Everything about the Kansas City Mavericks’ 3-2 win over longtime rival Wichita had a playoff feel about it.
Despite losing another of its top players in Jared VanWormer, who was called up to American Hockey League affiliate Stockton early Friday morning, the Mavericks improved to 32-23-3-2 overall and 23-9-1-1 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
Nick Schneider – filling in for the ailing Mason McDonald in goal – starred in the net, Joey Sides collected two goals off two dazzling C.J. Eick assists and red-hot Greg Betzold scored the game-winner.
“We played a solid 60 minutes of hockey, although we got off to a little bit of a slow start. But after Joey scored those two goals to give us that 2-1 lead, everyone rose to the occasion, almost like it was a playoff game,” coach John-Scott Dickson said. “Nick hasn’t played in a while because Mason has been playing so well, and Mason is battling a little something and hasn’t practiced for a few days so we put Nick in there and he was outstanding. He made a nice stop on a breakaway right after we took that 2-1 lead and he made some huge saves in the third period.
With VanWormer out, Dickson also made some adjustments on offense.
“Joey and Betzie are so hot and Eick moved up to the line with Joey and (Corey) Durocher, and they looked like they have been playing together all season,” Dickson said.
Wichita’s Jason Salvaggio scored at 5:39 of the first period to give the Thunder a 1-0 lead, but Sides answered at 8:22 as Eick slid a no-look pass to Durocher, who found Sides in front of the net.
“I had the easy job, getting the puck in the back of the net,” Sides said. “Eick’s pass to Corey was amazing and Corey got me the puck right where I wanted it.”
Eick then found Sides in the same spot and fed him the puck, as Sides scored at 11:32 of the second period to give the Mavericks a 2-1 advantage.
Betzold, who has six goals and four assists in the last four games, scored at 5:39 to make it 3-1 going into the final period.
Wichita pulled its goalie with 1:29 left, and Stefan Fournier slipped the puck past Schneider at 18:57 to cut the deficit to one, but the Mavericks held on for the win.
“I felt good out there,” said Schneider, who has not played since March 3. “It’s huge for the team and for me to win at home, and we were able to do that tonight. The fans were great and the game felt like a playoff game.”
Eick agreed, adding, “It doesn’t matter what line I’m on or how the team wants to use me, we all get fired up when we get great goaltending like we got from Nick tonight.
“The fans were great it was a great, playoff-like atmosphere and we win. And that’s what really matters.”