Following a spirited practice session, the Missouri Mavericks posed for a quick team photo, left the Independence Events Center to grab a pillow, a suitcase and a quick lunch, then returned for their first bus trip of the season.
“It seems like we've been practicing for three months, not three weeks," first-year head coach Richard Matvichuk quipped. "This team is ready to play. Simon (Watson, his assistant coach) and I are REALLY ready for this team to play, we want to see what we can do in the ECHL."
Ironically, that first trip is a little seven-hour jaunt to Indianapolis, where the Mavericks will take on former Mavs coach Scott Hillman's Indy Fuel, a first-year ECHL team that has three losses – one in regulation, one in overtime and one in a shootout – leaving the Fuel with two points.
"It's going to be weird looking over at their bench and seeing Hilly," said Mavericks captain Sebastien Thinel, who played with Hillman in Odessa and who was coached by Hillman for three years in Missouri. "We message each other every now and then, mostly about family stuff – finding out about the kids. He's still a good friend. But Friday night, he's a good friend I want to beat."
Ditto for Thinel's teammate Evan Vossen, who played two years for Hillman in Missouri.
"It's a business and we all want to go to Indy to get a win," Vossen said. "We're one of the new CHL teams absorbed into the league, and I don't think we're going to get much respect right away, so it would be great to open this weekend with two victories (the Mavericks play at Fort Wayne Saturday). I'm looking forward to saying hi to Scott, but I know he wants to beat our team and we want a win – that's the way it is in any sport. But I also have a great deal of respect for him and I'm looking forward to playing in the ECHL.
"I played a few games there before joining the Mavericks and it is faster and younger but Coach Matvichuk and Brent (Thiessen, general manager and team president) have a built a team that will not be intimidated. We're looking forward to the challenge of this league, especially early in the season."
While the Mavericks face the challenge that comes from playing in a new league, Hillman's job is building a new ECHL team that can compete right away.
"Our first game was just out of this world, so much excitement," Hillman said by phone Thursday afternoon. "Our place was sold out – it reminded me of our days back in Missouri. We are so young – I believe we have 16 rookies who are 20 or 21 – and they're finding out about hockey at this level."
When asked about playing his former team in the Fuel’s fourth game of the season, he quipped, "I don't know where that exactly came from, but it's exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing the boys from last year and seeing what type of team they are building in Missouri.
"I think the fans are going to enjoy the ECHL. It's a young league, it's fast and there are some big bodies. It might be different for a while, but I know all those great fans are going to enjoy it."
Defenseman Scott Langdon, who is expected to be the Mavericks’ most intimidating presence on the ice, believes this team is built for the ECHL.
“I know Coach and Brent were building a CHL team, but this team can have great success in the ECHL,” Langdon said. “We've been practicing for such a long period of time, and I feel like we have already developed a chemistry. We're going to be a threat in this league, and every player on this team believes we're going to have a successful first weekend."
In a vote by the players, Thinel was named team captain for the fourth year in a row. Associate captains are Langdon, 2013-14 CHL MVP Garrett Bembridge and David Rutherford.