Five things to look for as Mavericks open camp for 2021-22 ECHL season
It seemed like old times on the Community Ice at Cable Dahmer Arena Wednesday morning as coach Tad O'Had ran his Kansas City Mavericks through their first week of practice in preparation for the upcoming ECHL season.
Last year, because of COVID-19 protocols, no player or coach was able to take part in any community activity – which has always been a big part of the team's approach in the past – and no one was allowed at practices.
Longtime Mavericks season ticket holder Frank Spevak was back watching "my boys" as O'Had led them through a spirited practice session.
Here are five things to look for as the team heads into camp before starting the 2021-22 season on Oct. 22 at Iowa and Oct. 23 at Cable Dahmer Arena:
Keeping the numbers low
The Mavericks have just 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies in camp, which pleases O'Had.
"I like the idea of a smaller camp," the coach said. "We have some guys at (AHL affiliate) Stockton, and some may be sent back down, but we are working with a lot of guys who were on the team last year, so we could hit the ice running. And the new guys are the best. We've just been practicing a few days, and I can tell this is going to be a special group – a very special group."
Fans are back
Spevak, and a handful of fans who were there last year to supply snacks, watched the practice from the bleachers in the Community Ice practice rink.
"See those fans over there?" asked O'Had. "They are amazing! And they have been amazing this season. They are finally able to come to our practices and they would do anything for our team and for our players – like helping with their moves into their apartments and things like that.
“We have so many quality players, I can't wait for the community to have the chance to meet them, and believe me, our guys are excited about playing in front of 5,000 fans and getting to go out into Eastern Jackson County to meet our fans."
Where is Babe the Blue Ox?
One fan favorite is going to be forward Shawn Weller, whose red beard and 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame are reminiscent of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan.
He greeted the group of fans as he came off the ice and said, "I can't wait to get into the community and meet our fans.
"I have heard so many good things about this team and this community, and I am excited to be a member of this team. Tad and the coaches are doing a great job and we're excited about practice, getting to know each other, develop that team chemistry and have a great season."
That coach looks so familiar
Don't let the glasses fool you, the newest member of O'Had's coaching staff is a Kansas City Maverick legend.
Former goalie Josh Robinson – who earned the ECHL Goaltender of the Year honors with the Mavericks after posting an impressive 28-2-1 record with a 1.88 GAA, a .931 save percentage and an ECHL record 21-game win streak in 2015-16 – is now the team's goaltender coach and video coordinator.
Prior to joining the Mavericks, Robinson played a key role in the development for the Florida Everblades goaltenders over the last four seasons. Robinson helped to bring the first Goaltender of the Year award to the Everblades since the 2004-05 season.
During the 2018-19 season, Robinson helped rookie goaltender Jeremy Helvig tie Florida’s record of 27 wins for a rookie netminder, while totaling a 2.27 goals-against average, the second-best mark in the league among rookies.
"We are so excited to have Josh on our team," said O'Had, who worked with Robinson when O'Had was an assistant coach with the Everblades. "He's already made a big impact on our team."
Barbecue and live hockey
The Mavericks are offering fans the opportunity to eat some barbecue and watch a preseason exhibition game Friday at Cable Dahmer Arena’s Community Ice rink. The barbecue benefit for Truman Habitat for Vets, which is building a home for a local veteran, begins at 5:30 p.m.
The cost is $10.
If you want to take part in the benefit and watch the 7:05 p.m. exhibition game against the newest ECHL team, the Iowa Heartlanders, it is $20. Or, if you want to just watch the exhibition game, the price is $10.
"Our guys are so excited to get out on the ice in front of our fans," O'Had said. "It's going to be a great evening. We're helping a veteran get a house, eating barbecue and watching hockey."