Monday, 4 July 2011

Independence (Missouri) Day

Today is a pretty significant day in history. July 4, 1776 was when America declared its independence, seceding from Great Britain and becoming its own nation of thirteen united colonies. While HBIC is very supportive of American troops internationally and American-based hockey, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a team that is all about Independence. Independence, Missouri, that is. The CHL's Missouri Mavericks are based in Independence, Missouri, and the expansion CHL team in 2009-10 has done a good job in bringing families out to the rink to enjoy the game of hockey.

The CHL awarded ownership of the expansion franchise to Independence, Missouri thanks to an ownership group named Independence Professional Hockey LLC to start play in the CHL for the 2009-10 season. Independence Professional Hockey LLC's board of governors was comprised of Mark and Matt Adams, Mike Carper of Lubbock, Texas, and team president Brad Lund. Mark and Matt Adams were the previous owners of the CHL's Lubbock Cotton Kings, and they had won a number of accolades as owners of Cotton Kings including being named CHL Franchise of the Year. Mike Carper is a Lubbock-based lawyer who runs his own firm in the Texas city, and Brad Lund came over after sixteen years with the Oklahoma City Blazers, serving most recently as the Chief Executive Officer for the club. The newly-awarded franchise would become the first in the state of the Missouri, and is situated a mere 200 miles from the CHL's Wichita Thunder, creating a natural rivalry for the new CHL team. Brent Thiessen was made the team's first general manager.

One of the first things that the newly-established team did was to partner with the local newspaper, The Examiner, for a name-the-team contest. The contest would run from April 16, 2009 until May 11, 2009. Many submissions were received by the team, and they were eventually narrowed down to one that was revealed in June.

On May 29, the new Independence team hired its first head coach. Scott Hillman, the previous coach of the Southern Professional Hockey League's Knoxville Ice Bears, was chosen to lead Independence into its first CHL season. Hillman's resumé was quite impressive during his time with the Ice Bears: two SPHL championships and two first-overall finishes in the regular season in just two seasons coaching there! The newest CHL franchise picked a man who valued winning and expected his teams to win - a shrewd business move for an expansion franchise.

On June 24, 2009, Independence Professional Hockey LLC announced that the team had chosen the name "Mavericks", and the Missouri Mavericks were officially founded. The team announced that it would use the color scheme of light blue and orange. The team would officially play at the Independence Events Center, a 5800-seat multi-purpose arena that would open in November 2009 in which the Mavericks would be the primary tenant. Things for the Mavericks were looking good as they built some groundswell towards their first game just outside of Kansas City, Missouri.

July 1, 2009 saw the Mavericks sign their first player ever. Former Penguin and Devil Jeff Christian was the first player to scrawl his name on a team's contract, as Christian became the first Maverick in history for his 20th professional season in hockey and fifth in the CHL. From there, the team was assembled through trades and signings, and the team began preparations for opening night.

Friday, October 16, 2009 was the inaugural game for the Missouri Mavericks, and they were in Rapid City, South Dakota to play the Rapid City Rush in the franchise's first regular season game. Carlyle Lewis was the first man to score in Missouri Maverick history when he tallied a powerplay goal at 7:33 of the first period from Mark Van Vliet and Ted Vandermeer. The Mavericks would fall, however, to the Rush by a 3-2 score, but the strong showing by the Mavericks proved they could be competitive as an expansion team in the CHL.

October 28, 2009 was a big day as the Mavericks decided to engage their younger fans by introducing the newest Maverick, an unnamed mascot! Voting took place on five final names, so fans were encouraged to voteon their favorite name for the "Horse With No Name".

With the introduction of the mascot, it seemed that things began to turn for the Mavericks. Two nights later, the Mavericks recorded their first win in franchise history as they downed their rivals in the Wichita Thunder by a 6-1 margin! They followed that up by improving to 2-5 on the season on Halloween with a 2-0 shutout win over Wichita. Doug Groenestege stopped all 21 shots for the first shutout in franchise history!

