When John-Scott Dickson signed on as the new head coach of his beloved Missouri Mavericks, the former forward and fan favorite had no idea what to expect.
There were some highs, and a few lows, but he managed to survive and can’t wait for the upcoming season to get underway with his ECHL club.
“There were so many ups and downs – more than I anticipated,” said Dickson, who joked that he often felt like one of the elevator operators in the SEC Arena. “But you know what this team, this organization means to me.
“I came here as a player and had no idea what to expect, and now, Ashley and I and our kids call this our home (they just bought a new home in Lee’s Summit, four minutes from the arena) and I have a season under my belt and feel like I know a lot more what to expect next year.
“I just want to thank our owner (Lamar Hunt Jr.) Brent (Thiessen, general manager), Hoodie (assistant coach Kyle Hood), Watty (Simon Watson, director of skill development) Stevie (Matt Stephenson, senior advisor of hockey operations) and, of course, Drew (Andrew Dvorak, equipment manager) and Nick (Potter, trainer) for all they did for me this season.
“And our fans – they stood by me and this team all season. It hurts that we didn’t make the playoffs, but I hope they know it was not for a lack of effort. We worked our butts off – but it just didn’t happen. And we’re going to work hard in the offseason to make sure we get back to the playoffs next season.”
The Mavericks finished in fifth place in the ECHL’s Mountain Division with a 33-30-4-5 record and 75 points. They lost out on the fourth and final playoff spot, earned by Utah, by four points.
As his daughter Harlow played with a plate of pasta and watched cartoons on the television in dad’s office, Dickson prepared to meet the fans at the annual End of Season Event at the SEC Arena Tuesday.
More than 500 members of the Orange Army lined up to get autographs, take photos and say goodbye to many players they know they will never see again because the Mavericks will no longer be affiliated with the NHL’s New York Islanders.
There is a possibility, because the two teams are in Missouri, they will maintain some kind of association with the St. Louis Blues.
“I’ll admit, it was tough at times having players from the Islanders and the Blues – along with (their AHL affiliates) Bridgeport and Chicago,” Dickson said. “But we tried to make it work and we tried to send players back to those teams with a better skill set they had when they arrived.
“In our exit interviews, that was one thing Hoodie and I took a lot of pride in as the players all said they felt like they really learned something here and left better players. Plus, they loved the area and the organization and our fans.”
Matt Finn, who became a fan favorite, backed those comments before meeting and greeting the fans.
“I want to play in the AHL or the NHL, I’m not going to lie to you,” Finn said, “but if I come back to the ECHL, this is the only place I want to play. Dixie (Dickson) might have been a first year coach, but he and his staff are the best.
“This arena, our fans, first class all the way. I loved my time here and I’m going to miss Independence.”
Thiessen, who spent the evening visiting with fans about the past season, was able to answer one question that was on the minds of many fans.
“Yes! Absolutely, JSD is going to come back as our coach next year,” said Thiessen, as Dickson enters the second year of a two-year contract.
“He and his staff did an unbelievable job, just unbelievable. When you think about starting the season with 13 rookies and a rookie head coach, well, there was a steep learning curve for all of them. We saw our team get better – after that tough start – and we came so close to making the playoffs.
“And that is a credit to the players and our coaches. We are so excited for next season. Tonight is bittersweet, because we’ve never had one of these events following a championship, but as I meet and talk with the fans, I see a lot of enthusiasm and excitement for next year.
“And I’ve said this many times before – when JSD played for this team, he played for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. That’s the same approach he takes to coaching this team, too.”
Both Dickson and Thiessen said the team is in serious negotiations with “three or four teams” to share an affiliation with in the 2017-18 season. The team will also be known as the Kansas City Mavericks starting on June 1.
“We’re talking about players – we hope to keep a solid core of six or eight guys from this year’s team – and affiliations,” Dickson said, as he and Harlow left to visit with the Orange Army. “We’re going to build on the late success this season and give the fans a team they can enjoy watching next season, right Harlow?”
She looked up at her dad, gave him an enthusiastic high-five and disappeared into the arena in a sea of orange and blue.