After playing in front of a handful of fans at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss., the Missouri Mavericks can’t wait to get back on the ice in front of what coach Scott Hillman calls, “The best fans in the Central Hockey League.”

After playing in front of a handful of fans at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss., the Missouri Mavericks can’t wait to get back on the ice in front of what coach Scott Hillman calls, “The best fans in the Central Hockey League.”

After beating the RiverKings 3-1 in the decisive third game of the Northern Conference first-round playoff series, the Mavericks return home to play host to heavily favored Rapid City at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

After Thursday night’s big win in Mississippi, more than 1,500 seats to this weekend’s games were sold. However, there are still seats remaining for both games.

As of press time, there were just less than 4,000 of the 5,800 seats sold for Saturday’s game and 2,300 seats sold for Sunday’s game.

“We have such great fans and we know they’re going to come out and support us,” Hillman said as he plotted the team strategy for this best-of-seven series against a team that was 5-0 against the Mavericks this season.

The Mavericks started their inaugural season with a nine-game road trip that began with two losses at Rapid City. The Mavericks then lost all of their final three games to the Rush.

“Rapid City was 5-0 against the Mavericks, but they weren’t 5-0 against this team, against the boys in the locker room now,” said Hillman, who has carefully crafted a team that tries to live up to the motto that is written above the door of his office: “Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated …”

“That’s basically what we’ve done all season,” Hillman said. “We’ve found the players who will best represent this team on the ice and in the community. We have found team players and players who are motivated.

“I know we’re the underdog in this series, but go ask the guys. They don’t feel like underdogs. They’re ready to go.”

Simon Watson, one of the six original Mavericks still on the roster from that first trip to Rapid City, agrees with his coach.

“On paper, Rapid City has to be favored,” Watson said, “but the game is played on ice and not paper. We’re coming off a great playoff series against a very good Mississippi team and we were able to become the first team to win a deciding Game 3 on an opponent’s ice.

“That was a huge confidence booster. And we know what the atmosphere is going to be like at the Events Center. It’s going to be unbelievable. Our fans were so great at our last game. I’ll never forget the last 10 seconds of that game. They were cheering so loud it gave me goosebumps. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”

There were few goosebumps in Mississippi.

“It’s so loud in our place it’s like, ‘I can’t even hear,’ ” Mavericks goaltender Charlie Effinger said. “There was no electricity or atmosphere at Mississippi. I remember a group of about six or seven RiverKings fans chanting, ‘Effinger, Effinger, you suck.’ I just turned and looked at them and thought, ‘Really? All six of you think I suck?’ It was humorous, and it wasn’t a distraction.

“When other teams come to our place, all they talk about is how loud it is and how great our fans are. And we’re counting on our fans to show up this weekend.”

Hillman said there are some keys to success that his team must achieve to claim a victory or two this weekend.

“We have to be prepared,” he said as he placed a disc into the DVD player that featured different looks at the Rush offense and defense.

“And we will be prepared. We have to know their tendencies and what we can expect them to do at any time during the game. We have to have a defensive focus from everyone because Rapid City is such a strong offensive team. And we need our goal scorers to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Effinger believes the Mavericks can accomplish all three goals.

“Scott goes over other team’s tendencies unlike any coach I’ve ever been around,” the goaltender said. “His attention to detail is pretty amazing. We know what a team is going to do before they do it.

“They’re a physical team, but so are we. Blake Forsyth has been an amazing addition and our defenders have been amazing in the playoffs.

“And look at what Bill Vandermeer has done in the playoffs. It killed him to miss all that time (with a high ankle sprain) and he comes back and scores our first playoff goal and the game-winner Thursday night. And it was huge for Brett (Hammond) to score 1:14 into the first period of the third (playoff) game.

“That’s what we need to do this weekend. Score early, get the crowd into the game and play great defense.”