2024 Fort Wayne Komets vs Kansas City Mavericks

Kansas City Mavericks Lead ECHL, Hard To Poke Holes In Their Season

Kansas City Mavericks Lead ECHL, Hard To Poke Holes In Their Season

Do sports journalists always seem to want to poke holes in things? Justin Cohn discusses his thoughts about the Kansas City Mavericks and their schedule.

Feb 7, 2024 by Justin Cohn
Kansas City Mavericks Lead ECHL, Hard To Poke Holes In Their Season

I don’t know what it is about us sports journalists, but we always seem to want to poke holes in things. 

I guess I’m guilty of it because I looked at the Kansas City Mavericks, who have an ECHL-best record of 32-8-3, with a roster packed with talent, and decided I found its infirmity – a lack of diversity in their schedule.

The Mavericks have played only three games outside of the Mountain Division – they went 2-1-0 against the Worcester Railers and Maine Mariners between Nov. 29 and Dec. 2 – leaving them with 11 games against the league-worst Wichita Thunder, 10 against the Allen Americans, six against the Idaho Steelheads, five against the Rapid City Rush, five against the Tulsa Oilers and three against the Utah Grizzlies.

That seemed to be a particularly unbalanced schedule, even for the ECHL, where keeping travel costs down and weekend games up rules everything, but Mavericks coach Tad O’Had quickly put me in my place when I asked him about it Tuesday.

“You control what you can control, and I don’t set the schedule,” O’Had said. “There are a lot of talking heads who want to talk about schedules. You know what? For the past 11 years in the ECHL, we’ve played the schedule that’s been presented to us. We’ve had six games against (division-rival) Idaho, we went up to Maine and went into Worcester, and now we’ve got Fort Wayne (coming Wednesday). And we’ve got Cincinnati and Iowa coming (in March and April).

“Why would I waste energy on something I have zero control over? We focus on the games.”

When it comes to the games, the Mavericks have looked better over the course of this season than everyone in the ECHL except – depending on your point of view – the Adirondack Thunder (30-8-6), who are on a 14-0-3 tear.

This is O’Had’s fourth season as the Mavericks’ head coach, after he spent seven seasons as a Florida Everblades assistant, working under two well-regarded head coaches who have won ECHL championships – Greg Poss and Brad Ralph.

The Mavericks gradually improved during O’Had’s first three seasons in Kansas City – he went 97-94-27 in that span, qualifying for the playoffs last year, before losing to Allen in six games during the first round – but the Mavericks have taken a quantum leap this season. 

They are 15-6-2 at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri, and 17-2-1 on the road. They’re on a 4-1-1 run and are 15-1-2 in their last 18 games.

Offensively, the Mavericks rank third among the ECHL’s 28 teams with 4.14 goals per game. Defensively, they’re also third with 2.70 goals against per game. 

They average only 9.4 penalty minutes, second-fewest in the league behind the Jacksonville Icemen’s 7.93. And on special teams, the Mavericks are nothing to sneeze at, ranking 12th on the power play (21%) and 12th on the penalty kill (80.7%).

“We’ve got a great group of guys,” O’Had said. “We’ve got really good leadership in the room. I think we’ve got the right chemistry and players. And structurally, we’ve been playing sound hockey. I’ve got an incredible support staff in my associate coach, Riley Weselowski, and our goaltending coach, Rob Couturier, and we’ve got a great group of guys. So, it’s been fun.”  

I took a dive into the schedules and learned that the Mavericks aren’t the only team with such an imbalanced one. 

The South Division-leading Greenville Swamp Rabbits (32-12-1) have played only two games outside their division, and same goes for the Kalamazoo Wings (21-18-3), Allen (18-23-3) and the Savannah Ghost Pirates (16-23-5). 

Adirondack has played only three games outside the North Division, and defending-champion Florida (20-14-7) has played only three outside the South. Central Division-leading Toledo (26-9-8) has played only four games outside its division.

While I’d say the Central is the league’s strongest division right now, followed by the South, North and then Mountain – the latter being top heavy with the Mavericks and Steelheads (29-13-2) – O’Had put me in my place on that, too.

