It’s become a running joke with members of the Missouri Mavericks and the media: How are you going to approach the biggest game of the season?
The next biggest game of the season takes place at 7:05 tonight in Allen, Texas where the Mavericks meet their longtime rivals, the Americans, in another must-win game.
The Alaska Aces topped Rapid City 4-2 Sunday to regain fourth place in the Mountain Division with 72 points. The Mavericks have 70 and are in fifth-place and Utah has is in sixth with 69 points. The top four teams in each division make the playoffs.
Allen and Colorado, two Mountain Division squads, have already clinched playoff berths.
The 31-26-8 Mavericks have seven games left on their schedule, including back-to-back games tonight and Thursday in Allen.
“We can’t pay attention to what anyone else is doing – although everyone is a scoreboard watcher at this time of year,” coach John-Scott Dickson said as he boarded the bus for KCI Airport.
“We need to take care of business. Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we’re going to need some help from other teams because Alaska is two points ahead of us. But all we have to concentrate on and focus on is winning Wednesday in Allen.
“After all, it’s our biggest game of the season.”
Associate captain Rocco Carzo followed his coach’s lead.
“The biggest game of the season is Wednesday in Allen,” Carzo said. “Our last biggest game was our 3-2 win over Wichita last Saturday. Every game we play from here on out is going to be our biggest game of the season and we pretty much have to win all of them.
“If we finish strong, and Alaska or Utah finish ahead of us, we tip our cap to them because I know how hard we’ve worked to get back in this (playoff) race. We have so many new faces on the team, but Brent (Thiessen, general manager) and JSD have done a great job bringing in Maverick players – the guys who play for the name on the front of the jersey.”
Carzo said the team has done a great job winning despite losing key players to callups from affiliated AHL teams.
“What we’ve done the last few weeks is inspirational to me. We lost some great players (who were called up to Bridgeport in the AHL), and the new guys who have come in have really bought into the program,” he said.
Team captain Andrew Courtney, who returned from a recent injury and has played in three consecutive Missouri wins, is excited about the trip to Allen.
“A must-win game, and there’s no team we’d rather be playing right now than Allen,” Courtney said. “They’re a great team, a championship team. They’re the type of team you can really get up for, and everyone is excited.
“You have to get excited when you’re playing the biggest game of the year.”
To balance the pressure that comes from chasing a playoff berth, Owen Dvorak, the 3 ½ year old son of team equipment manager Andrew Dvorak greeted every player as they left the locker room and headed to the bus.
“Mama, can I get a suit,” young Owen said to his mother, Shannon, “so I can go on the bus and fly with Papa and the team?”
That might have been the best moment of the season for a team that has used unity, pride and heart as the springboard to getting back in the postseason hunt.