One by one, members of the Kansas City Mavericks walked through the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena hallway from the locker room to the bus that was waiting outside.
The bus was ready to take coach John-Scott Dickson’s playoff-bound squad to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the 2019 ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs begin at 7:05 p.m. Thursday against the top-seeded Tulsa Oilers.
Players were carrying snacks, pillows, an occasional suitcase and their game gear – and no one sported a bigger smile than forward Mark Cooper, who has returned to Independence after spending much of the season in the American Hockey League with San Antonio, where he scored two goals and added five assists in five games with the Rampage,.
“It’s so good to be back,” said Cooper, who was among the leading scorers on the Mavericks when he was loaned to the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. “I might have been in San Antonio, but my heart was back here in Missouri with the boys.
“I missed them. The AHL was a great experience and San Antonio has a first-rate franchise, but it’s great to be back in Independence and heading to the playoffs.”
Cooper said it’s especially satisfying to be a part of a playoff team.
“We missed the playoffs last year, and I can’t wait to bring a win or two home from Tulsa and watch our fans go crazy when we have our home games next week,” he added. “We have the best fans in the ECHL and they deserve a playoff team. We’re all looking at this as a business trip. We’re happy to be in the playoffs, but we’re going to Tulsa to win some games. We’re far from satisfied. We want to win the Cup – that is what postseason is all about.”
The Mavericks are making their seventh postseason appearance in franchise history and their first in three seasons. In their 10-year history, the Mavericks have a 27-26-2 record all-time in the postseason and a 4-5 series record.
“We’re excited to have Coop back and we like our playoff roster,” Dickson said. “Coop did well in the AHL and our guys have played well while he was gone. He’ll be with Worms (Jared VanWormer) and (Greg) Betzold (the ECHL Offensive Player of the Month for march) and that will give us a lot of firepower on that line.”
The Mavericks and Oilers have never met in the postseason despite playing each other 97 times in their 10-year rivalry. The Mavericks lead the all-time series with a 64-27-2-4 record. The team’s 100th all-time meeting will be Game 3 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena on April 17, the night of the Mavericks’ first home playoff game.
The Mavericks finished the regular season with a 36-30-4-2 record (78 points) and finished in fourth place in the Mountain Division, while the Oilers won the division with a 42-24-4-2 record and 90 points.
The Mavericks were 4-6 against Tulsa this season, sporting a 4-3 record at home and 0-3 mark in Tulsa.
The Mavericks ended the season winning four in a row, before losing the regular-season finale 2-1 in a shootout at Rapid City
“When we were on that 0-7 streak, we were playing pretty well, but just couldn’t find a way to get the puck in the net, or we’d make a mistake that would cost us a game,” said Dickson, who is taking the Mavericks into the postseason for the first time as a head coach. “But then we won four in a row and really played well. We found a way to score, we played some great defense and throughout the bad times, the guys bonded together and there was no finger pointing or guys playing the blame game.
“I’ve been involved in so many of our postseason games as a player or assistant coach (to former head coach Richard Matvichuk), but this is my first time as head coach and that’s exciting. We were all disappointed we didn’t make it last year, and that was our goal this year – our first goal – to make the playoffs.
“Now, we want to make a deep run in the postseason and it all starts Thursday in Tulsa.”
Dickson said his team’s 0-3 mark at Tulsa is no problem heading into the playoffs.
“I’ve told the guys this many times, we’re all 0-0 right now. It’s a new season,” he said. “We beat Tulsa four times in our place and we’re going to do everything we can to go to their place and get our first win there this season.”
Goalie Mason McDonald takes a personal 23-10-1-2 record and 2.54 goals against average in the playoffs against the Oilers.
“We’re all excited to be heading into the playoffs after missing them the past couple of years,” McDonald said. “I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence, and even though we didn’t win our last regular season game, we got points in our last five games with four wins and that shootout loss at Rapid City.
“We’ve had some real battles against Tulsa this season and the game Thursday will be another battle. Like Coach said, we’re all 0-0 now and we’re hoping to get a couple of wins in Tulsa and come home and get some more wins in front of our great fans.”