The Missouri Mavericks played the game of hockey with such expertise during the regular season that coach Richard Matvichuk’s team finished with an ECHL-best 109 points and earned home ice throughout the playoffs.
They continued that success by sweeping Quad City 4-0 in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
And today, they finally put an end to playing the waiting game, as Matvichuk and Co., will finally know who they will meet at 7:05 p.m. Friday at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena as the winner of the Allen-Idaho series will have been determined Wednesday night.
While the Mavericks breezed through the opening round of the playoffs, the Americans and Steelheads needed the full seven games to determine a winner, and Matvichuk has watched every minute of every game since his team clinched a spot in in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Tuesday night’s game was all about special teams play and the goaltender,” Matvichuk said after the Americans rebounded from a 7-1 loss in Game 5 to win 4-2 in Game 6 behind the play of goalie Riley Gill. “But special teams play and goaltending is what the playoffs are all about. If you’re getting good play from your special teams and your goaltender, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
While Matvichuk and his players are intrigued to find out who they play host to Friday, they say it really doesn’t matter.
“We play Friday, whether it’s Allen or Idaho,” said forward Josh Holmstrom, who has two goals and an assist and a plus-4 rating in the playoffs. “Honestly, we don’t care who we play. We’re going to play our game, play to our strength and do everything we can to support the best goaltender in the league (ECHL Goaltender of the Year Josh Robinson). We’re excited about Friday because it’s the second round of the playoffs and it’s a home game and our fans are going to create a lot of energy and excitement.”
That statement was mirrored by defenseman Bryce Aneloski, who has two goals, two assists and a plus-4 rating so far this postseason.
“The electricity created by our fans is off the charts,” Aneloski said. “We worked so hard to get home ice during the regular season and if any one of our series come down to a Game 6 or Game 7, we know we’re going to be playing at home. We won the third and fourth games at Quad City and we had a lot of our fans there. There was a real Maverick fan presence in their building, so we know they’re going to be backing us no matter where we play.”
Robinson, who set an ECHL record with 21 wins in a row, is 3-0 with a 2.00 goals against average in the playoffs.
“I’m taking (Friday’s game) as just another game,” Robinson admitted. “I’m not going to get too high or too low. Sure, I’m excited that it’s at home because that gives us the best opportunity to get off to a successful start. But no matter who we play or where we play, we have to keep playing the same type of hockey that helped us have such a successful (regular) season, and I know we will. This team is focused and ready for any challenge.”
The Mavericks played only two games against Idaho, splitting the regular season’s final two contests with a 4-2 loss and a 3-1 win.
The Mavericks were 5-5 against the Americans in 10 games this season, losing three of the last four.
GOOD WORKOUT: The Mavericks enjoyed a spirited practice Tuesday morning, one that brought a smile to the coach’s face.
“I thought we had a good practice yesterday, and we were even better today,” the coach said. “We changed some things up a little bit, challenged them, made it competitive. We’re going to know who we play (Thursday) so we wanted a high-tempo practice today because we’ll spend some time watching film and really preparing for our next opponent.”
A LITTLE RATTLED: While Matvichuk was known as one of the toughest defenders in the NHL during his playing days with the Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars, he had to take a backseat to his wife Tracy when it comes to toughness after she sent him a photo of a rattlesnake she caught on the family’s 10-acre spread in Lee’s Summit.
“She is an animal nut, she loves animals – I guess she even loves rattlesnakes,” chuckled Matvichuk, as he showed players photos of the snake on his cell phone. “I guess it was out near a rock wall in our back yard and she’d never kill anything so she caught it.”
And naturally, Tracy used hockey sticks to accomplish that feat.
“There was a buck laying on its side on our patio near a rock wall and I went over to pick it up and noticed some leaves in the bottom and something else,” Tracy said, with the calm demeanor most of us would use in describing a bunny on the patio. “It was a snake. A rattlesnake. It got out of the bucket and I went and got a couple of hockey sticks – you can imagine, we have quite a few at our house with Dalton (8) and Dillon (12) both playing.
“It was small, but it was feisty. It kept trying to get out of the bucket, and I didn’t want to let it loose around our house with the boys outside all the time. So I got it from the bucket to a large glass jar and we’re going to make sure it goes someplace where they can keep it in a safe place.”