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The Missouri Mavericks announced the second coach in team history on Thursday, and that was the most anti-climactic portion of the day. Stay with me here. That last line will make sense.

After weeks of speculation, rumors, whispers, funny guesses, and friendly banter, one name emerged from the pack, and that name was Richard Matvichuk. That's definitely a familiar name in any hockey circle, but we'll get to his credentials in a little bit.10348592 776569339049888 6270973909873484365 n

The first press conference of the off-season is always exciting. Even though the 2013-14 CHL season just finished, we are all already clamoring for October to get here. The first presser always makes it feel like hockey season is right around the corner. This one was different. For the first time in team history, the first press conference wasn't about player signings, slogans for the upcoming season, season ticket holder perks, or anything else that we'd normally here. No, this time, it was all about a new voice. Today was about taking what Scott Hillman had built in his five seasons in Independence and pushing this team to the next level, whether the rest of the CHL likes it or not. Today was about change.

Throughout this entire process, Team President and General Manager Brent Thiessen continued to say that they were not rebuilding. They were looking for someone to take what they had accomplished, build on it, and bring a championship home to the Orange Army. While that looks good on paper, it would have been tough to do for a new coach. There are typically some growing pains involved with changing a regime, but with Matvichuk at the helm, that won't necessarily be the case. He knows this team, having coached against them for the past two seasons. He knows this fan base, having coached many games in The IEC. Most importantly, he knows this league, all of the other players, and all of the styles and tendencies of the coaches that he'll face in the 2014-15 season. Matvichuk is primed to hit the ground running.

This was about as impressive of a hire that Thiessen could have made. On paper, Matvichuk has definitely walked the walk. He spent 14+ seasons playing at the highest level in the NHL, capped by raising Lord Stanley's Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars, playing alongside the likes of Mike Modano, Craig Ludwig, Brett Hull, and Ed Belfour. As a coach, he won two President's Cups with the Allen Americans as an assistant coach to Steve Martinson, leading one of the league's best defensive units. On paper, Thiessen nailed it.

Today's press conference proved that Matvichuk can also talk the talk. Typically when a new coach is introduced, a steady line of clichés is dished out, and while that happened a little today, anyone in attendance can attest to the fact that this was different. With every word that Matvichuk spoke, the buzz in the arena grew more and more. He was saying things that we all wanted to hear, but more importantly, he meant them, and he made damn sure that we knew that he meant it. I sat in the front row, gobbling up every word that he spoke. It was truly impressive. So when I say that the announcement was the least exciting portion of the day, it's only because everything that happened after that was even better.

Now the real work begins. Matvichuk must now start piecing together his team in order to make a run at a championship. With any other coach, I would be the first to pull back the reins on any expectations, but both Thiessen and Matvichuk made it very clear what they are trying to do. We've done our fair share of winning, but as I've said many times, if you don't win the last game of the season, it doesn't matter. Matvichuk has done that three times now over the course of his playing and coaching careers. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited to know that the man behind the bench for our Missouri Mavericks has his name etched into the most coveted trophy in all of sports. Now, it's on his shoulders to bring us the trophy that we all covet so dearly. Orange Pride.


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(Denny Matthews voice) Scott Hillman.........gone. That's right folks. The only bench boss that this organization has ever had resigned on Wednesday, after weeks of speculation regarding his future with the club. The move shocked and shook the fan base to the core, and it has been the talk of the town ever since.

For the most part, fans offered their warm sentiments regarding Hillman's time in Independence. There were a select few that might as well have offered to chauffeur him out of Eastern Jackson County. Regardless of how you feel about it, for the first time in over five years, a new face will be behind the bench next season. There's one thing that we are all searching for, and that is closure.Scott Hillman resigned as coach of the Missouri Mavericks on Wednesday. (Photo: John Howe)

Not much information was given in regards to the press release, and that is expected. The two sides decided to part ways, and all that we've seen on social media from players and staff has been well wishes for Hillman and his family. For right now, all that we can do is speculate. I reached out to Brent Thiessen today, and his comment was "During contract negotiations, Scott decided that it was best for his family to move on. We supported that decision." Again, it's just speculation, but it would appear that both sides were working towards bringing Hillman back for his sixth season behind the bench. For some reason it didn't work out, and he's moving on. That didn't lower the shock value though. Here are a few quotes from some of the players:

