I assure you, I am not a public relations man for our Central Hockey League team, the Missouri Mavericks. But I could be.
I assure you, I am not a public relations man for our Central Hockey League team, the Missouri Mavericks.
But I could be.
I haven’t been this excited about a Kansas City-area sports franchise since George Brett collected his last base hit in 1993.
That also happened to be the same year Joe Montana led the Kansas City Chiefs to their last postseason victory.
And the Royals haven’t sniffed the playoffs since Brett teamed with Bret Saberhagen and Co., to lead a group of never-say-die underdogs to a memorable I-70 Series world championship in 1985 when they found a way to overcome a 3-1 games deficit and defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game series that still gives me goosebumps.
Speaking of goosebumps, I experienced the same sensation Tuesday when the Mavericks overcame two lackluster periods of hockey to down the Mississippi RiverKings in a white-knuckle 4-3 shootout that featured enough heroes to fill an entire sports section.
Jeff Christian, returning from Children’s Mercy Hospital with his 8-year-old daughter Ryan (who has had surgery and is now back home in Blue Springs), had a goal and two assists; Toby Lafrance scored a goal in regulation, and then scored the game-winner in the shootout; Karl Sellan, who celebrated his game-tying goal by chest bumping the glass, showed his moxie by taking a perfect pass from Christian and knotting the score at 3-all late in the third period; Jeff MacDermid scored the first shootout goal and Brett Hammond somehow managed to get the puck past RiverKings goaltender Mark Sibbald’s outstretched right leg on a play that has to be watched in slow motion to truly appreciate.
The Mavs had two apparent goals wiped out because CHL officials missed them.
As one member of the Mavs quipped, “4,100 fans saw (the goals), but the only guys who count didn’t.”
I truly believe that if the Mavs hadn’t found a way to come back and claim that victory, coach Scott Hillman and team president Brent Thiessen would have had to be treated for coronaries on the spot.
“Worst headache of my life,” Hillman said, as he sat in his office after the big win. “I’ve never had a headache like this as player, a coach – I can’t think of any time I felt like this.
“Thank goodness the boys found a way to win.”
The win briefly put the hometown crew in fifth place in the Northern Conference. The top five teams in each conference advance to the playoffs – and that is Hillman’s only goal for the remainder of the season – find a way to get his team into the playoffs.
That quest continues at 7:05 tonight when Tulsa visits the Independence Events Center. And guess what? The Oilers are sitting in fifth place in the conference, a point ahead of the boys in black, blue and orange after beating Wichita 5-1 Wednesday.
“Let’s see, how big is Friday’s game?” asked Christian, the No. 6 scorer (66 points) in the CHL. “How big is BIG! Our last game (the 4-2 shootout win) was our biggest game. Now, Friday’s our biggest game.
“After we play Friday, Saturday’s (7:05 p.m. home game against Wichita) will be our biggest game.”
Do you see a pattern forming?
“Every game, from here to the end of the season, will have a playoff atmosphere for our team,” Hillman said. “They’re all huge.”
The Mavs enter play tonight with the No. 1-rated goaltender in the CHL in Charlie Effinger.
The newest member of the Mavericks is 12-4 overall – 4-1 with Missouri – with a miniscule 2.39 goals allowed average.
“Charlie is the best,” MacDermid said. “We all feel so good with him or (Gerry) Festa in the net. Even if we slip up and give up an early goal, we know an opponent is going to get the puck past either one of our goaltenders. And that’s a great feeling to have.”
Tonight’s game is a near sell-out and by the time The Examiner is delivered to your driveway, Saturday’s will likely be sold out.
“Saturday could be our biggest crowd of the year,” Mavericks vice president of communications Patrick Armstrong said. “We have sold out – and sold more tickets – at each of our last few Saturday games. The attendance has been amazing.”
That’s because the product on the ice is amazing.
Thiessen and Hillman have built a team of hard-nosed vets and up-and-coming youngsters. They’re as tough as a $2 steak on the ice, yet you could trust your children or a batch of newborn puppies with them after a game.
“I love the guys on this team,” Hillman said. “I know we’ve made a lot of changes this season – a lot more than we anticipated – but we have our team now, a great nucleus we can build on for the future.
“And the future is pretty darned exciting.”
Hillman paused for a moment, grinned, and added, “And the present is pretty darned exciting, too.”`