MOLINE, Ill. – The Quad City area has had a hockey history that has lasted for almost two and a half decades. In that time, players have come and gone, while some have stayed. Some no longer are involved in hockey, while others still are involved in the greatest game on Earth. In fact, almost 60 former Quad City Mallards have gone on to join the coaching ranks, whether as player-coach, assistant coach, or head coaches.
With John Snowden recently joining the ranks of Mallards-turned-head-coaches, it’s a good time to look at a few of the still-active coaches.
There are currently 32 former Mallards still in the coaching ranks, with roughly half of them serving as head bench boss. Joe Pace might be the one with the most hats to juggle, as he currently plays for the FHL Port Huron Prowlers while serving as not only coach but general manager. Pace has taken the dual-role of player and coaching staff member for the past eight years, first as player-assistant and now as player-head. After beginning his coaching career with the Danville Dashers, he then moved to Michigan to play for and coach the Prowlers in 2015. The 2018-19 season is his first as head coach, as well as general manager.
Pace played only 14 games for the Flock in 2005-06, splitting the season with the Richmond RiverDogs. With the Mallards, the defenseman put up two assists and tallied 22 penalty minutes in 14 games.
Perhaps the player to go the farthest up the coaching ranks is Craig Woodcroft. Woodcroft, who spent most of the Mallards’ inaugural season in Germany, served as assistant coach for Team Canada’s Men’s Hockey team during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Woodcroft has also served as assistant coach for Team Canada during the 2017 Karjala Cup and 2017 Spengler Cup. He also served as assistant coach for Adler Mannheim during the 2015 Spengler Cup.
When Woodcroft was with the Mallards, he scored once with three assists in four games. Canada, as most people know, won the bronze medal in Pyeongchang, quite the difference between taking gold the past two Olympics.
Woodcroft is no longer active after being relieved of his coaching duties with Genève-Servette HC of the French NLA. A coach of nine years, he began his coaching career as development coach for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues before becoming director of the Nashville Predators’ Rookie Development Camp. Most of his coaching career occurred in Europe, working with the Adler Mannheim of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga prior to his season with Genève-Servette HC.
Two former Mallards are now working together, though they never met on the ice before. Shayne Toporowski and Ryan Palmer now coach for the Worcester State University Lancers, Toporowski as head coach and Palmer an assistant. Toporowski enters his fifth year as head coach of the Lancers after one season with the College of the Holy Cross as an assistant, just as Palmer is now in his fifth year as assistant coach.
Toporowski served as a player-assistant coach during the Mallards’ penultimate season in the Central Hockey League (CHL), which was Terry Ruskowski’s first season as the team’s bench boss. In nearly a full season — 61 games — Toporowski totaled 11 goals and 21 assists. Unlike his older, more well-known in the area brother, he kept his penalty minutes low, racking up just 87.
Palmer played most of the lone season in the second incarnation of the IHL for the Mallards, as well as the first CHL season. The defenseman had no trouble taking penalties, amassing 66 in 62 games his first Mallards season and 116 the following. He also added 11 assists in 2009-10 and eight in 2010-11, as well as scoring one goal in the latter year.
Kevin Kerr, a name familiar to SPHL fans, spent two seasons with the Mallards, though it was in the lull between banners for the team. After a total of 143 regular and playoff games with the Flock, Kerr had gathered 184 points (88 goals, 96 assists). He began his coaching career with the North Bay Skyhawks of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League as head coach, but quickly moved up to coach his former team, the Flint Generals, for two seasons in two different leagues. After two years in the Tier III American junior hockey league the Eastern Hockey League with the New York Bobcats, Kerr moved south, serving as the inaugural head coach, general manager and director of hockey operations for the Macon Mayhem for three years before receiving a promotion this summer to the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits. In only the second season of Mayhem hockey, the team defeated the Peoria Rivermen and won their first SPHL championship.
Speaking of the Peoria Rivermen, the bench boss for the central Illinois team also formerly played for the team only 90 miles northwest of Peoria. Jean-Guy Trudel spent only five games with the Mallards but holds the franchise record for points-per-game, racking up 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) in 1996-97. After leaving the Mallards, Trudel spent several years in the AHL before going to Switzerland.
His coaching career began a few years later, returning to Peoria. His bench boss days didn’t start in the SPHL, however, as he worked with the CSHL Peoria Mustangs for two years as an assistant coach while still appearing in Swiss games. When the Mustangs moved to the NA3HL, Trudel became the head coach, and after one year became GM as well. Trudel became the inaugural SPHL Rivermen coach in 2013-14 and has led the team to three straight President’s Cup Finals without winning the league’s most cherished trophy.
A former Mallard who has had more success in winning a cup, A.J. MacLean has served as assistant coach for the Toronto Marlies for the past four years. His coaching career began in his second season in Scotland while he was playing for the Dundee Stars as a player-assistant coach. After three total seasons in Scotland, MacLean returned to Canada to coach the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. The left-winger then became an assistant coach for the Marlies, with whom last season he won the Calder Cup.
There’s more than one connection to the Mallards for A.J, as his father Paul MacLean was the coach of the Mallards from 2000 to 2002. The elder MacLean led the team to their last championship in 2001.
The younger MacLean had coached former Mallard Alex Gudbranson while in Sault Ste. Marie and the defenseman was also on the first men’s hockey team to bring a championship to the Toronto area since 1967 — the CWHL Toronto Furies brought home the Clarkson Cup in 2014, while the Markham Thunder also won the Clarkson Cup in 2018.
The younger MacLean coach played one season for the Mallards, scoring 12 goals and adding 14 assists in 69 games in 2003-04. In seven playoff appearances that season, he scored one goal and tallied one assist.
Troy Smith began this season coaching the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, but was fired on November 18th. Less than two months later, he was hired by the Humboldt Broncos of the SJHL to serve as assistant coach. Just days prior to Smith’s hiring, Broncos’ head coach Nathan Oystrick left the team and Scott Barney was named the interim head coach.
Smith has spent his entire coaching career with OHL teams, spending nine years with the Kitchener Rangers from 2006 to 2015. From 2008 to 2012, he also served as assistant coach for the Canada Ontario Under-17 World Hockey Challenge team, followed by one stint of serving as head coach. His last two years with the Rangers he was promoted from assistant coach to head coach; he then was named assistant general manager and associate coach for the Hamilton Bulldogs. He held both positions for a year, but then stepped down from coaching to pursue other careers. He continued as assistant general manager for roughly two weeks after it was announced he was leaving the Bulldogs.
Last but not least in this list of Mallards turned coaches is Snowden. Snowden has played in the ECHL, AHL, IHL, CHL, and in Germany. While with the Mallards in 2011-12, he totaled 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 58 games.
In 2015, Snowden was named assistant coach for the Orlando Solar Bears, receiving a promotion to associate coach last season. This year, he served as assistant coach for the Newfoundland Growlers under Ryane Clowe, who had to step down due to health reasons.
There are a lot more coaches whose careers could be expanded upon; the Mallards helped produce a lot of coaching staff through their over twenty-year run. Here’s hoping that continues in the SPHL.