The Missouri Mavericks waited longer than any Central Hockey League to play at home.
By ZACHARY SPAIN
Special to The Star
Finally, two weeks in, the Mavericks were welcomed Saturday by a raucous, record crowd of 5,850 at Independence Events Center to celebrate the start of their fifth season and the unfurling of the 2012-13 CHL Franchise of the Year banner.
Then the undefeated Mavericks dispatched Denver 6-2.
All in all, not a bad homecoming.
Andrew Courtney scored a hat trick and had an assist, while reigning league MVP and scoring champ Sebastien Thinel scored two goals and added two assists for the Mavericks, who played their third game in four nights and didn’t return from Tulsa until 3 a.m.
“For us to give (the fans) a game like that, it’s a good start to something that hopefully continues,” Courtney said. “Who knows, maybe this will be a special year.”
But the game didn’t have a promising start for Missouri, 6-0-0.
Denver took a quick 1-0 lead 1:46 in when Cam Reid collected the puck behind the net, wrapped around the post and hit Robin Soudek for a quick a wrist shot by rookie goaltender Shane Owen from the edge of the crease.
Thinel evened the score two minutes later off a pass across the ice from Evan Vossen. John-Scott Dickson gave the Mavericks the lead 11:48 in on a rebound off a faceoff and Courtney scored the eventual game-winner on a breakaway slap shot with 1:31 left in the first.
Denver forward Vincent Arseneau put away a rebound with 1:06 left in the period as the Cutthroats converged on the net to make it 3-2.
Owen, whose 1.62 goals-against average was tied for best in the CHL, faced a barrage early as the Cutthroats outshot the Mavericks 18-9 in the first period.
But after the first intermission, the Mavericks remained in control as Courtney and Thinel each scored and Owen was flawless. He saved 31 of 33 shots, then earned praise from coach Scott Hillman.
“(Owen) is very calm and he stays real focused,” Hillman said. “It’s incredible what that does for the bench’s confidence. We also know we have guys who can score goals, so if we get down we’re not going to panic.
“That’s an impressive goaltending performance for sure.”
The win against Denver, 5-1-1, was its first against a team from the top half of the standings, further cementing the championship hopes of the back-to-back CHL semifinalist Mavericks, who dressed just 14 skaters due to a combination of injuries and the suspensions of veterans Dave Pszenyczny and Colt King.
“That’s a big confidence booster,” Hillman said. “And now that we’ve played one of those teams that hadn’t lost, we can feel really good about (where we are). To do it all two men short, three games in four nights in three different cities. I’ve never seen that accomplished.”