November 13, 2009 saw the brand-new Independence Events Center open, and the Mavericks welcomed the Thunder to town for their first home games in franchise history after opening the season on a nine-game roadtrip that saw the Mavericks go 2-6-1. The Mavericks apparently had Wichita's number as they took both weekend games against the Thunder by scores of 3-2 in the shootout and a 4-2 win on the 14th. The Mavericks improved to 4-6-1, but they needed to start beating some of the other teams in the CHL! There's nothing like christening a new arena with a pair of wins, though.

January 13, 2010 had the original Maverick playing in the CHL All-Star Game. Jeff Christian was invited to be part of the CHL All-Stars, and they battled the South Texas Stars made up of players from Laredo, Corpus Christi and Rio Grande Valley. While Christian would score in the game, the South Texas Stars would take the game by a 9-4 score.

March 14, 2010 was a big day as the Missouri Mavericks punched their ticket to the big dance as they claimed a playoff spot with a 5-2 win over Wichita! The mastery of Wichita continued as the Mavericks closed the season series against Wichita with a perfect 10-0-0 record. With Missouri battling the Mississippi RiverKings for the fourth-seed, they were guaranteed to meet Mississippi in the first round of the CHL playoffs! The Mavericks would finish in fifth-place however, but put up a respectable record of 31-27-6 for 68 points in their inaugural season!

The playoffs started with Missouri playing against the RiverKings, but the Mavericks played as if they were the higher seed. The teams would use all three games in the best-of-three series, but the Mavericks prevailed with a 3-1 victory in Game Three! That set the stage for Round Two where the Mavericks would meet the high-scoring Rapid City Rush.

The Rush wasted little time in establishing their dominance, and this series was over before it began. If it wasn't for a six-goal outburst in Game Four, the Mavericks really wouldn't have competed at all. Having been outscored 11-3 in the first three games, the Mavericks battled to the very end, but lost a heartbreaker in Game Four with a 7-6 overtime loss to the Rush. That would close the book on the 2009-10 season for the Mavericks, but it was one heck of a ride while it lasted!

The season was a little more difficult for Jeff Christian down the stretch because he had something else on his mind: his daughter, Ryan. Ryan Christian was diagnosed with Pediatric Adrenocortical Carcinoma. The Mavericks held a few fundraisers for her, and they even auctioned off these great warm-up uniforms to help Jeff and Ryan out. Honestly, I really have respect for teams that put their players and the players' families ahead of business, and the Mavericks showed that they are more family-like than some other hockey outfits. Ryan's battle continues today, but I'm glad to see that the Mavericks and the CHL are working to help the Christians in their time of need. Well done, Mavs!

Here's a quick jersey review for the 2009-10 regular season games:
The off-season proved interesting for the Mavericks as they looked to build on their excellent first season. August 31 saw the team hire their first cheerleader/dance team called the Mavericks Filly Spirit Squad. The team signed a couple of players who flirted with NHL teams in Florida's Ryan Jardine and Buffalo's Zane Kalemba. Things were looking good for the team as they pushed towards opening night in their second season!

The second campaign started on October 15 against the Odessa Jackalopes, and the Mavericks kicked off the season with a 5-3 win! November 6 saw the Wichita Thunder break their eleven-game losing streak against the Mavericks with a 4-3 overtime win. Six days later, the Thunder won in regulation time over the Mavericks with their 3-2 victory, pushing the Mavericks' record against the Thunder to 11-1-1 all-time.

December 21, 2010 saw the Mavericks set all sorts of records as they crushed the Evansville Icemen by an 11-4 score. The Mavericks broke franchise records for goals in a game with eleven, goals in a period with six, combined goals in a single game with 15, most goal scorers with ten, and fastest three goals in franchise history in a 2:43 span. The Mavericks also broke what is believed to be a CHL record with those same ten goal scorers in the game. That's a pretty good night, and an early Christmas gift for the fans!

