Scott Hillman spent most of Monday in meetings with members of his Missouri Mavericks hockey team.

Scott Hillman spent most of Monday in meetings with members of his Missouri Mavericks hockey team.

He listened and made some recommendations.

Listened and consoled.

Listened and took notes.

Listened and looked to the future.

“I spent more time today listening than anything,” Hillman said late Monday as many of the Mavericks gathered outside the locker room for one final team meeting.

“We had some great meetings today – meetings that I really feel good about. It’s kind of funny, because so many of the people we’ve talked with at the Goodbye Party (Friday night) and  Mavericks Booster Club party (Saturday night) have come up and said, ‘Well, it must be nice to get some time off.’

“If they only knew – now is when the toughest part of my job starts. We have 20 wonderful young guys in that locker room and not all of them are going to be coming back.”

That’s the truth of life in the Central Hockey League.

“That’s just the nature of the business, and it’s my job and Brent’s job (Brent Thiessen, Mavericks general manager and president) to make sure that we bring back the right group of players.

“And first, and foremost, what we’re looking for are players with great character. The first decision we make, the first trait we look for is character because everyone in our locker room had great character last season and it showed on the ice and in the community.”

Moments after Hillman made that comment, all-star forward Nick Sirota entered the south entrance of the Events Center carrying some of his sticks and a huge equipment bag.

When a few young skaters from the community ice asked for an autograph, he placed all the gear down and spent 15 minutes talking with the youngsters and their parents.

“This is a real bittersweet day because you know you’re saying goodbye to some great guys,” Sirota said after making sure that each youngster and his parents walked away with a special memory.

“We had a special year – one of those years you never forget. It was special in so many ways, and none of us wanted it to end. So we all come back for one last meeting, and we talk with coach, pack our gear and head home. And I think a lot of us will be back next year.”

One player who will be back is team captain Carlyle Lewis, who sparred with a brave toddler who was not the least bit intimidated by the Mavericks’ “Grim Sleeper.”

“I think the sky’s the limit for this team and this franchise,” Lewis said as a toddler in skates tried his best to get the Mavericks’ intimidator to drop gloves.

“Who would have thought that we’d get more fans this year than last year? Last year was the most amazing team I was ever a part of – until this year. And this year was even more amazing.

“We’re all looking forward to getting healthy, taking a little break and playing some golf and spending time with our families.

“But we’re all excited about the future. We have become such a big part of this community, and our fans have become a big part of our lives. It’s pretty special to be a part of this team.”

No player was more special to the team and his fans than all-star goaltender Robby Nolan, who was mobbed by the group of youngsters when he walked out of the locker room.

He greeted them with a warm smile and signed autographs as he talked about a memorable season.

“I don’t really know how to say this – but it’s like I already miss the boys,” Nolan said as he dropped to his knees to sign a tiny tots skates. “I don’t want to sound like a broken record – I mean, how many times have I said this this season? – but the boys worked so hard for me this year.

“They did the dirty work, and I got a lot of the attention and the glory. I’ve never played with better teammates than the guys on this team, and I love them and even though I was with most of them today I already am beginning to miss them.”

Hillman said he will take some time to evaluate every player on the team and will also visit with other front office personnel, agents and players – especially from the teams that are rumored to be folding in the Berry Conference (Odessa has already confirmed it will no longer be a part of the CHL next season).

“We want character people, and people who fit in with the other boys on the team,” Hillman said. “The boys were so sad when the season ended because they enjoyed being around each other. That hasn’t always been the case with some teams I have been a part of, but it’s been that way last year and has certainly been the case this year.”