MOLINE, Ill. – The Quad City Storm have officially ended their inaugural season, and it was one filled with lots of highs and lows. Closing weekend was the perfect snapshot of the season, as the team played throughout the spectrum of their 54 prior performances in a span of 60 minutes in back-to-back nights. The two bottom teams in the league finished out the season with a pair of games that looked oddly similar, the scores being the same by the time the nights were over.
Even though, or perhaps because, both the Storm and the Thunderbolts’ season would end following Saturday’s contest, the teams laid it all on the line for one final weekend. Physicality was notched up to 10 both nights, but especially to start the game on Saturday. Kristaps Nimanis seemed the odds-on favorite for most trips to the penalty box, as he ventured there twice in four minutes. It would be his nearly four-minute-long stay in the sin bin during the second period that would almost spell doom for his team in game number 56 Saturday, as two power-play goals were scored during that time.
As was often the case throughout the season, the Storm struggled for one period before coming back re-energized for the following frame. Both of the middle frames this weekend were the struggling points, as first four goals were scored on Friday and the previously mentioned man-advantage tallies were added on Saturday.
Speaking after Friday’s shootout victory, coach Dave Pszenyczny said, “Second period was just awful, awful hockey. It’s like they [Evansville] wanted it more at that point, and it showed in the score.”
Evansville had full control for the second period on Friday, amassing four goals within 17 minutes. Defensive breakdowns ruled the period, leading to at least two of the goals in the middle frame.
The Storm have shown throughout the season that they’re capable of comeback wins, though that’s sometimes not a good thing. While getting the two points at the end of the night is a good thing no matter what, consistently having to fight your way back from a deficit doesn’t bode well. It’s better, of course, to be able to take the lead and hold it, but being able to find a way to win when down does speak of character.
Though the team itself had no problem staying out of the penalty box on Saturday, Nimanis’ frequent trips put the Storm penalty kill unit to the test. Right before Christmas, the Storm had the best-ranked power play in the league, and the second best penalty kill. To end the season, the Storm sits in sixth place for killing penalties at 81.22% and have slipped to fourth place with 19.19% efficiency on the power play.
Saturday’s game was decided by a highlight reel goal, when Tyler Minx dumped the puck in from the neutral zone and found twine behind Alex Murray. Exactly how the puck found the back of the net is a quandary, but it appeared to bounce just before the crease.
“Well, it’s the first time that we’ve actually swept a weekend all season,” said Pszenyczny Saturday, “and not what I had planned, coming back from behind, but a win’s a win and you know it’s nice with the fan support. I mean, I know they could have gotten on us a little bit more with some of the sloppy play that was there, but they stuck with us and we gave them something to cheer about, so it’s going to be great going in to the off-season knowing that we won the last two games.”
With the 2018-19 season over, it’s now time to look ahead to the next season. Recruiting is already in the works, according to Pszenyczny. “Lots of recruiting, which I’m doing right now. Just kind of reassess and evaluate myself and obviously get better.”
The Storm held one last jersey auction for the season on Friday, with proceeds going to VFW Post 1303. The post had sponsored the camouflage jerseys that had debuted on Veterans’ Day that then became the warm-up jerseys for the rest of the season. At the end of the night, the Storm presented a check to the post for $13,500. That brings the total charitable contributions by the Storm to over $150,000.
The final grand total was announced at the end of season press conference on Monday morning, with a total of $162,754 being the final count given to local charities throughout the season.
“We had 130 days to open our doors and have a team, have a coach, have a logo, have a name. It was pretty exciting last summer. And so the owners made a commitment to be the community’s team. And I’m proud to say that they fulfilled that,” said Storm president Gwen Tombergs at the press conference Monday morning. “The coach [Pszenyczny] said he was going to put a good team on the ice, but he was going to bring great players in who have big hearts, and they are just good people. And you can see that throughout all season with the number of school visits that we did, the number of hours that were spent with kids this summer, the hospital visits, that these guys gave back in more ways than just on the ice.”
The donations to charities in the Quad Cities came from many angles, as there were five games designated as Big Five games that were targeted for charities, as well as the jersey auctions, chuck-a-puck money, and portions of ticket sales going to non-profits.
The Storm had lots of roster turnover this season, as only six players made it all the way through from training camp — John Scully, Dalton Mills, Phil Bronner, Al Graves, Joe McKeown, and Peter Di Salvo. McKeown and Graves finished the season on IR. “The course of the season involved a lot of trades and transactions that resulted in bringing in better quality players,” said Pszenyczny at the press conference.
“I think off the ice [our season was] obviously a huge hit. on the ice, obviously our record spoke. Having that many one-goal games says we were right there, but at the same time I think that if I would have had this whole group at the beginning of the season I think there may have been a different outcome. At the same time, I gotta look to rebuild and restructure the pieces that we were lacking this season,” Pszenyczny said.
To Pszenyczny, it seems like fans are beginning to warm up to the Storm. Some people, after 21 years of Mallards hockey, didn’t like having a team with a new name at the TaxSlayer Center. It’s understandable to not like change, but sometimes that’s the price we pay to keep some things the same. “But hey, at the end of the day there’s still hockey here, and might as well come out and support it if you love it that much.”
During the off-season keep your eyes trained on @SinBinStorm on Twitter for updates and discussion. And remember, just because ice hockey is over doesn’t mean there’s no hockey to watch. There’s always QC DekHockey to watch; who knows, you might see some familiar faces.