Christmas came two days early for coach Scott Hillman, his Missouri Mavericks and 5,225 delirious fans at the Independence Events Center when the hometown team ended the hometown hex with a dramatic 7-4 victory over the Laredo Bucks.

Christmas came two days early for coach Scott Hillman, his Missouri Mavericks and 5,225 delirious fans at the Independence Events Center when the hometown team ended the hometown hex with a dramatic 7-4 victory over the Laredo Bucks.


With Charlie Effinger back in the net after being recalled from Missouri’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, the 12-10-3 Mavericks won for just the third time in 11 home games this season.


Ryan Jardine started the game with a goal at 4:46 of the first period and ended it with an empty-netter with 1:30 remaining in the third period.


Brandon Coccimiglio recorded his third hat trick as a Maverick (see related story), and newcomer Mike Gurtler added a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a goal, an assist and a five-minute major for fighting.


Hillman was so fired up after the game he grabbed the victory flag from Mac, the team mascot, and waved it to a noisy standing ovation.


“Christmas came early,” a relieved Hillman said as players enjoyed a postgame meal and auction of the Kansas City Blades replica jerseys they wore Friday night.


“It was a great game against a team that had won five of its last six games. It’s been such a grind with the home losing streak and all the negative things associated with the team.


“We’re not used to people throwing spoiled fruit (figuratively) at the boys and this win was what everyone needed.”


Two big first-period plays set the tone early as Jardine took a pass from Dale Mahovsky and fired it past Laredo goaltender Ryan Rondeau.


Moments later, newcomer Tyler Ruel collided with Effinger and managed to knock a puck out of the net to prevent a Bucks goal.


“I kind of bumped Charlie and messed him up,” Ruel said, “so I knew I better not let Laredo score. We had to keep that puck out of the net.”


Effinger turned in a heroic performance after getting an early morning call to return to Independence.


“I got the call from Scott, caught a shuttle to O’Hare (Airport in Chicago) around 4 a.m., got here about 11 or noon, ate lunch and napped, got up and came over to the Events Center.”


Effinger had been with the Wolves the past 13 days and practiced with the team but did not get into a game.


“Coming back, hearing the crowd, seeing the guys as excited as our fans – this was awesome – the best Christmas present you could ask for,” Effinger said. “Skating off the ice and seeing our fans so happy was amazing.”


Jardine agreed.


“When we talked the other day, I told you my best Christmas present would be a win tonight,” Jardine said. “And I still feel that way. The monkey is off our back. We have a few days off for Christmas, we go on the road – where we have had a lot more success than we’ve had at home – and we can come back to the Events Center fired up and ready to go.”


The Mavs led 4-1 after one period, but saw that lead cut to 5-4 when Laredo scored three goals in the second period. Gurtler and Ed McGrane sandwiched goals around one by Laredo’s A.J. Hau, and Coccimiglio scored his first for the three-goal advantage.


Coccimiglio’s third goal resulted in a variety of hats being tossed on the ice in the third period, and Jardine iced the win with the shot into the empty net.


Effinger faced 11 shots in the third period and stopped each of them to help the Mavs halt a three-game losing streak at home.


“It’s so great to be back,” Effinger said as he climbed into his car with his younger brothers, Eric and Eddie, for the drive back home to Belleville, Ill., for Christmas. “Eddie told me we better win tonight because he didn’t want a pity party all the way home. It’s going to be a good drive and a great Christmas.”