When Richard Matvichuk stepped out from behind the curtain that stretched across the west end of the Independence Events Center to be introduced as the new head coach of the Missouri Mavericks, I was overwhelmed by the man’s presence.
He seemed larger than life – and it has nothing to do with the fact that he stands over 6 feet, 3 inches tall.
And I wasn’t the only one who sensed that presence. So could the 200 or so Mavericks fans who gave him a spirited standing ovation.
Matvichuk is a former hard-nosed NHL defenseman who will bring a new attitude and toughness to a Mavericks team that flourished during the regular season then unexplainably lost to Arizona in the first round of the Central Hockey League playoffs.
The former Allen Americans assistant will bring a blue-collar approach, and his players better be ready to get after it. Because if they don’t, they’re going to be given a one-way ticket out of town.
He’s not going to blow up the most successful franchise in the CHL. As he talked to the fans, he could glance to the ceiling where three CHL Franchise of the Year banners were hanging.
“The core here is set,” Matvichuk said, “and now it is a matter of tweaking instead of trying to change the whole thing, just bringing in the little pieces I feel are missing.”
He believes one of the biggest missing pieces is accountability.
“I want my players to be accountable,” he explained. “I don’t want the type of player that yells and screams in the locker room, then goes out on the ice and is not accountable for his actions. If the players aren’t willing to buy in 100 percent, then they’re not the type of player I want.”
I believe once he arrives, there will be no gray areas. He lives in a black and white world where everything has a definition and a purpose.
And that purpose is easy to define – bringing a CHL championship to Independence.
“Our style is going to be much more aggressive,” said Matvichuk, who was an assistant on one of the most aggressive – and successful – teams in the CHL, as the Americans won the last two league championships.
“If you don’t finish a check, you’re not going to play. From Mr. (Sebastien) Thinel (the team captain and a CHL legend who owns multiple MVP awards and scoring titles) to Mr. (Dave) Pszenyczny – we’re going to play an aggressive style of hockey that the fans are going to enjoy watching and one that’s going to result in a lot of wins.
“We’re going to have some goals when it comes to the PK (penalty kill) and PP (power play) units, and our goals against average is going to be below 2.5.”
He said he will talk to a handful of his former Allen players about the possibility of coming to Independence and loves the idea of his arrival making the intense rivalry even more volatile.
“I hope we open the season with Allen,” he said, grinning. “Can you imagine this place packed, with us playing Allen in the first game of the season? Oh, that’s what this game is all about.”
He relishes the fact that he will now be enjoying the support of the best fans in the CHL, as the Mavericks are the perennial attendance leader in the league.
And he’s eager to start talking with Mavericks veterans and youngsters about their future with his new team.
I have nothing but respect for former Mavericks coach Scott Hillman, who resigned in May to become the new head coach of the first-year Indianapolis Fuel in the ECHL. We became good friends, and I will always value the way he took a rookie under his wing and guided me through my first season of covering professional hockey.
But there are times when change is a good thing, and this is one of those times. Matvichuk is ready to take over a team as the head coach, and he has found the perfect fit with the Mavericks.
They are in a similar situation to the one he inherited when he took the assistant’s job in Allen. The Americans were close, but could never grab the brass ring. That changed when he arrived.
And I believe the same thing will happen in Independence.
As the news conference wrapped up and fans began to mingle and talk about the man of the hour, George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” blared over the loudspeakers. This team is going to inherit its coach’s identity.
The Mavericks are going to be “Bad to the Bone,” throughout the regular season, right on into the playoffs. And when Matvichuk and the Mavericks hoist that Presidents Cup as CHL champions, we’re all going to realize that sometimes, change is good.
And, that being a little bit bad can be a good thing, too.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC