MOLINE, IL – The Quad City Mallards took on the Western Conference-leading Wichita Thunder on Black Friday, and some extra hockey was on the books for the teams. C.J. Motte returned to the line-up after being released by the Chicago Wolves on November 21, Branden Komm being placed on reserve to accommodate the addition of Motte. Black Friday was also the Mallards’ annual Teddy Bear Toss Night, the stuffed animals being donated to local children’s charities.
The two teams played evenly for most of the game, though the Mallards did appear to have the early jump on the visitors as they out-shot the Thunder 9-3 in the first ten minutes. The Mallards finally seemed to find their groove after several games in which their play was less than satisfactory, the passing being crisper and the puck tracking on-point. While the physical play was better, there were a few times a check might have knocked a Thunder player off the puck and allowed the Mallards to gain possession. The team seemed to play better in front of Motte, who had three AHL games under his belt for this season with Chicago.
Josh MacDonald made the teddy bears fly at 13:43 of the opening frame, sending it in back-hand behind Joel Rumpel. Willie Raskob and Ryan McGrath assisted on the goal that came from the top of the crease. The Thunder had a great opportunity to tie the game at 16:02 when Motte came out of the net to play the puck behind him. The puck bounced off the boards in a way that the goalie wasn’t expecting, heading straight to a Thunder player. Motte dove to make the save, but the puck bounced off the right post anyways.
Mark MacMillan evened the score up with just 34.4 seconds remaining before the first bathroom break, a scramble in front of Motte leading to an incomplete cover. The puck worked its way right along Motte’s pad, MacMillan burying it. Samuel Thibault and Istvan Sofron earned the assists on that tally.
Just one second before the three-minute mark of the middle frame Dmitry Osipov caught a puck to the mouth in the low slot of the Mallards’ defensive zone, blood pouring from his mouth. He returned for the final frame all stitched up, continuing the trend of minutes he’d acquired in the first period.
Alexander Kuqali scored his first goal of the season – and first professional goal – with help from MacDonald and Jamie Tardif just a few minutes after Osipov’s injury. Kuqali was scoreless since his professional debut with the Florida Everblades in March 2016. He played for Florida after finishing his collegiate career, then roughly half of the 2016-17 season before being acquired for the ECHL rights of Jake Baker. The power-play marker came after MacDonald passed from behind the net on the right side up to Kuqali who waited at the doorstep. This was Tardif’s first game back since November 4.
Sofron continued his bid for a Gordie Howe hat-trick by adding to the Thunder’s score at 13:33. Dyson Stevenson was screening Motte, Raskob trying to shove him out of the way. A delayed penalty was called against the Mallards, Motte went down to make the save, but the puck rebounded instead right to Sofron. Sofron managed to score while falling, Stevenson and Thibault assisting.
With two and a half minutes remaining in the final period, Matt DeBlouw gave McGrath an elbow in the face while the two battled for the puck in the right corner of the Mallards’ defensive zone. McGrath went down hard, and Greg Amlong came in to stick up for his teammate. Amlong was then put in a choke-hold by Stevenson to keep him from fighting DeBlouw, and both Amlong and DeBlouw served two minutes for roughing.
The Thunder defeated the Mallards just 37 seconds into over-time when MacMillan managed to beat Motte on the left side corner. Guillaume Lepine and Greg Chase earned the assists on the game-winning goal.
The Mallards travel to Wichita overnight to finish the home-and-home series before heading to Kansas City for the last of the three-in-three weekend games. The Mallards will return to the TaxSlayer Center on December 20 when they take on the Fort Wayne Komets at 6:35.