For the first two periods of the Kansas City Mavericks’ Racing Day game Sunday, the only thing the sold-out crowd had to cheer about was an appearance by NASCAR legend Tony Stewart.
Then the hometown Silverstein Eye Centers Arena magic returned as the Mavericks scored two goals in the final 4:30 of the third period against the first-place Cincinnati Cyclones to send the game into overtime.
After a scoreless overtime period, the Cyclones’ Alex Wideman scored the only shootout goal to hand the Mavericks a tough 4-3 loss. However, Kansas City earned a point and widened its fourth-place lead over the Rapid City Rush to nine points.
The Mavericks improved to 31-23-3-2 overall and 22-9-1-1 at home. They lead the 25-29-5-3 Rush 67-58 for the fourth and final playoff spot in the ECHL’s Mountain Division. Wichita (24-28-6-3) is fifth at 57 points.
It was a fast-paced, physical game that featured two major brawls and 144 penalty minutes.
The Cyclones, who have the ECHL’s best record at 42-10-4-3 (91 points), looked like they were going to breeze to a regulation win when Corey Durocher scored his second goal of the game at 15:30 of the third period to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Then, with just 59 seconds left in regulation, red-hot Greg Betzold scored to send the game into overtime and send the home crowd into a frenzy.
After a scoreless overtime, Wideman scored the game-winner, but coach John-Scott Dickson and his Mavericks were proud of the effort.
“Our guys were fired up and never let up against the best team in the ECHL,” Dickson said. “There is no such thing as a moral victory, but coming from behind the way we did against the top team and top goalie (Michael Houser, 2.06 goals against average) shows how much our guys wanted this one.
“It had a playoff feel, and this is a game we can use as a foundation for tough teams we face in the future. We all wanted two points, but it’s great – after trailing by two with less than five minutes to play – to get a point.”
Betzold continued his hot streak, scoring a goal and adding an assist, giving him nine points in his last three games.
“This one had a playoff feel, and we’d have loved to get two points, but I think we made a statement the way we came back and the way we stood up for each other in a very physical game,” Betzold said.
Durocher, who scored his first goal at the 14:12 mark of the second period to tie it 1-1, agreed with his teammate.
“Well, we wanted a win, but at least we got a point and showed how physical we can be in a physical game like this,” Durocher said.
Mavericks goaltender Mason McDonald finished the night with 25 saves on 28 shots.
CARZO OUT: Team captain Rocco Carzo blocked a slap shot with his stick in overtime; the shot broke his stick and the blade end struck him in the mouth. Two teeth were knocked out onto the ice and four were damaged and have to be repaired.
“The captain will be back Friday,” Dickson said. “He’s tough – tough as anyone I played with or coached.”
SMOKE VISITS: Tony Stewart won over the 5,800 in attendance as he posed for photos, signed autographs and even took part in the Chuck-a-Puck promotion between the second and third periods.
“I got a call from the Mavericks and they invited me to come to Racing Day and I was really excited,” Stewart said. “I love hockey and I love racing so it was a win-win situation. The Mavericks have been great hosts and I hope that I get the chance to come back for another Racing Day.”
After a 20-year NASCAR career, Stewart, nicknamed “Smoke,” retired from his driving duties following the 2016 season to focus on his co-ownership of Stewart-Haas Racing and to partake in the kind of open-wheel dirt racing that helped him become a three-time NASCAR champion.