"All the best Hilly, thanks for the opportunity to play with some old friends, new ones and in front of the great Mavs fans. Good luck Bud." – Matt Stephenson

"Scott's departure comes as a surprise to me, was something I wasn't expecting or I think anything that anyone who follows the mavericks as expecting. Just like to thank Scott for the past two seasons and wish him and his family all the best." – Evan Vossen

"It will be a big hole to fill. What he has accomplished in the last 5 years on and off the ice is amazing. He was a great coach to play for and a great person. He's the main reason why I came to Missouri to play hockey and I'm grateful for that!!" – Sebastien Thinel

"Was a surprise ,that's for sure. (I) did not see it coming. (I) just wish him luck in the next chapter and appreciate what he has done for me. He will be missed for sure." – John-Scott Dickson

There have been rumors that he was "asked to resign," or "forced out." We see that a lot in sports, as coaches will resign before being shown the door. I really don't think that's the case here. If the ownership group and/or Thiessen wanted to move on and find a new coach, I seriously doubt that they would wait over a month after their season was over to make that decision. Good coaches aren't easy to come by, and the longer you wait to find a replacement, the harder it is. I really think that there was every intention to bring Hillman back, but for some reason, talks fell through. I'm sure we'll find out more information in the coming days or weeks, but that doesn't help us right now. The closure that we so desperately seek is out of our grasp, for right now at least.

I've thought about this situation since the news broke on Wednesday afternoon. There are two looming questions that I'm not sure that I can answer right now. The first is: How is Hillman's departure going to affect the veteran core of players and their desire to return to the Mavericks? I wish I had an answer for that. There's a good chance that a new coach will bring great changes to this organization, and that includes the roster. So, for all of those people who were so quick to run Hillman out of town, I hope you all realize that with a new coach comes new players, a new system, and a lot of growing pains. There's a very good chance that this team regresses next season, which is something that the Orange Army is not accustomed to, and probably won't handle very well. Sorry to rain on the Hillman-hater parade, but the grass isn't always greener my friends.

The other question that I've been struggling with is: How will Hillman's legacy be remembered five, ten, or twenty years from now? Will he be remembered for five winning seasons of hockey, five consecutive playoff appearances, a Governor's Cup, bringing in potential Hall of Fame players and fan favorites that we'll tell our children and grand-children about? Or, will he be remembered as a coach who couldn't get over the hump in the postseason? We'll all have our opinions on the matter, but there are a few things that I know about Scott Hillman. I know that he was always respectful and courteous to fans, candid and welcoming to media, and genuine and caring about the people and city of Independence. What Scott Hillman built here in a mere five seasons is remarkable, and he has left some big shoes to fill. So to you Hilly, I say good luck, and more importantly, thank you. Orange Pride.


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Break out the red carpet.  It's time to pass out some awards.


(Note: any mention of an "sponsor" is a joke. Please don't sue me.)


The "You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry" Award (sponsored by Dr. Bruce Banner): Colt King

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Colt is one scary individual. In fact, I think I referred to him as the actual Boogeyman in a blog post last season. Time and time again, Colt made an example out of those who crossed him (see Clarke, Garrett). It got to the point that no one would drop the gloves with him, and I can't blame them. The man throws thunderous punches that would put Rocky Balboa on his tuckus. Not only did Colt fulfill his reputation as the best fighter in the league, he also proved that he can be a force with the puck on his stick. He has really become a terrific all around player.


The "I Block More Shots Than Captain America's Shield" Award: John-Scott Dickson

There are probably several guys on this team that could make a case for this award, but when it comes to sacrificing one's body to keep a little chunk of vulcanized rubber from passing by, JSD reigns supreme. I don't know how many blocked shots he had this season, but I would imagine it would make Dikembe Mutumbo's jaw drop.


