When Missouri Mavericks forward Brett Hammond stepped from behind the curtain at the Independence Events Center and was introduced to a standing-room-only crowd of fans and members of the media inside The President’s Club, he was stunned.

When Missouri Mavericks forward Brett Hammond stepped from behind the curtain at the Independence Events Center and was introduced to a standing-room-only crowd of fans and members of the media inside The President’s Club, he was stunned.

“It’s June, it’s 11 a.m. and we have over 100 fans here for a news conference,” said Hammond, who was one of four Mavericks to re-sign with the second-year Central Hockey League team Thursday morning.

“Last year was so exciting, and I wanted to be a part of this year’s team. All the guys want to come back – that’s for sure – and I know Coach (Scott Hillman) is doing everything possible to make that happen. But the elite of the elite want to play here, because this is a special place.

“Guys come here and ask, ‘Is it this full every night?’ And we tell them it’s always packed. When you have this many people for a news conference, I can’t even imagine how packed this place is going to be in October (when the season starts).”

Hammond, who led the Mavericks in scoring in the postseason with five goals, including two power play goals, signed along with fellow forwards Simon Watson and Derek Pallardy, goaltender Gerry Festa and newcomer Derek Knowles, a CHL rookie defenseman.

Festa and Knowles were not able to attend the news conference.

“Last year, we won the play-in playoff series and this year, we hope to skip that series and advance much deeper into the playoffs and bring Independence and the surrounding cities a championship,” said Watson, an original Maverick who was with the team from Day 1 in 2009-10.

“We want to get better on defense, we want to get better offensively and we want to get off to a great start this year, and that’s what our front office and Coach are doing – they’re working as hard as they did last year to give our fans a special group of players. And I’m so honored to be among that group.”

Pallardy, a native of Chesterfield, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, is thrilled to be back in his home state with a team that has all the tools to make a run for a championship.

“What a great, great day,” Pallardy said after joining Hammond and Watson for a post news conference autograph party. “I have so much respect and admiration for Coach Hillman and I know he and (team president and general manager) Brent Thiessen are going to build a championship team – and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

“You look at the number of fans who made an effort to come out today and we know they’re going to be back when the season starts Oct. 15. I knew this was a special place to play last year and I feel like it’s going to be the best place in the CHL to play this upcoming season.

“This is my home state and I’m just so excited.”

Pallardy was given the opportunity to show his diplomatic side as he was asked who would win this weekend’s series at Kauffman Stadium – the hometown Royals or his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

“It’s going to be 1-1 with a rainout,” he quipped, as fans laughed and applauded.

The Mavericks have 11 players under contract for the upcoming season and Thiessen believes the three returning forwards represent something special.

“They were the glue, the core of the team,” Thiessen said. “We made our team much better today. I think everyone in the organization and our fans will be excited about the news today. We are certainly excited to bring these guys back.”

Added Hillman: “The four returning players represent the character of the Mavericks. They are four guys that you really have to talk about when trying to build chemistry in the locker room. They are all about the team and the community, and they come to work every day willing to accept any role they are asked to take on.”

Festa, 26, joined the Mavericks halfway through the team’s inaugural season. The Calgary, Alberta, native played in 13 games with Missouri, going 5-4-2 and finishing with a 2.88 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.

“If not for the arrival of Gerry Festa, we could not have made the run we did to make the playoffs,” Hillman said. “In his 13 starts he collected wins against three of the top four teams in the league. He is one of the hardest working goalies I have even been around, and his team seems to gain energy from his exciting style of play.”

The coach expects big things from Hammond, 29, who made an impact during the postseason in the team’s first year.

“Brett was on one of our top penalty killers, faceoff men and also led the team in goals and power play goals in the playoffs,” Hillman said. “We expect bigger and better things from Brett this season based on his outstanding playoff performance.”

Knowles, 25, is the only non-returning player in this group of signings. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound forward will enter his rookie season with the Mavericks in 2010-11.

“Derek is a big power forward who likes to drive the net and knock down people,” Hillman said of Knowles. “He can score goals but he can also change the momentum of the game with a big hit. He gives us more of the size and presence that we are after to allow us to play an aggressive game that we showed in the playoffs last year.”

Of the 11 players signed for next season, eight return from last season, and three are new to Independence. Missouri has signed eight forwards, including Olivier Filion, Toby Lafrance, Carlyle Lewis and Bill Vandermeer. The Mavs have two defensemen under contract with Chris Mifflen and Mike Wakita, and one goaltender signed with Festa returning.

“I could not be more excited to add these five players to our lineup,” Hillman said. “Four guys who were the glue that held this team together last season as we made our run to the playoffs, and a big, powerful young player who represents the direction we are heading with our new signings in 2010.”

Pallardy, 26, is playing in his third season for Hillman and second in a Mavericks jersey. He played in 61 games for Missouri last season (fourth most) and finished with 18 points on four goals and 14 assists.

“Pallardy is one of the most versatile players in the league,” Hillman said. “He is a very smart hockey player and was called on to play every position but goalie last year, and he finished second on the team in plus/minus. He is spending many hours working with our youth hockey players this offseason and is greatly anticipating his second year in Missouri.”

Watson, 30, enters his second season with the Mavericks and fifth overall in the CHL. The Waterloo, Ontario, native totaled 18 points in his final 24 games. The Mavericks were 21-6-3 in games that Watson scored at least one point.

“Watson had 17 points with a rating of plus-4 in the final 22 games of the regular season,” Hillman added. “He showed in the playoffs that he can play a strong defensive game and he is determined to have the best season of his career next year.”