Lindsay Sparks skated out to center ice at the Independence Events Center Sunday afternoon and the tension was so thick you could have cut it with a chainsaw.
A goal, and the Mavericks win a 4-3 shootout.
A miss, and, well, who knows what might have happened.
His Missouri Mavericks were hoping to make the most of what had been a lost weekend.
After losing 4-1 to Tulsa at home Friday and 6-0 to Wichita on the road Saturday, the Mavericks had somehow fought their way back to tie Sunday’s game at 3-all against Quad City with two third-period goals.
Now, a shootout goal by Sparks and the Mavericks could regain some of the hope that had been all but lost as they struggled in all phases of the game that a week ago, had seemed so easy.
“When I'm in a shootout,” Sparks said, “I don't look at the goalie. I look at the back of the net – where I want to put the shot. And then, I go and shoot.”
Without taking a glance at Mallards goaltender Parker Milner, Sparks skated down the ice, drilled the shot in the back of the net and set off a celebration that rocked the Events Center.
Mavs goalie Mike Clemente, who had been trailing by two goals much of the game, threw his hands into the air and was mobbed by his teammates.
The celebration then turned to Sparks as the Orange Army stood and cheered – and cheered and cheered.
“That's a good feeling,” Sparks said, when asked about scoring the game-winner. “Nothing better in hockey than getting that big goal for your team and your fans.”
No 4-3 victory in the six-year history of the team tasted as sweet as this one.
“We needed this win,” Mavericks coach Richard Matvichuk said. “It's a testimony to the character of the guys in that locker room that they could come back from that (3-1) deficit, score the two goals in the third period, and win the shootout.
“There are wins, and then there are WINS. And this was a WIN.”
While Clemente blanked the Mallards in the shootout, David Rutherford and Sparks scored to set the stage for what could be a victory the team and its coach look back on weeks or months from now as a season-changer.
“This is a win you don’t forget,” Rutherford said. “We needed this win. We had to have it. Mike played so well and we fought back and found a way to tie the game in the third period and win it in the shootout.
“We finally gave our fans their money's worth. This was just a great game to be a part of.”
Nearly lost in all the shootout hoopla were two regulation goals by newcomer Josh Brittain, who scored the team’s first and third goals. They were sandwiched around Andrew Courtney’s goal, which cut the deficit to 3-2 in the third period.
“Before the game, we had a players-only meeting,” Brittain said. “I'm a new guy on the team, but I just said that if the skaters skate, the passers pass and the shooters shoot – basically, if we just do our job – we're going to be fine.
“I haven't been with the team that long, but this was an emotional win, a great win. We needed a win after the way we'd been playing and now we need to build on this.”
Brittain, acquired by the Mavs from Kalamazoo earlier in the week, scored the game-tying strike with just 51 seconds remaining in regulation as Matvichuk pulled Clemente from the net with 1:21 left.
The 6-7 Mavericks play host to the Allen Americans at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at the Events Center.
“I can’t imagine what this week would have been like if we would have lost this game,” Clemente said. “We played Matti’s system and it worked. When we do what the coach says, we’re a pretty good team. I think we’re beginning to realize that, and after a win like this, you hope it’s the start of something big.”
Clemente made 29 saves, putting an end to his personal three-game losing streak. He’s 2-4 on the season and stopped all four shooters he faced in the shootout.
A big positive from the game came when Brittain and Courtney converted two of the team's five power-play opportunities. Entering the game, Missouri was 0 for its previous 17 on the power play.
On Saturday against Wichita, the Mavericks again struggled on the power play, going scoreless in five attempts. Former Maverick Kenton Miller and five others scored for the Thunder against John Griggs, who started in goal and played one period, and Clemente.
MAVERICKS ACQUIRE FORWARD: The Mavericks announced Monday they have acquired forward Jack Downing from the South Carolina Stingrays in exchange for forward Brandon Hynes and defenseman Guy Leboeuf. Additionally, the Mavs have recalled defenseman Ryan Hill from Knoxville of the Southern Pro Hockey League.
Downing, 25, has played in 16 games in South Carolina this season, scoring two goals with five assists. The New Canaan, Connecticut, native has played 118 career ECHL games (with Elmira and South Carolina) and has posted 43 goals and 36 assists. In addition, the former University of Vermont star has played in 83 career American Hockey League games (with Binghamton, Providence and Iowa), posting 12 goals with nine assists.
Hill, 26, will be in his second stint with the Mavericks. He played a pair of games earlier in the season for Missouri, recording one assist. In eight games with Knoxville this season, he had one assist.
Hynes had scored two goals with one assist in seven games, and Leboeuf had not registered a point in 11 games with the Mavs.
MAVS TRADE DiDIOMETE: The Mavericks also traded Devin DiDiomete to the Idaho Steelheads. A release from the Mavericks front office states: “The Missouri Mavericks will not be putting out a release on this (trade) ... the Mavericks will not be publicly discussing the deal.”