The Banana Peel Award (sponsored by The Three Stooges and old Warner Brothers Cartoons): Andrew Courtney

Courts is capable of doing so many great things on the ice, but have you ever noticed how many times he just........falls? It happens more than you think. It typically gets a good chuckle from the players and media up the press box. It's because he's so great that it is so funny. So much talent, yet such a klutz. I can't help but crack a smile by just typing the words.


The "I Don't Look Like Much, but I'll Destroy You" Award (sponsored by Jason Bourne): Evan Vossen

Voss isn't a man of great stature, but you wouldn't know it just by watching him play. He throws his weight around with the best of them, and this season, he proved he can throw some wicked punches as well. Off the ice, it would seem like it would take a lot to get him fired up, but when he laces up those skates, he's coming after you, so keep your head up. Oh, and there's no award for this, but he may be the best penalty killer in the league. Every team needs a player like Evan Vossen on their team, at least every team that wants to be successful.


The Filthy Sniper Award: Eric Castonguay

A little shake of the shoulder, step into the slot, and hit the roof harder than the crew at CCR Roofing. How many times did we see that sequence this season? If any netminder gave Castonguay even a glimpse of twine behind him, he'd find a way to blister a wrister into it.


The Superhero Action Figure Award: Obi Aduba

The sheer physical appearance of Obi is beyond intimidating. He is built like an action figure, and brings that presence to the ice. So many opponents thought that they had Obi in their crosshairs, lined up for a beautifully placed open-ice hit. Every single one of them ended up on their backs, staring up at a guy who could star in the next installment of the G.I. Joe movies.


The Mr. Clutch Award: Andrew Courtney
Think of the top ten biggest goals scored in the history of the Mavs. Now, how many of those were scored by Courts. 4? 5? 6? I know I poked fun at him earlier, but this guy has a knack for bringing his very best when his team needs it the most. If there's less than a minute on the clock in a tie game, I want the puck on Andrew Courtney's stick.


The Mr. Nice Guy Award (Sponsored by Stuart Smalley): Mike Ramsay

This is kind of a silly category, but there's a reason that Mike Ramsay won the Most Gentlemanly Player Award this season. He might be the nicest person that I've ever met in my life, and I've met a few people. When you talk to Ramsay, he seems genuinely interested in what you have to say. Every time I would interview him after a game, he would stick around and chit-chat long after the microphone was turned off. He reminds me a lot of another Mavs great, one David Simoes. Talking with Ramsay after the games made the losses not so bad, and the wins that much better. Those are the types of guys that are easy too root for on and off the ice.


Game of the Year: The Allen Brawl

I know that I didn't have very nice things to say after this game, and I stand by those statements, but a lot of good came from that game as well. That was the point that you realized that this team was different than any other squad in the organization's history. We heard from the players all season about how close this team is, but it sounded like a line that you hear all the time. It sounded like your typical professional sports cliché. All that it took was Allen crossing the line, and we all quickly realized that it was no cliché, and what we were witnessing was something special.


Moment of the Year: Henrik Odegaard in Sochi

We've all seen the Winter Olympics numerous times, but the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will forever be etched into our brains and hearts. Odegaard had every member of the Orange Army gleaming with pride as he took the ice against the world's best players, representing his home country of Norway. Seeing him share the ice with so many NHL players was so surreal, and I hope you all took a moment to realize how breathtakingly tremendous it was to see one of our boys on the world's biggest stage. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. Not only is that the moment of the year, but it's a moment that will forever live in the history books of this organization.


Rookie of the Year: Anders Franzon
- We've seen a lot of rookie players don the Mavs sweater, and at first it looked like Franzon wouldn't be anything special. Guess what? I was wrong yet again. Sure, Franzon got off to a slow start, but you could see him progress with each game under his belt. He really made his mark in Odegaard's absence, stepping up and playing some big minutes and big shifts for this team. Oh, and he happened to lead all rookie defensemen in scoring.


Offensive Player of the Year: Andrew Courtney

I could have changed the winner of this award just about every week down the final stretch of the regular season. Courts flip-flopped lines a few times this season, and still managed to finish the year with the regular season goals record.


