Enke, who has brought four groups of 20-plus fans to Mavericks games this season, opted to bring his family Thursday night.

“You walk into the Events Center and they do everything they can to make you feel special,” said Enke, a Blue Springs resident. “My kids love it as much as I do.”

Nine-year-old Nathan Enke is a classmate of Ryan Christian, the 9-year-old daughter of Mavs all-star Jeff Christian. Ryan is at St. Jude’s Hospital, where she is undergoing treatment for cancer.

“Tell Ryan we all miss her,” Nathan said. “We rode the same bus and she’s really nice.”

When asked about attending a hockey game, Nathan switched gears.

“I like the fights and I like Jeff Christian,” Nathan said. “I like the fights because they are cool and I like Jeff because he’s the best player on the team.”

While Nathan and Josh were talking hockey, mom was keeping an eye on little Christian Enke.

“This is a great place to bring a family,” Beth Enke said. “It’s a great environment for the kids.