Scott Hillman, the coach of the Missouri Mavericks, calls Ray DiLauro, “…one of the most important players on our team – both on, and off the ice.”

Scott Hillman, the coach of the Missouri Mavericks, calls Ray DiLauro, “…one of the most important players on our team – both on, and off the ice.”

Former collegiate teammate Simon Watson calls the associate team captain, “…the greatest teammate ever, a great competitor who has fun wherever he goes.”

And the CHL’s top goaltender, Robby Nolan says, “No one works harder than the guys who play defense for this team, and Ray is out there working harder than anyone I’ve ever played with.”

Those accolades from his coach and teammates are special, but to really get to know Ray DiLauro, just ask his mom Arlene what her son is all about.

“Oh my goodness, I don’t even know where to start,” said Arlene DiLauro, who became the Mavericks’ team mom when she visited her son last week.

“I’ve seen the world thanks to Ray and hockey, and I know that Ray has loved every minute of his playing career – especially here in Independence with the Mavericks.

“I’ve watched him play all over the United States and in Germany, Austria and Italy, but I’ve never been around so many wonderful people as I have here with the Mavericks. No wonder Ray loves playing for this team so much. I’ve just been here a few days, and I love everyone.”

DiLauro made an immediate impact on a team that was coming off a special first year that saw a late-season push help the Mavericks slip into the postseason.

“We knew that if we wanted to get better this year, we needed to get some experienced players,” Hillman said. “We got Ray, and he has become one of the most important players on our team – both on, and off the ice.

“He, (Ryan) Jardine and Lewie (Carlyle Lewis) are three of the captains I’ve ever been associated with. If there is a matter that needs to be dealt with in the locker room, they deal with it.

“The boys respect them, and that’s because that have earned that respect.”

Watson played with DiLauro at St. Lawrence University and recalls the first time he met the senior captain.

“I was a freshman and he was a senior and I thought, ‘This guy is awesome,’” Watson said. “He just had that presence. He’s the greatest teammate ever, a great competitor who has fun wherever he goes. We’re so lucky to have a guy like him. Teams that win championships have leaders like Ray.”

In a recent 7-0 victory over visiting Mississippi, Nolan was attempting to earn his league-leading seventh shutout of the season.

With the Mavs holding a comfortable 5-0 lead late in the third period, Mississippi’s Chris Richards uncorked a shot near the net.

DiLauro came out of nowhere and threw his body in front of the puck to block it.

“That was awesome,” Nolan said, grinning, “I mean, it showed what kind of player Ray is. No one works harder than the guys who play defense for this team, and Ray is out there working harder than anyone I’ve ever played with.”

Arlene flew from Philadelphia down to Independence to visit her son, but she says that’s a rarity.

“We usually drive,” she said, referring to her husband, Ray Jr., who did not make the most recent trip because of knee surgery. “I had an Eddie Bauer Explorer with 388,000 miles on it.

“I remember driving 19 hours to watch Ray play in Sault St. Marie, Michigan. It wasn’t bad driving, because I knew I was going to see him play. But after the game I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I have a 19-hour drive in front of me.’ But it was worth it.”

She has visited her son along every step of his nine-year hockey journey, and believes he has found a good home with the Mavericks.

“The boys on the team are wonderful, and I just love their wives and girlfriends,” she said. “They have made me feel like a member of their family. I’m hoping I get to come back and watch the playoffs.”

On the ice, DiLauro has a glare that can indimidate any opponent.

He is intimidating, menacing and physical.

But off the ice, Ray DiLauro III is Arlene and Ray DiLauro Jr.’s pride and joy.

“He’s such a sweet boy,” Arlene said. “When he was a baby, he was always smiling and would let anyone hold him. But he can be mean out on the ice.”

Following a morning practice session, DiLauro joins in the conversation after getting a kiss from mom.

“She’s the best,” DiLauro said. “She and dad would come to all my games and I know they’re always going to there for me. When you play as many places as I have, it’s always nice to have a place to come home to.”

Arlene nods in loving approval.

“He’s 31 and he still calls the home he grew up in his home during the summer, and I thank God for that,” she said.

It’s a good bet her son feels the same way.

TWO IN TEXAS: The playoff bound Mavericks wrap up the regular season by playing two games in Texas, facing Rio Grande Valley at 7:35 p.m. tonight and Laredo at 7:35 p.m. Saturday (KCWJ 1030 AM).

The Mavericks have clinched one of the top four spots in the Turner Conference and will host a yet-to-be-named opponent April 1 and 2 at the Independence Events Center.