After a long, thoughtful bus ride back from Fort Wayne, Ind., Missouri Mavericks coach Scott Hillman spent a relaxing Friday afternoon with his family in Lee’s Summit. But in the back of his mind, he was plotting his strategy for next season.  

After a long, thoughtful bus ride back from Fort Wayne, Ind., Missouri Mavericks coach Scott Hillman spent a relaxing Friday afternoon with his family in Lee’s Summit. But in the back of his mind, he was plotting his strategy for next season.    

“Enjoyed a little quiet time today,” Hillman said as the Mavericks dropped the seventh and deciding game of the Turner Conference championship series 6-4 Thursday night to the Komets.

“We’ll take it kind of easy this weekend, say goodbye to our fans Sunday (at the Independence Events Center from 3-6 p.m.) and then Brent (Thiessen, team president and general manager) and I will meet next week after we interview every one of the boys and get their feedback on the season and what they’re looking ahead to next season.”

Earlier this year, Thiessen promised that the core of this team that came within a game of going to the CHL Ray Miron Cup Championship, would come back intact.

Hillman agreed.

“Honestly, I haven’t talked to a player about next season because we were too busy trying to reach the championships this year,” said Hillman, who has led the Mavericks into postseason action in each of his three seasons as head coach.

“There are some areas we need to upgrade, especially on the back end, where we were so young this year. You know, of the last 21 players on our roster, 14 were first- or second-year players, and even though we were that young, we came with a couple of goals of going into the championship series.”

Although he never mentioned Cole Ruwe’s absence during the playoffs, because he didn’t want to use the defensive standout’s (upper body) injury as an excuse, he said Friday, “We really missed Cole on the back end.

“He’s a leader and such a quality player. (David) Simoes and Chezzy (Dave Pszenyczny) are great guys to have on the back end, but they were playing with a group of young players, and it showed. Three power-play goals Thursday night.”

The big questions the fans have is simple: Will goaltender Charlie Effinger be back next season after carrying the team on his back for much of this campaign?

“We certainly hope Charlie will be back,” Hillman said. “He had so many minutes this season and more than 300 saves than any other goaltender in the league (in the regular season) and he was taken out twice and neither time because of the way he was playing.

“We took him out of a game to get Jakub (Macek) some time in the net and another time it was getting a little rough around the net in a game we had a big lead so we put in B.J. (O’Brien). Charlie had an outstanding season. We want him back as badly as our fans want him back.”  
 
One big goal for the Mavericks this season was to improve their power play, and they finished the regular season with the No. 1 power play in the CHL.

“Bringing in the proven vets like Ed (McGrane) and Sebbie (Hillman’s former Odessa teammate Sebastien Thinel) really helped our offense. Our power play was outstanding, and we did well on the penalty-kill until late in the playoffs.

“We have upgraded our team every year we have been here. We won the (now defunct) play-in mini-series our first year and beat Wichita in the first round last year.

“This year, we made it to the semifinals. And I know we’ll work harder than ever to give our fans something special to watch next season.”