• Bill Althaus: Questions linger as Mavs enter home stretch

  • I have so many thoughts wandering through my mind as the final week of the CHL regular season winds down:

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  • I have so many thoughts wandering through my mind as the final week of the CHL regular season winds down:
    * How can a team play one its best games of the year, then turn around and get blown out?
    * How does a team survive injuries to arguably its two top defensemen, while playing some of its best – most frustrating – hockey of the regular season?
    * How can fans who bleed orange and blue turn on a team at the most critical time of the regular season?
    * Does anyone really appreciate the true brilliance of forward Sebastien Thinel and rookie goaltender Mike Clemente?
    I saved the Thinel and Clemente question for last, because it is the easiest one to answer. Of course they are appreciated. Although I still hear fans complain about Thinel's effort out on the ice and everyone is an expert following a tough loss to a team like Quad City.
    Thinel makes everything look so easy, we're stunned when a pin-point pass to a teammate does not wind up in the back of the net.
    He is the rarest of athletes – a gamer who makes everyone else look that much better. Rookie forwards Kenton Miller and Kellan Tochkin have benefitted from playing on his line and coach Scott Hillman places the CHL scoring leader with any player who is struggling offensively.
    He is a maestro with a hockey stick, directing an offense that would be lackluster without his presence. Without Thinel and Clemente, I can't imagine where this team might be – it certainly would not be battling for home ice and a place among the top four teams in the league.
    Clemente has been a point of conversation following his last three losses to Quad City. The Mavericks lost those games by a total of 20-3 (with Mathieu Corbeil playing a portion of one of the losses).
    The likeable kid from Brown University has been a godsend to the Mavericks. Corbeil came in with all the hype, but injuries and trips the AHL Chicago Wolves have put all the pressure of getting this team to the playoffs on Clemente's shoulders.
    And he has responded in Charlie Effinger and Robby Nolan-like fashion. Clemente leads the CHL in wins, saves and minutes played. He's never complained about his teammates' play – even when he was cannon fodder – and he has earned the complete respect of his teammates and Hillman.
    “I'd die for that kid,” defenseman Dave Pszenyczny said. “He reminds me of Charlie. No one on the team works harder than Clemmer and we'd do anything for him.”
    With three disappointing losses to Quad City in the last nine days, it's easy to forget about back-to-back wins (with Corbeil getting one of those victories) over a Denver team that was once tied with the Mavericks for fifth place in the CHL standings.
    Page 2 of 2 - Clemente stood tall in the net in a 3-1 home win over Quad City Saturday night, and he will continue to stand tall throughout the remainder of the regular season. I know he lost his cool in the 6-0 loss Sunday, but come on, who among us has not lost our cool in the heat of the battle.
    Despite the loss of David Simoes (who is out for the season following two concussions) and Pszenyczny, the Mavericks defense has been brilliant at times.
    Everyone would like to see a 3-1 or 6-2 win each time the Mavericks take to the ice, but this is professional hockey and there are no guarantees.
    Hillman has led this team to playoff appearances in each of the four seasons the Mavericks have played at the Independence Events Center. Name the last metro area coach to have that on his resume?
    I think this team will get a big win tonight in Bloomington, and will likely get a win Friday in the home finale against Tulsa. Allen and Wichita then wrap up the regular season schedule with two big road games.
    Let's hope the Mavs play their way into fourth place, get home ice in the opening round of the playoffs and find a way to play for the cup. They came close last year, and who knows – they might even go all the way this year.
    They have to play more consistent hockey than they have throughout the month of March, but I have witnessed this team turn in some pretty remarkable performances.
    If they have a few cards up their sleeves or rabbits in their hat, the magic might reappear just when they need it the most.
    Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at bill.althaus@examiner.net or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC

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