Head coach Scott Hillman and goaltender Robby Nolan earned spots on the CHL All-Star Team this season against the Rapid City Rush, the 2009-10 CHL Champions. Nick Sirota also earned a spot on the squad after the CHL's Facebook Fan Voting resulted in him earning 40.4% of the votes! The CHL All-Stars skated to an 11-6 victory that saw Sirota record one assist and goaltender Robby Nolan stop 17 consecutive shots after letting in three goals on three shots in the middle frame that he played.

March 4, 2011 saw the Mavericks secure a playoff spot for the second year in a row after Robby Nolan shutout the Quad City Mallards by a 1-0 score. Once again, the Mavericks pieced together a solid season to make it to the postseason tournament, but their opponents had yet to be determined. The final few games of the season, however, proved important as the Mavericks clinched home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, and they would meet their rivals in the Wichita Thunder!

There were a number of accolades that the Mavericks team and players earned this season. THe CHL recognized the Missouri Mavericks for having the league's Best Goaltender in Robby Nolan, Best Fans, Best Game Notes, Best Team Website, Best Use of Social Media and Best On-Ice Promotions. Robby Nolan was a finalist for the CHL MVP award and was chosen as the winner of the Scott Brower Award as the CHL's most outstanding goaltender. The Mavericks also saw forward Simon Watson named as the CHL's Man of the Year which is "presented annually to the Central Hockey League player adjudged to have best exemplified strong leadership qualities on and off the ice, while making significant and noteworthy humanitarian contributions to his community".

Both on and off the ice, the Mavericks were certainly having a great year! The Mavericks finished with a record of 37-23-6 for 80 points - an improvement of 14 points from their inaugural year. They finished the season in fourth-place in the Turner Conference, one point behind the third-place Bloomington PrairieThunder, and readied themselves for a first-round match-up with the Wichita Thunder.

In the opening round best-of-five series, the Mavericks had to be concerned as their mastery of the Thunder from a year before had turned in favor of the Thunder as the Mavericks posted a 4-5-2 record against Wichita this season. This series went the distance as Wichita took Games One and Three while the Mavericks responded after those losses with wins in Games Two and Four. Nathan O'Nabigon turned out to be the hero as the Mavericks and Thunder battled to a 4-4 deadlock in Game Five, bit O'Nabigon's goal with 4:24 remaining was the winner as the Mavericks won Game Five by a 5-4 score, and took the series 3-2. Like the previous year, the Mavericks would advance to the second round of the playoffs!

The Mavericks drew the Colorado Eagles in the Turner Conference semi-final best-of-five series. The Mavericks dropped the first two games by 5-2 and 5-1 scores, but they rallied back in Game Three with a 4-3 victory. With their backs against the wall, the Eagles and Mavericks put on an entertaining show in Game Four with lots of chances and some big saves, but the Eagles topped the Mavericks by a 2-1 score to end the Mavericks season in the second-round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

While the disappointment of another early finish marked this season, the Mavericks franchise had to be happy. They improved in the standings from one year earlier, they were recognized by the league on a number of fronts for their excellent work on and off the ice, and they really made some significant inroads with fans in Independence. Overall, I'd say it was another successful season for the Mavericks!

Here's a quick jersey review for the 2010-11 season:
What does 2011-12 hold for the Mavericks? Well, I'm assuming they want to build on their excellent 2010-11 season for starters. They had a great season, but they need to get over that second-round roadblock in the playoffs. Personally, I think that the Mavericks have done an excellent job in their two seasons in the CHL at building a brand that fans in and around Kansas City can enjoy. It's affordable, entertaining hockey, and that's what you want when you go to a game. Well done, Mavericks!

There's your look at Independence (Missouri) Day here on HBIC!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Peter Santellan said...

Very good piece. Though the team doesn't get enough press locally, it seems that part is improving, and winning has something to do with it. One good side effect of the Mavericks is that it brought a little attention to the Kansas/Missouri Border War hockey game that was played in January at the Independence Events Center.