That was defenseman Andrew Darrigo in the No. 49 jersey Wednesday evening for the Missouri Mavericks. For 11 games this season, the number belonged to Guy LeBoeuf.
LeBoeuf, after an 11-game trial, was shipped out. Darrigo, meanwhile, only joined the Mavericks early this week when it still was 2014. On the last day of the year, the Wichita Thunder, buoyed by three straight second-period goals, celebrated a 4-3 triumph over Missouri at the Independence Events Center for their sixth win in seven games this season against the Mavericks.
Well, now it is 2015. The roster shuffle, a constant in the first three months of the season, is another sign that the Mavericks remain a work in progress as a new year begins.
Missouri, 13-13-1-2 in its first season in the East Coast Hockey League (as is Wichita), bring new meaning to fluid. After all, the Mavericks have showcased 40 different players so far in 2014-15 (in comparison, Wichita has used 25), searching for the right combinations, guys who must please no-nonsense coach Richard Matvichuk, who experienced the top of the mountain in 1999 by helping the Dallas Stars take the Stanley Cup.
Currently, Matvichuk isn’t exactly thrilled.
“We’ve got a game plan in place. For some reason, everybody wanted to do their own thing and it didn’t work,” said Matvichuk, in his first season with Missouri. “I’m not happy. I’ve got to take as much blame as the players do. We need to get better.”
Oh, there are staples in place in the organization, including the dedicated fans (entering Wednesday, Missouri ranked sixth out of 28 ECHL teams in attendance with an average of 5,036; Wednesday’s game drew 5,850). Also, there are holdovers from Missouri’s Central Hockey League era. Such as fan favorite Sebastien Thinel, who recorded his franchise-record 1,000th point in a game Tuesday at Wichita. Thinel, who pulled the Mavericks within a goal at 11 minutes, 23 seconds of the final period, is only one of a handful of Mavericks who was around last season or even before that.
“We have a new coach. We knew it would be different,” Thinel said. “It’s a lot harder than we thought it would be. You see (new) guys come in every day. You say ‘Who’s next?’ We’ve had the same core more as of late, and we’ve got to build off of that, make it happen. We don’t want it to come to March and be fighting for our lives.”
Missouri’s multitude of moves includes left winger Josh Brittain, who began this season at Kalamazoo. Then there’s goaltender Maxime Lagace, who played one game for the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League until he was loaned to Missouri. Lagace is a prime example of the Mavericks’ growing pains; after the decisive second period, Mike Clemente replaced Lagace to begin the third period.
Missouri led 2-1 when forward David Rutherford tallied his sixth goal of the season. The Thunder, 15-10-1-4, quickly responded. They tied it 20 seconds later on Ian Lowe’s 11th goal of the season, then took the lead for good 1 minute, 46 seconds later, when defenseman Eric Meland scored.
And, usually, when you hear Hosmer scores, it’s a good thing in this area because it has everything to do with Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer. Not this time, however. Wichita’s Todd Hosmer scored to make it a two-goal advantage for the Thunder.
Wichita coach Kevin McClelland, who played with legend Wayne Gretzky on those Edmonton Oilers title teams, understands what Missouri is encountering in this season of transition for both teams. Nowadays, his squad, based on record, has handled it better.
“I know it (season series) looks lopsided, but they’ve all been close games with Missouri,” McClelland said. “Our guys are buying in, playing hard-nosed. They fight through adversity.”