• Opening night for the Mavericks had the perfect script

  • A host of Hollywood script writers, O. Henry and Agatha Christie could not have collaborated on a more thrilling, unexpected or dramatic home opener for our new Missouri Mavericks Central Hockey League team.

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  • A host of Hollywood script writers, O. Henry and Agatha Christie could not have collaborated on a more thrilling, unexpected or dramatic home opener for our new Missouri Mavericks Central Hockey League team.
    I had almost as much fun taking in their first game at the marvelous Independence Events Center as I did watching former Examiner intern Matt Gerstner, a big-time hockey fan whose enthusiasm for the team gushed into the press box.
    If the 5,760 fans in attendance had as much fun as Matt and I did, they’re going to come back for more.
    “When we wrote the script for this one, that’s just how we thought it would end,” joked Mavericks coach Scott Hillman, who pushed all the right buttons as his team claimed a 3-2 shootout victory over the a Wichita Thunder team that will become the Mavs’ big rival – playing the same role the Oakland Raiders or Denver Broncos play to the Kansas City Chiefs.
    Hillman’s squad trailed much of the game, but the newest member of the team scored the biggest goal of the season when Jeff MacDermid knotted the score at 2-2 at 15:15 of the third period (please see game story on B1).
    Following a scoreless overtime period, Chad Hinz, MacDermid and Bill Vandermeer all scored goals while goaltender Doug Groenestege stopped all three Thunder shots to send the fans home begging for more.
    “The coach would have liked a bit less excitement,” said Hillman, “but I know the fans loved it.”
    And so did I.
    I’d seen a few hockey games over the years, but was never really a fan of the sport. You can’t catch the flavor and excitement on television and Kemper Arena and the old American Royal were awful venues for a sport that needs intimacy.
    The Independence Events Center and the Mavericks are going to be like a match made in heaven. As I walked into the new arena Friday night, I was greeted by more than a dozen familiar faces – all waiting to check out the new hockey team.
    And I’m betting that most of them will return for Saturday night’s game against the same Thunder squad.
    You want to talk about drama?
    A shootout is unique, almost like a gunfight at high noon in an old western. Only one opponent is left standing, and Groenestege’s brilliance in the net and Hillman’s canny selection of players played a huge role in the victory.
    “You can’t think too much while you’re in a shootout, or a game, for that matter,” said Groenestege, who is 3-0 against the Thunder this season and 9-0 in his career. “In a shootout, you don’t bite on the first fake and you make sure you react when they take the shot.
    Page 2 of 2 - “That way, you put the pressure on the shooter. When they missed the first attempt, it gave us a big advantage.”
    That’s when team scoring leader Chad Hinz slipped the puck past Thunder goaltender Scott Campbell for a 1-0 lead.
    MacDermid and Bill Vandermeer followed with goals while Groenestege blanked the Thunder shootout marksmen to set off a wild celebration on center ice and in the stands.
    “This is what we dreamed about,” general manager Brent Thiessen said. “I’m so happy for Scott, the boys and our fans.”
    When asked about his selection of shootout participants, Hillman said, “It’s just a gut feeling. I could see it in their eyes – those were the guys I wanted out there.”
    Had the Thunder scored a goal or two, the shootout would have gone to five shooters, and Hillman said, “I’m not going to say who would have shot next. I like to leave you guessing.”
    Guessing and smiling.
    That’s what I was doing when I left the Events Center, and I’m counting the minutes until Saturday’s game. I must admit – and I talked this over with Hillman, Thiessen and Co., I hated to miss Blue Springs High School’s dramatic 23-21 playoff victory at Rockhurst Friday night.
    It’s the first time I’ve missed that battle of the Titans – and many of the Mavericks staff were a bit surprised to find out I was covering their game rather than the prep classic.
    “I know how much that game meant to you,” Hillman said as he tried to wind down following his team’s victory. “I’m just glad we were able to give you something good to write about.”
    Good to write about?
    How about, great to write about. Heck, I’m still smiling.

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