“I think it’s been a pretty tough division,” he said. “I spent upward of seven years in the South, and now four years in the Mountain, and I think the Mountain is a relatively tough division. It’s probably got the most veteran coaches in the league (referring particularly to the Tulsa Oilers’ Rob Murray, Idaho’s Everett Sheen and the Wichita Thunder’s Bruce Ramsay). There’s a lot of hockey amongst those men.”

So, the lesson from O’Had was this: Don’t look at the schedules, look how the teams play. And the Mavericks have played exceptionally well.

It starts with forward Patrick Curry, who spent last season in the higher-level American Hockey League with the Iowa Wild. He has 20 goals and 50 points in 43 games.

“With Patrick Curry, the biggest thing is his work right,” O’Had said. “He plays a 200-foot game, and his work right is incredible, whether it’s a penalty kill, power play or five-on-five. 

“I think that’s probably his greatest secret sauce, his compete level and his work right. He’s very deserving of his accolades. He got named to the All-Star team. He’s statistically had a lot of success.”

Forward Nolan Walker has 20 goals and 43 points in 41 games. Jacob Hayhurst has 18 goals and 41 points in 41 games. And the play of rookie forwards Max Andreev (11 goals, 43 points in 36 games), Cade Borchardt (11 goals, 41 points in 42 games) and Kyle Jackson (nine goals, 23 points in 24 games) has been off the charts.  

“Borchardt is a player we recruited at the end of last (season),” O’Had said. “I thought he was an excellent player in college, he did an excellent job at (Minnesota State-Mankato). He came in toward the end of the season and was an important piece in helping us get to the Kelly Cup playoffs. He’s somebody, to be honest with you, I don’t think got enough respect last year or this season. And now he’s one of the top rookies in the league and an incredible young man. He was the captain at (Minnesota-Mankato) and is exactly who we thought he was, which is a top player in the ECHL.

“Max Andreev, I absolutely love his compete level. It’s through the roof. He was a great college player (at Cornell). He’s got a great success story coming from Russia. Coachella Valley (of the AHL) signed him to a contract, and I absolutely love the kid. He’s intense and he works hard.”

There’s clearly a good working relationship between the Mavericks and their affiliates, the NHL’s Seattle Kraken and Coachella Valley, and that has helped influence Kansas City’s upswing since the teams’ agreement kicked in during the summer of 2022.

On AHL contracts, the Mavericks have forwards Curry, Andreev, Jackson, Jacob Hayhurst, Jeremy McKenna and Justin Nachbaur; defensemen Ryan Jones (who leads the blue-liners with 21 points) and Jake McLaughlin; and goaltenders Cale Morris (9-5-1, 2.57 GAA, .905 SP), who signed his AHL contract Jan. 9, and Jack LaFontaine (7-1-1, 2.40 GAA, .919 SP, one shutout).

“I think in my 11 years, I’ve been in five different affiliations,” O’Had said. “One of the things you have to understand is you have to create dialogue and have healthy conversations amongst the affiliates. I think the world of Seattle and Coachella Valley.”

O’Had raved about the relationship the Mavericks have with the Kraken’s director of hockey and business operations, Troy Bodie, and their assistant general manager, Rick Olczyk. 

“Seattle has been great,” O’Had said. “I think the world of that organization, how they conduct themselves and the character in which they represent themselves.”

The Mavericks have plenty of star power on ECHL contracts, too, such as goalie Dillon Kelley, who is 15-2-1 with a 2.60 GAA and .903 SP, and defenseman Marc-Olivier Duquette, who has five goals, 19 points and a team-best plus-24 rating in 41 games.

The Mavericks have 29 remaining games, and the Steelheads, who had the best regular season in ECHL history before falling to the Everblades in the Kelly Cup Finals last year, are only seven points back. 

The Mavericks and Steelheads don’t meet again during the regular season – Kansas City went 4-1-1 against Idaho – and it would be shocking if they don’t square off in the Mountain Division Finals.

Only three teams in the division, including Tulsa (21-18-4), have above-.500 records. 

Utah has played the most games, 13, outside of the division. 

But if that’s not consequential, and apparently, it’s not, then it’s hard to poke holes in the Mavericks. They look like a team headed to a big postseason run.  

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