Those of you who know me, whether through this blog or in person, know I am a huge hockey fan. You know that I think Kansas City is a prime candidate for an NHL team. The NHL hasn't been around in these parts on a regular basis for nearly 35 years. The Blades were great in the 90s, The Scouts were a joke in the 70s and the Outlaws...well, the Outlaws never really stood a chance. This year, KC received a big time jolt of professional hockey when the Central Hockey League expanded to the Eastern-most part of the metro and placed the Missouri Mavericks at the brand new, 5,500 seat, state of the art Independence Events Center.
I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting much when the team was announced. I had been to a couple of CHL games back when the Topeka Scarecrows were the nearest pro team around back in the early part of the millenium. I wasn't impressed. It was slow, poorly officiated, too violent and lacked a serious amount of skill. But the league has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade.
When I went to my first Mavs game, I was expecting a decent night at a hockey game. Maybe there would be a couple of fights, a nice looking goal or two and the fans would be loud. I was blown away. It was obvious that this league had changed. There are players in the CHL who have been drafted by NHL teams or even played in the NHL. Many of them are on their last stop in their careers, but still possess a decent amount of skill. There are fights. There are bad penalties, but for the most part, the players keep it clean and respect the game.
The Independence Events Center looks pretty big from I-70 for a 5,500 seater. But once you get in the building, the atmosphere is incredibly intimate and there really isn't a bad seat in the barn. My seats were in the corner, about 20 rows up and the sightlines were incredible. If you've never seen hockey up close, you've gotta go to a Mavericks game. Tickets are cheap too. $15 bucks to sit 10 rows up isn't bad at all considering you would pay around $150 for those same seats at an NHL game. The crowd was great the whole game. The fans at the IEC reminded me of how intense the fans were at Kemper Arena when the Blades were dominating the IHL. We've got smart hockey fans here. They stand up when there's an odd man rush. They clap and yell when the Mavs clear the zone on a penalty kill. They cheer loudly when the goalie makes a great save. The arena will never get louder during a fight than it does when the home team scores. Fans wear hockey sweaters from every team in the NHL, past and present. There is a spattering of Blades and Scouts jerseys, as well. Its an awesome atmosphere.
As I am writing this, the Mavs have won in a shootout against the Odessa Jackalopes (there are some great mascots in this league) and have gone four points up on the Tulsa Oilers for the final playoff spot with three games to go. All they have to do now is win one game on the road to secure a playoff spot and if the Mavericks can do that, this city will fall in love with hockey once again, even more than it already has. Because lets face it, we could all use a winner around here.