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Rock-Steady Defensive Play Providing Foundation for Mavericks Success

Tuesday, April 2nd
Rock-Steady Defensive Play Providing Foundation for Mavericks Success

A playoff spot secured in early-March – with six weeks remaining in the regular season – a Mountain Division title and wrapping up one of the best seasons in franchise history, it takes a complete team effort to sit atop the ECHL standings for an entire season. The Mavericks defensemen have had an outstanding campaign and have been some of the league’s top players in 2023-24.

With the help of Associate Coach Riley Weselowski – a 14-year ECHL and CHL veteran – in his third season behind the bench in Kansas City, the Mavericks have been one of the best teams in the ECHL on the defensive end, consistently ranking in the top-five in fewest goals allowed per game all season, currently allowing the third-fewest goals against this season.

“The Mavericks D-core has provided the foundation for our team’s success throughout the season,” notes Mavericks General Manager and Head Coach Tad O’Had. “With the knowledge and help from Riley Weselowski and our experienced defensemen, they’ve set a standard of what it means to be a lock-down defensive hockey team.

Coaches O’Had and Weselowski had in-depth conversations over the summer with regards to where the Mavericks defensive core needed to go. They felt it was important to retain returning players in Theo Calvas and Nate Knoepke while continuing to add experience from Coachella Valley with affiliated players Ryan Jones and Jake McLaughlin and also looking to make trades that would upgrade the defense.


Overall, both were pleased with the roster that was built on a strong, experienced blueline. 

“Our forward group gets a lot of the recognition, and very deservedly so, but the foundation for how we play begins with the back end,” said Weselowski. “Our core is big and extremely mobile, which allows us to kill plays quickly and transition pucks up to our skilled forwards to they can go to work. The whole group has been extremely bought into a defense-first mindset while chipping in offensively from the blueline and as part of the second wave.”

O’Had notes that Weselowski has made a huge impact on a Mavericks roster built on returners, newcomers, players with AHL experience, players right out of college – and even converted forwards.

“Riley has done a phenomenal job with the back end this year. You’ve seen all of them progress and many are having career years. I applaud the work that Coach Weselowski has done this season and the rock-steady play of our defensive core.”

Weselowski has been instrumental in the development of many Mavericks defensemen, including Calvas, who is in his third year working with Weselowski. After setting career highs in every statistical category last season, Calvas picked up right where he left off, despite missing nearly two months of the season with an injury. His 15 assists this season are the third-most among all Kansas City defensemen and his +22 rating tops last season’s total.


Eleven different players have spent time on the blue line for Kansas City this season, including five rookies. The Mavericks defensive unit was reinforced this offseason by two trades and the arrival of Marc-Olivier Duquette and Jared Brandt. 

Duquette in particular has been one of the Mavericks most consistent performers this season. The 26-year-old leads all Mavericks defensemen in points and has recorded career highs in assists and total points and leads the ECHL with a +32 rating this season.

The Kansas City defensive unit is strengthened with the leadership from affiliated players with Coachella Valley signings Ryan Jones and Jake McLaughlin. The two players have more than 200 games of combined AHL experience, which has been invaluable to the Mavericks locker room. Both players are two of the top defensemen in the ECHL. Jones has 25 points in 52 ECHL games and Jake McLaughlin has


 the third-highest rating in the ECHL (+30).

Weselowski states: “For any team to have sustained success, you need great leadership and you need buy-in to a common goal. We are fortunate to have both. Put any of our defensemen into an AHL game and they would contribute. They can all make plays, they understand the game and they all compete hard every night. As a coaching staff, you can’t ask for more than that.”

“Our strong defensive play permeates throughout the locker room. We understand that to be a championship team, it starts with the details away from the puck,” noted O’Had.

Notable Mavericks defensemen marks this season:

  • Kansas City has the top three defensemen in plus-minus this season.
  • The Mavericks have seven defensemen with a rating of +10 or better. 
  • Ryan Jones, Nate Knoepke and Marc-Olivier Duquette have already recorded professional career highs in points this season.
  • Nate Knoepke (January) and Jake McLaughlin (February) were back-to-back winners of the ECHL Plus Performer of the Month. 
  • Marc-Olivier Duquette, Ryan Jones and Jake McLaughlin help make up the six-man captain and leadership group.

By: Zach Welch

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