Defensive Player of the Year: Matt Stephenson

He was a finalist for Most Outstanding Defenseman, and if it weren't for Tyler Ludwig of Allen having a career year, Stephenson would have won this award in a landslide. Sure, he didn't put up the sexy offensive numbers that Ludwig did, but you be hard-pressed to find a better shutdown defenseman in the league. He can hit, he can fight, he wins battles in the corners, gives up his body to block shot after shot, clears traffic in front, and he shut down some of the premier players in the league this season. To call Stephenson a rock would be the understatement of the decade.


Most Valuable Player: Shane Owen

I've been having a hard time shaking the image of Shane with his hands on his knees and head slumped after the season-ending defeat. I'm really glad that I decided to write this post tonight, because it made me sit down and think about the dozens of SportsCenter-worthy saves that he somehow managed to make this season. The Mavericks set a team record for wins en route to the Governor's Cup. I'd be willing to bet that at least ten to twelve of those wins were stolen by Owen doing the impossible, making saves that no goalie has any business making. When I first met Shane, we talked about the great line of goalies that have come through this organization. He acknowledged the likes of Nolan, Festa, and the great Charlie Effinger with the utmost respect, but also told me "I'm here to make a name for myself." Mission accomplished Shane. Mission accomplished.


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There are no words to describe that feeling. You know the feeling. That feeling that the hockey season is over, and the ending didn't come with a party like Independence has never seen. For me, that excruciating feeling came at two different points in the night. The first occurrence came as I watched Kevin Baker fire the puck towards an open net. The time that passed between his flick of the wrist and the puck hitting twine was probably less than a second. What I was watching seemed like it took an eternity.

The puck seemed to float in slow motion towards the four feet by six feet frame that was protected ever so tightly by Shane Owen this season. I hoped that he would come up with one of his miraculous saves that we had seen so many times over the past six months. There was nothing he could do about this one. We all know what happened next.

I sat in the press box with my hands folded on top of my head for the longest time. I couldn't believe that this was it, the end. The next few minutes were a blur. To this day, I still don't remember packing up my bag, getting my voice recorder out, and walking down the stairs towards the locker room. A few fans stopped to offer their condolences, which seemed to snap me out of my temporary haze. I then get to the locker room for our customary post-game interview with Coach Hillman.

I was not even close to prepared for what would take place over the next 30 minutes or so. Hillman emerged from the locker room, and sat in the same seat as he had for every other home game this season. It wasn't his red face or slumped shoulders that shook the room, it was his eyes. As he greeted each member of the media with a firm handshake as he always does, I patiently awaited my turn to say hello. He finally got to me, and as I looked into his eyes, I saw complete and utter devastation. This was no ordinary loss, no ordinary end to a season. After heartbreaking Game 7 losses in back to back seasons, we thought that it couldn't get much worse than that. We were wrong.

The other media members and I typically have questions prepared so that we can get our quotes and information, and let Hillman go on about his business. On this night, our brains were numbed, not only by what we had just witnessed on the ice, but more so because the one man who never shows emotion, good or bad, sat before us, completely destroyed. He spoke barely above a whisper, respectfully answering every question that we were able to choke out of our mouths. After a few minutes of questions, we all said our thank you's to Hillman for his candidness and hospitality throughout the season, and our night was finished.

I couldn't leave. On other nights, I might scurry out of there to catch a few friends for a nightcap, or rush home in hopes that my daughters were waiting up for me to get home. After that game, that series, that season, I couldn't walk out. I hung around outside the locker room for a while, and that's when I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach for the second time. As my mind raced, frantically replaying the key moments of Game 6 in my head, I came to a harsh realization: it was completely silent. I'd often hear cheers of triumph, or frustrated yells or something being thrown in the locker room after a defeat. Neither occurred on this night, and it shook me to my very core. The silence was deafening.

One by one, each member of the Mavs eventually came out of the locker room. The game, at that point, had long been over, but most of them looked like they had just stripped off their gear. They weren't ready to leave either. Each of them walked past me and greeted me without words, a handshake here, a fist bump there, but no words were spoken. They didn't need to hear anything from me, just as I knew everything that I needed to know by the expressions on each of their faces.

