MOLINE, IL – Christmas came early for the Quad City Mallards this year with the return of C.J. Motte from the Chicago Wolves and Chris Francis’ re-signing. Motte was released from his PTO with the Wolves on November 21, while Francis re-signed on November 27.
Francis had sustained an upper-body injury right before training camp began and unfortunately was unable to participate in camp at all. When it came time for the physical before the season-opening game, he couldn’t pass muster and had to be released to allow another forward to be on the roster. Francis didn’t leave the Quad Cities after being cut, knowing that he’d be given a roster spot once he returned to full health. In the interim, Josh MacDonald, Garret Klotz, Jamie Tardif, and Alexander Kuqali have worn an A while no captain was named. Now that Francis is back, I expect him to get the C while Kuqali and Tardif have the A’s; MacDonald would be my pick for an alternate assistant.
The Mallards are currently 8-10-1-0, only two of those wins coming away from the TaxSlayer Center – and both against the Kansas City Mavericks. The defensive corps has left much to be desired, being out-scored 64-44 in 19 games. The Mallards have almost never been able to out-shoot their opponent by the end of the game, which, if not a key to winning, is helpful for the whole winning thing. The defense has been somewhat soft in most of the games, as has the offense.
The Mallards appear most games to think that Halloween never ended, as they continue to wear Charmin costumes on the ice. Soft, soft play has characterized the team, physicality lacking when it is deserved. When Justin Kovacs was laid out by Ryan Rupert on November 12, all four of the Mallards on the ice excepting Ivan Kulbakov tried to fight Rupert, but that has been the most noticeable physicality since. The checks have been non-existent or weak, whether along the boards or open-ice. I could make the remark that I’ve observed women’s beer league dek hockey players deliver harder checks and more physicality than the Mallards have so far this season. However, I won’t because most people wouldn’t believe me (even though it’s true. Dek hockey is supposed to be no-contact, but it’s definitely not).
Klotz went on injured reserve following the October 28 game against Idaho. Klotz returned to the line-up on December 1 against the Indy Fuel, bringing back some physicality. Kyle Bigos returned to the line-up on November 25 after missing nine games since November 3rd. Both players are intimidating looking, Bigos at 6’5” and Klotz standing an inch taller. Klotz has engaged in a single fight, going back to October 21st in Toledo against the Walleye. Bigos, while often jawing at opposing players or engaging in some shoving contests, isn’t a fighter. The Mallards do seem to play better when either is in the line-up, but when only a couple players are playing physically. Sam Warning, the team’s top-scorer, also leads the Mallards with 27 penalty minutes for the enforcer Klotz’s 19 (though Warning does have 12 games in hand). Opponents probably don’t feel very afraid to deliver hard checks or questionable hits without retribution.
With the addition of Francis, I expect the team to begin to shape up more. One of the things they have seemed to lack is real leadership on the ice, and nothing screams leadership more than a big C on someone’s chest. Always the Mallards look one step behind the pass; the passes are errant or just a smidge too far ahead; no one screens the goalie to give a scoring opportunity. While Francis’ return might not fix some of these issues, it’s doubtful they could become worse with him on the ice.
The Mallards have made some cuts since the season began, releasing defenseman Kevin Kirisits and forward Michael Pontarelli to bring their roster down to the required 22 players. The Mallards are now carrying three goaltenders after Motte’s return, Branden Komm having been acquired from the Idaho Steelheads on November 7th. He has a 92.9% save percentage after only one game, making 26 saves. Adding in the four games with Idaho, Komm sits at an 89.1% save percentage. He recently signed a PTO with the Iowa Wild after Niklas Svedberg was unable to dress for the November 28th game in Des Moines. Seeing as how it’s only a three-hour drive to Des Moines from Moline, it was far easier to call Komm to serve as the back-up than attempt to get Adam Vay in from Rapid City on same-day notice; Komm was returned on November 30th.