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Missouri Mavericks | Official Website
Could this be the year? That's the question on a lot of minds as the Missouri Mavericks open up the regular season tonight in Denver. Could this be the year that the Mavericks put it all together? Could this be the year that Coach Scott Hillman brings home a championship to the Orange Army?
While the answer to those questions remain to be seen, there are certainly things, on paper nonetheless, that would point our horse-loving hooligans to the affirmative. Hillman has made terrific strides over the past few years and the Mavericks have come oh so close to bringing home the coveted Presidents' Cup. Look, calling for a championship-or-bust season is a lofty expectation for any organization, however Hillman and General Manager Brent Thiessen have made this into a top-notch organization. Where there are needs, they fill them, and I commend them for that. Obviously, we can't say the same for other professional sports organizations in the Kansas City area. Again this year, they've put together a great mix of veteran players with young, emerging talent that could take this team to the top.
So, let's take a look at this year's Missouri Mavericks, and why they have as good as shot as any other team in the Central Hockey League to bring home the cup:
One thing is for certain: this team will be fun to watch. The Mavericks have seven, that's right seven, players that scored at least 20 goals last season (Brian Bicek, Jeff Pierce, Derek Leblanc, Kenton Miller, Sebastianel Thinel, John-Scott Dickson, and Colt King). Sprinkle in Matt McCready, who has a terrific shot from the point, and the behemoth that is Riley Emmerson (6'8" 248 lbs, who will be dubbed "Tree" (first of many "Mystery, Alaska" references of the season - if you haven't seen that movie, go watch it now)) setting up camp in front of opposing netminders, and you have a recipe for some crooked numbers on the scoreboard at the IEC (Independence Events Center).
If the Mavericks were given a grade card at the end of last season, the play at the Blue Line would have received a "Needs Improvement." Again, credit to Hillman and Thiessen for recognizing a problem and tackling it head-on. The Mavericks now have a group of four defenseman that should rival any other team in the CHL in McCready, (a familiar face) Blake Forsyth, Jamie VanderVeeken, and David Simoes. Also, while he's not on the roster at this point, Dave Pszenyczny should also play a major role for this team, both on the ice and in the locker room. There are also a lot of great back-checking forwards that can play well both ways to lend the bruisers on the Blue Line a helping hand.
There might as well be a giant question mark painted between the pipes at the IEC. There is always a fear of the unknown, and this is the one area that might be a cause for concern. The Mavericks are currently carrying three goalies on the roster (not the first time that this has happened coming out of camp) to try and figure out who can put the finishing touches on this terrific roster. Austin Lee looked good in camp, but struggled in the team's lone preseason matchup. Mike Clemente put up respectable numbers last year, but has yet to stand out. The most promising pick of the lot is Mathieu Corbiel. Looking at him, you would think he'd be a goalie, as he stands at 6'6", but there are upsides to being that big. To put it in perspective, I overheard a Mavericks fan comment at Training camp that "even when he drops to his butterfly, his head is still above the crossbar." Not to mention that fact that when moving side-to-side, there are few holes for a shooter to fit a shot through that big frame. One area of concern is his butterfly, however. Being that big takes its toll on a players' quickness, and he's a little slow in his drop. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see who of these three steps up and forces Hillman's hand.
Historically, this team has had its ups and downs in the realm of special teams play. In the first couple of seasons, the power play was less than stellar (putting it nicely) and the penalty kill had consistently improved. However, last season the Mavericks had the best power play in the league (21%) and the penalty kill fell to the bottom third of the league. It would seem that the power play will continue to thrive (see above for all the reasons you should need); however the success of the penalty kill lives and dies in the cage. Goalies are supposed to be your best penalty-killers, so if there are struggles in net, there will be struggles on the penalty-kill.
I'm not going to put the ultimate curse on this team and predict a championship. No. I refuse to do it. What I will predict is that this team will be in the top three in the final standings. Crazy things can happen in the playoffs, and while a team has to be great to win a championship, they also need a little luck. I won't try to predict luck. Like I said before, this will be a fun team to watch, and the IEC will definitely be rocking all season. This team has a great mix of talent, experience, rawness, powerful fists, and veteran leadership. I officially call the Orange Army to active duty. Get ready for a season to remember, and prepare for battle!
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