I'm glad that I stuck around as long as I did. The brief interaction that I had with each player actually brought me a slight sense of relief. It's not that I found solace in their disdain, not at all. However, it made me realize how much these guys care, about winning, about the fans, and about each other. We often hear about how professional sports are a "business." While that is true to some extent on a grand scale, that side of the game didn't exist after Game 6. No, what I found out was that these guys, as big and tough as can be, and whom we regard as superheroes for six months every year, are human. Not only are they human, they were also just as devastated as each of us to see the end of this season that has been the best in the history of the Missouri Mavericks to date. On that night, we all mourned as one. Orange Pride.


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Their backs are against the wall. There is no tomorrow. It's do or die. It's a must-win situation. Win or go home. Alright, now that we have all of the clichés out of the way, let's get down to business.

Game 5. What an absolute gut-punch that was. The Mavericks and Sundogs went toe to toe, punch for punch, hit for hit, and goal for goal in what was the most entertaining playoff game that the league has seen so far. The Mavs trailed entering the third period, only to get a boost from the most unlikely player on the roster. Pete Massar was signed prior to the game, and threw the social media world into a frenzy as everyone was asking about the new player in the number sixteen sweater with no name plate.

Massar has become an overnight sensation amongst the Orange Army, and nearly cemented his name in the team's history books. The forward out of the University of Vermont scored to tie the game at two, and later gave the Mavs a 3-2 lead with his second of the night. As far as a professional debut goes, you can't get much better than that. As the Mavs were clinging to their newly found lead late in the third period, the ideas for this blog post were already running through my head, in particular, something based around Bill Murray's iconic "Cinderella Story" scene in "Caddyshack" (my mind really wanders late at night). Game 5 of the 2014 playoffs was going to be one of the most dramatic, and unlikely wins that this team and its fans had ever seen.

We all know what happened. Arizona pulled Engelage for an extra attacker, and Justin Pender blasted one past Shane Owen to tie the game with 29 seconds on the clock. The Mavs were 29 seconds away from heading back to The IEC with a 3-2 series lead, a recipe that looked like ultimate doom for the Sundogs. However, after 90 minutes and 28 seconds of hockey, Johan Ryd (who has since been elected Mayor of Prescott Valley) forced a turnover in the neutral zone and roofed a wrister to propel the Sundogs to a 4-3 win in a thrilling (yet nauseating) game.

I'm not going to lie, I'm still trying to get over that loss. I thought that the Mavs, for the most part, played a pretty good game, much unlike the stinkers that we saw in Games 2 & 3. I was 70% into celebration mode when Pender pulled off his Grinch impersonation, stealing a victory from the jaws of defeat. Even after that, when Shane Owen was on his back, lying in the crease with Sundogs forward Sebastian Geoffrion about to put home the game winner and the Mavs goalie managed to get his glove up just enough to make one of the most spectacular saves that I've ever seen, I knew that the Mavs would somehow come away with a win. I was wrong, and it hurt.

Now it's time to put up or shut up (another cliché), or the best team in the history of the Mavericks will pack up and head home, saddled with the most disappointing end to a season to date for this organization. We all knew that this series wouldn't be your typical number one seed versus number eight seed matchup. Let's face it, for the last few months of the season, Arizona was one of the best teams in the league. I say one of the best, because every team was still looking up at the Mavericks, as they sat atop the standings, notching win after win, and raising our expectations every time that they took the ice. It's not our fault that we all expected this team to eventually get over the hump and make it to the Finals. Coach Hillman, Sebastien Thinel (when he's not being handed an absolutely ridiculous suspension), Eric Castonguay, Dave Pszenyczny, Shane Owen, Andrew Courtney, Mike Ramsay, Colt King, and the rest of the Mavericks are responsible for us expecting the very best every game. After all, that's what they put on display for the majority of the regular season. We didn't set the bar high. They did that themselves. So now it's time to stop talking about goals and expectations. It's time to start achieving them. Orange Pride.


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