INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — The Kansas City Mavericks returned to the ice Friday in Independence for the first time since the pandemic in front of a sell-out crowd.
That sell-out was 2,169 fans under the rules that allowed 37% capacity.
Rydel Van Dyke took photos camped out at Cable Dahmer Arena during the pandemic. So of course he was one of the first back inside when the Kansas City Mavericks dropped the puck on their 12th season, taking on the Indy Fuel in their home opener.
“I’ve been waiting 285 days. I can’t wait,” Van Dyke said.
Fans worried there might not be an ECHL season at all, with only half of the league’s 26 teams committed to play, most of the rest opting out.
“It’s taken a lot. There’s been a lot of discussions at the league level how to keep our players and our franchises safe. There’s been a lot of conversation with the local level and the city and building protocols on how to keep our fans safe,” Mavericks General Manager Brent Thiessen said.
Thiessen said there would be no way for the team to play without fans. So they adopted protocols seen at outdoor venues. Those include making all tickets digital, spacing out the crowd, and requiring masks when not eating or drinking.
“That’s the reason we are here tonight. It’s going to work, and I think we are in for a good season,” Brett Mullens said.
Players are being tested for COVID-19 and are restricted where they can go when they leave their apartments.
The Mavericks aren’t able to have the same interaction with fans that everyone might be used to. But fans in the 37% capacity crowd said they’d be cheering extra loud to make sure they knew they were there.
“I love the atmosphere in here. I think it’s a really special thing for a small-market hockey team to have really passionate fans. I hope they can still get that extra jolt even though there’s not as many people in here as we would like,” fan John Masters said.
With last season suspended and never completed, fans certainly had plenty reason to cheer simply being back after 285 days. Minor league sports are known for their in between game events, and many of those continued Friday, including things like t-shirt tosses and the “chuck-a-puck” promotion.
In the end, fans got a bit of extra hockey Friday night. The game went to overtime, but the Mavericks ultimately lost 4-3.
The Kansas City Comets soccer team will have its home opener at the arena Saturday night at 6 p.m. vs. the St. Louis Ambush.