Brent Thiessen just returned from the Central Hockey League meetings in Dallas and grinned when asked if the league would still be around in the fall.

Brent Thiessen just returned from the Central Hockey League meetings in Dallas and grinned when asked if the league would still be around in the fall.

“Oh, you’re hearing the same rumors I’m hearing,” said Thiessen, the Missouri Mavericks president and general manager as he settled behind his desk and began talking about this past season and the future of the CHL.

“I’ll be totally honest with you and your readers. We all know that Odessa is no longer going to be a part of the league, and I believe a few other teams could also fold. But let me tell you this, the fewer teams – the more competitive things get. Some very good players are looking for a new team, and I know Scott’s phone has been ringing constantly.”

Scott is head coach Scott Hillman, the Sundance Kid to Thiessen’s Butch Cassidy.

They are the CHL’s dynamic young duo who have made the Mavericks part of the heart and soul of Independence along with one of the most successful franchises in the league.

“I’m so proud of the job Scott has done the past two years,” Thiessen said. “We made the playoffs – barely – in our first year. And we won our opening series and then lost our second-round series. Now, a lot of people would say we did the same thing this year, too. But we beat a very good Wichita team in the first series and then lost to an outstanding Colorado team in four games (of a best-of-five series).

“If you talk to Scott, and I know you have because I’ve read your story in The Examiner and on the CHL website, he would never make an excuse. And I’m not making an excuse, but look what he had to overcome this year. We lose (Olivier) Filion (who left the team in the middle of the season for personal reasons). We lose Walker (Wintoneak, who left to return to college).

“Andrew (Courtney) gets hurt, Mike (Wakita) gets hurt (and neither suit up for the playoffs), and we lose Todd (Griffiths) in the playoffs. That’s a lot of offense to lose. Yet we still win the opening round of the playoffs and win a game against Colorado and come close to winning Game 4 (a 2-1 loss at the Events Center). The strides we have made from Year 1 to Year 2 are huge. But they aren’t going to be as big as the strides we plan on making between Year 2 and Year 3. We have some things up our sleeves that will blow our fans away.”

Comments like that make Thiessen the most genuine and endearing official I’ve ever met on any professional team.

You ask him a question, you get an answer – whether you are a season ticket holder, a casual fan or a member of the media.

I stood with him for several minutes at the Mavericks going away party at the Events Center. More than a thousand fans came to say so long to a team they loved. And every fan who greeted Thiessen had a comment or a question.

“You know what just blew me away?” Thiessen said. “Of all the people I met, every one of them asked me to bring back a different player. It wasn’t like they all asked me to bring back (All-CHL goaltender) Robby Nolan or (all-star forward) Nick Sirota. Every single player on the team was mentioned – and that proves to me that we’re doing our job.

“Scott has built a team of great character, players the fans have accepted and many of whom consider them to be like members of their family. And no one wants to say goodbye to a family member. You don’t, I don’t and they certainly don’t.”

While Thiessen said many more players will return from this year’s squad than made the return trip to Independence following Year 1, he said not all will be back for the 2011-12 campaign.

“I think if it were up to them, we’d get 100 percent back,” Thiessen said. “At least, that’s the impression I get from talking to them. But some likely won’t be back because of family issues, or other matters that are not team related. I just know that when I walked into that locker room (following the season-ending loss to Colorado), I sensed that family members were saying goodbye to other family members.

“And even if we have 85 or 90 percent of the guys back, it won’t be everyone.”

Thiessen was thrilled with many aspects of the team’s play this past season. The Mavericks moved from No. 10 to No. 1 in goals allowed and finished second overall in the penalty kill.

The team needs to add offensive punch, especially if the Mavericks lose some proven scoring talent, and when a goaltender has a year like Nolan just experienced, his agent is going to be a busy man fielding all the off-season offers.

“We lost Charlie (Effinger, the No. 2 rated goaltender two years ago), and we found Robby,” Thiessen said. “And no one knows what’s going to happen with Robby or Gerry (Festa, the backup goaltender this season). We want them back. We would like to see all the guys come back, but that just doesn’t happen at this level.”

But a solid core of players will return, and the fans can begin a new love affair with a team that is as much a part of Independence as Harry Truman and unpredictable spring weather.

Thiessen is a goal setter. His goal for this past season was to win a CHL championship. It didn’t happen, but I believe it will next season.

“Our top priority right now is to sign the key guys who want to come back,” Thiessen said. “We have some holes to fill, and Scott is working on that. He’s talked to some pretty special players – players our fans will recognize. And I believe some of them will join our team.”

Thiessen pauses for a moment and recalls a conversation he had at the going away party.

“Some fans asked if we were looking forward to going on vacation,” Thiessen said. “I don’t go on vacations. In fact, I know a lot of members of our staff who wish I would go on vacation. We are going into the most important four-month stretch of the year. This is when we build the team for next year, and we’re already looking at some things that get me excited. And I know our fans are going to be excited too.

“We’re way above where we were at this point last year in season ticket sales, and we have the best ownership group in the league. Now, it’s up to Scott and me to give the fans a team they can support and a team that can win a championship.”

See why I respect this guy so much?

He doesn’t just put on a dog and pony show, then disappear when everything unravels.

He produces, and backs up everything he says.

Are you ready for some Mavericks hockey?

I know I am.