For the first time in team history, Missouri Mavericks fans can watch their hometown heroes face off against an opponent at the Independence Events Center while their team possesses the conference lead.

For the first time in team history, Missouri Mavericks fans can watch their hometown heroes face off against an opponent at the Independence Events Center while their team possesses the conference lead.

The Mavericks, who have won seven of their last eight games, take a 17-8-3 record and 37 points into tonight’s 7:05 p.m. contest against Colorado at the Events Center.

Rapid City, 16-10-4 with 36 points, and the Eagles, 15-9-2 with 32 points, trail the Mavericks in the Turner Conference.

At this point a year ago, the Mavericks were a couple of games below .500 and coach Scott Hillman was watching players come and go through a revolving door.

“This place is going to be rocking Friday night, and we can’t wait to play,” said original Maverick and team captain Carlyle Lewis Thursday morning. “Scott was in a tough position last year – trying to build a new team, with the players he wanted on the ice and in the community.

“It took a while to find his kind of players, and we went on and made a late run and made the playoffs. This year, we’re in first place, we’ve basically had the same team all season and we’ve having a lot of fun.

“And when we’re having fun, we know our fans are having fun – and that’s the most important thing.”

The Mavericks have been riding the hot goaltending of CHL all-star Rob Nolan, who comes into Friday night with a league-best 1.98 goals against average following a 2-0 victory at Wichita and 2-1 win at Tulsa.

“It’s not just me, it’s the guys playing in front of me,” said Nolan, who always makes sure to give his teammates credit for his success. “The guys do the stuff that’s not glamorous, but it’s the tough defensive stuff that wins games. I’ve never been on a team where the guys care so much about each other.”

Lewis let everyone know what he thinks of Nolan with a recent Facebook post that simply read: Nolan is my hero.

When Hillman was told of Lewis’ posting the coach joked, “Robby’s my hero, too. All the guys are my heroes. What a difference a year makes, huh?

“We were building a team last year, and we brought in so many players it was like you said – a revolving door. This year, we have a great group of guys.

“We haven’t played a complete season, but I feel confidence saying this is the most tight-knit group of players I have coached. They care about each other, they care about our fans and all they want to do is win. They don’t care who gets credit, as long as we win, everyone is happy.”

Simon Watson, another original Maverick, said there is no comparison between this year’s team and last year’s squad.

“Night and day,” Watson said. “It’s so exciting to be in first place. I can’t wait to see the fan reaction Friday night. It’s going to be off the charts. Now, we have to keep working and working and working and not get complacent.

“We’re where we want to be and we have to work even harder to stay there.”

Lewis backs that statement.

“We worked so hard the last month of last season to make the playoffs, and we just barely made it,” Lewis said. “This year, we’re in first and we’re going to do everything we can to stay there.

“And the fans can play a big role. When we skate out on the ice, and see the stands full, it pumps us up. Our fans mean so much to us and we can’t wait to get out on the ice and share first place with them.

“I just hope they don’t blow the roof off the Events Center Friday night.”

Derek Pallardy, another original Maverick, remembers last year’s late-season run to playoffs.

“All the crowds were so enthusiastic, and I think we’re going to see a crowd Friday night that will remind us of a playoff crowd,” Pallardy said. “Rapid City and Colorado are right behind us, and Colorado is going to be after revenge after we beat them twice at their place a couple of weeks ago.

“I don’t think it gets much better than this.”