With a record-setting crowd of 5,858 cheering Tuesday night at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, Kansas City Mavericks winger Mitch Hults sent them home with the memory of one of the most thrilling finishes in the 11-year history of the ECHL franchise.
Following 60 gritty minutes of regulation hockey against longtime rival Wichita, Hults grabbed the puck near the blue line and sped toward Thunder goalie Mitch Gillam.
Just 53 seconds into the 3-on-3, seven-minute overtime period, Hults flipped a backhanded shot past Gillam for the game-winner in a 2-1 victory that started a night of celebration.
“I like that backhander,” said Hults, who scored the game-winner with 18 seconds left in Friday’s 3-2 win at Cincinnati and entered with a four-game point streak. “I especially liked it tonight.”
Minutes after the victory, Mavericks players joined fans on the ice for the highly anticipated Skate with a Mav New Year’s Eve tradition.
“I think the guys enjoy it a lot more when they skate with our fans after a game like this,” Mavericks coach John-Scott Dickson quipped after his team improved to 14-16-2-0 and won its third of four games to start the second half of the season.
“Both teams had chances tonight (in regulation) and Gillam and Nick (Schneider) came up with some big saves.
“And anyone who has watched Hults play knows he is an AHL (American Hockey League) player, so we’re just going to enjoy him while he is here. He is a special talent and a game-changer. We saw that tonight in regulation and the overtime period.”
With the Mavericks trailing 1-0, Hults assisted Darian Dziurzynski on his game-tying goal with just 1:08 left in the second period.
“It was big to get the game tied because both goalies were outstanding tonight,” Dziurzynski said. “And the crowd – oh, boy, the crowd – it reminded me of the crowds when I was here back in 2015-16 – nothing gets you fired up like 6,000 fans cheering everything you do on the ice.”
Hults, who has four goals and four assists in his last five games since being assigned to the Mavericks from the AHL’s Stockton Heat, agreed.
“The fans got us pumped up, and some of the (Thunder) players were giving me a hard time, asking me why I was down here, so I thought I better let them know wherever I play, I’m going to play to win,” Hults said.
Hults also said he likes the new 3-on-3 overtime format.
“Yeah, I really do,” he said. “It gives you a lot more freedom, a lot more open space on the ice. And to get an overtime win in front of a crowd like this makes everyone feel good.”
No one left the Mavericks locker room with a bigger smile than goaltender Nick Schneider, who improved to 8-10-2-0 with the win as he stopped 20 of 21 Thunder shots.
“This was a great night,” Schneider said. “Gillam and I were talking out there about who was going to get the game-winner, because we were both playing pretty well, and I’m just thankful it was us.
“You never forget a win like this, and it’s great to send our fans home happy on New Year’s Eve.”
HIT THE ROAD: The Mavericks now hit the road for a season-long, six-game road trip starting Thursday in Allen, Texas, against the division-leading Allen Americans at Allen Events Center.
The road trip will conclude on Jan. 15 when the Mavs travel to Newfoundland to face the defending Kelly Cup Champion Newfoundland Growlers.
The Mavs return home Jan. 18 for Conservation Night against Allen.