A standing-room-only crowd of 5,760 hockey fans witnessed the birth of a star on January 9, 2009.

A standing-room-only crowd of 5,760 hockey fans witnessed the birth of a star on January 9, 2009.

It was more than the birth of a star – it was the birth of a super nova named Carlyle “the Grim Sleeper” Lewis.

“I’m the last guy on earth who would ever think about being called a star,” said Lewis, a humble guy who still pinches himself every morning to make sure last season wasn’t a dream.

“None of what happened last year was planned. It just happened – and I’m glad it did – but I never expected it, any of it.”

On Jan. 9, the Arizona Sundogs visited the Events Center and took a 5-1 lead before the hometown team caught fire in the third period

Cedric Bernier, a veteran forward for the Sundogs, made one of the biggest mistakes of his life when he threw down his gloves and challenged Lewis.

Moments into the fight, Bernier was KO’d by the Mavericks enforcer.

Lewis skated off the ice, sporting a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin and placed his head in his hands in a sleepy time pose, as the standing-room-only crowd of 5,760 went crazy.

“The players really started to gain some momentum from the crowd,” Mavericks coach Scott Hillman said. “It was all pretty crazy. I mean, the place just exploded. That was one of the nights I thought to myself, ‘This really is a hockey town.’”

With just over 12 minutes to go in the third period, the miracles Mavs tied the score at 5-all. The Sundogs came back and won a shootout, but the end result wasn’t what fans remembered.

It was the Grim Sleeper’s KO punch against the overmatched Bernier.

“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 12 years. I’ve played in several leagues and I’ve played over in Europe, and I never experienced anything like I experienced last season.

“The fans, this team, the Events Center – all just amazing, awesome, unbelievable. And in a few weeks, we get to start all over again. I can’t wait, and neither can all the other guys on the team.”

Lewis was one of the first players the Mavericks signed off last year’s team. More than 125 fans showed up at an 11 a.m. news conference at the Events Center.

“When I was introduced, and saw all those fans, I couldn’t believe it,” Lewis said. “It was pretty amazing. But nothing these fans do surprise me now. They’re the best fans in the league.”

Lewis has spent the past month in Independence, and much of that time has been spent making personal appearances on behalf of the team and cutting commercials that will be aired on the big screens at the Events Center.

“Whenever we have a player appearance and know that Carlyle is coming, we know it’s going to be successful,” said Mavericks sponsor John Olivarez, the owner of Shocking Prices in Independence.

“The fans love him. Everyone loves Carlyle. He’s so tough out on the ice, and he comes to our store and the nicest guy on earth. I think he enjoys coming and meeting the fans, I really do.”

Lewis believes that meeting the fans and becoming a part of the community is as important as standing up for a teammate on the ice.

“Our fans are so great,” Lewis said. “After the fight with Bernier, and all the Grim Sleeper stuff came out, the fans want to get a picture with me in a fighting pose. It’s pretty funny. I kind of get a kick out of it.”

But nothing would please the 32-year-old Lewis more than banding together with his new teammates and presenting the fans something they haven’t seen in Eastern Jackson County in a long, long time – a championship trophy.

“I hope I’m part of something special in Independence,” Lewis said. “We want to build a foundation that lasts a long, long time. I want to be a part of this team, and meet with our fans for years to come and to give them a championship would be about the only thing that could top all the good things happened last season.

“When I came to the Mavericks I was hoping it would be like this, and because of our fans, it’s exceeded my expectations. We’d do anything for them, because they’d do anything for us.”