A season that began with so much promise, and ended with the type of frustration that can only come from not making the playoffs for the first time in team history, enjoyed a brief respite Tuesday night at the Independence Events Center, as the Missouri Mavericks thrilled a sold-out crowd with an electrifying 5-1 victory over the Brampton Beast in the final home game of the season.
“In my pregame talk, I told the guys that they were playing for each other – which they've been doing the last month or so,” coach Richard Matvichuk said, “but tonight, they were playing for the Orange Army. And our guys really responded. You see the guys play like they did tonight and you begin thinking, 'What if?' But we started playing really well too late and we're not going to the playoffs.”
Matvichuk said he feels much better about the team, which should go into next season with a lot of confidence.
“The guys could have folded the tent when we were mathematically eliminated, and I think they played harder,” he said. “The veteran guys like Courts (Andrew Courtney), Sebbie (Sebastien Thinel), Dix (John-Scott Dickson), Stevie (Matt Stephenson) – and the newer guys like Hayser (Colten Hayes), Currier (Tyler Currier), Sparks (Lindsay Sparks) – they've all played so well.
“Then you have the new kids we just brought in like (Chris) Owens, (Brett) Stovin and (Ludwig) Karlsson – you're going to see a lot of these guys on the roster next season. We're so much better than we were a month ago. The new additions have been huge, it all just happened too late (to make the playoffs).”
Owens gave the crowd of 5,800 something to cheer about at 6:24 of the first period when he slapped a perfect pass from Thinel past Brampton goalie Parker Van Buskirk.
“When you get a pass like that,” Owens said, grinning, “you better score. Tonight was amazing. A Tuesday night and the place is sold out – and so loud! We had to give the fans a win tonight, and we found a way to do it. We really played a complete game.”
Goalie Mike Clemente, who stopped 22 of 23 shots, agreed with that assessment.
“This season, we've really won as a team and lost as a team,” said Clemente, who lowered his goals against average to 2.89. “When we play well, we play really well, like tonight. When we messed up, it was kind of a collective thing. I didn't play well in the net, the defense had some problems and we didn't score many goals.
“But now, we're playing the best hockey of the season, and even though we're not going to make the playoffs, we gave the fans a nice going away present tonight. We had a sold-out arena tonight – on a Tuesday night – and we're not making the playoffs. Our fans are the best, the absolute best. We just had to give them a win tonight, to make them feel good and get them excited about next season.”
Karlsson opened the second period with his first goal of the night and Stovin followed with a goal of his own to give the Mavericks a 3-0 lead.
Former Mav defenseman Matt McCready scored the lone Brampton goal at 10:48 of the second period, but Karlsson and Courtney scored in the opening minutes of the third period to assure the win.
“We wanted to get that sixth goal (which gives all the fans free hamburgers) tonight,” said Courtney, who padded his single-season team goal record with No. 37. “Our fans are the best. You know, tonight is the first home game to end the season – and I mean end the season – since we're not going to the playoffs. It's my fifth season and we've been in the playoffs every year until this year. We're all playing for contracts next season, and who knows what's going to happen.”
Many of the Maverick veterans posed for photos after the game in front of a large display featuring the team mascot, Mac.
“This is pretty emotional,” Courtney said. “Who knows if this is the last time I play with guys like Dix and Sebbie and Stevie. None of us wanted the season to end this way, but we got a win at home and we're going to Brampton this weekend and we'll do our best to get two more wins.”