MOLINE, IL – Quad City Mallards’ captain Darren McMillan is retiring after this season. He has been a stalwart in the lineup and was a steady presence during some very turbulent seasons for the franchise. McMillan has played 719 professional games (regular-season and playoffs) over a career spanning 11 years and four leagues.
Quad City Mallards fans have been lucky to be able to see six plus of those years. After originally planning to hang up the skates at the end of last season, he delayed his retirement one year and at least four playoff games.
McMillan played college hockey at St. Francis Xavier University of the Atlantic University Sports League. He played in 82 games in college and had six goals and 16 assists.
In 2005, he began his professional career with the Wichita Thunder.
“That was the first year I made it as a professional to the second round (of the CHL playoffs),” McMillan said.
In his first two seasons as a pro, he played 131 games with under head coach Mark French. He was +11 in his rookie season and tallied a career-high 28 assists in his second season, earning him team defenseman of the year honors.
In 2007, McMillan traveled overseas to Germany to play a season in the Germany-Oberliga with Klostersee EHC. It was while he was there that he scored nine goals, his career high.
The next year, he came back to America and played 73 games for the Ontario Reign during the 2008-09 season, before joining the Mallards for his first stint during the 2009-10 season.
The Mallards Years
The Mallards were a fledgling new franchise in the International Hockey League when he first joined the team. The Quad City Flames of the American Hockey League would relocate that offseason. McMillan would only play 12 games for the Mallards that season before returning to Germany and Klostersee EHC the rest of the season.
He rejoined the Mallards for the 2010-11 season and was chosen to be the team’s captain that Fall. He has been the team’s captain ever since.
For a time during his stint in a Mallards uniform, the new version of the Mallards’ franchise struggled. They had a different ownership group each of their first four seasons, and three different coaches. The team also changed from the International Hockey League to the Central Hockey League and finally to the ECHL during his time as a Mallard. Through all of the change and tumult, McMillan was the only real constant and model of consistency.
In the 2010-11 season, he played in all 66 games and was +4 for the season. In 2011-12, he again played in all 66 games and led a high-scoring Mallards team with a +24 in plus/minus, his career high. In 2013-14 he nearly had as many points (16) as he had penalty minutes (19).
He has played in 30 playoff games for the Mallards to this point and has one goal and six assists. One of his assists was on the game-winning overtime goal in game 5 of the CHL semifinals in 2014, which gave the Mallards a 3-2 series lead.
“Taking Allen to game seven was pretty exciting,” the Mallards’ Captain said. “We had a good group of guys and worked pretty hard.”
His Contributions Are Easily Overlooked
It’s very easy to take McMillan’s game for granted. The most goals he scored in a season for the Mallards was six. He does not make many spectacular plays. His strength is that he rarely ever makes a mistake and does many small things very well. He’s almost always in the right position. You really have to watch him closely to gain an appreciation for his game.
“He brought a great brand of hockey. He played hurt. Played hard every game. Never complained. Always was there when I needed him,” Mallards Head Coach Terry Ruskowski said. “He’s got the respect of his teammates. Every time he does something that’s probably unusual for some players but usual for him, like blocking a shot or doing something out of the ordinary, to be that kind of player, teammates stand up and appreciate it. He’s just the type of guy that when the game is on the line, you put #6 out there.”
There are two stats that illustrate McMillan’s game very well. The first is penalty minutes. The most penalty minutes he ever had in a season for the Mallards was 39. He did that last season, when he played in all 72 regular-season games. He averaged about 29 penalty minutes per season with the Mallards, which is very low for someone who plays as many minutes and as many games as he does.
The other stat that illustrates McMillan’s contributions is games played. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, he had only missed four games until this past Wednesday, when he sat out with an undisclosed injury. There were three seasons where he played in every game for the Mallards. He is third on the all-time franchise list for games played, trailing only Patrick Nadeau and Hugo Proulx on that list and is ahead of Mark McFarlane and Steve Gibson, all big names from the Mallards’ past.
“I wish our league tracked ice time,” Mallards assistant coach Phil Axtell said. “He would be in the top three or four on the team every night. If you get a penalty, he’s out there for at least a minute on the penalty kill. During 4-on-4 you can rely on him. Even in overtime. He’s not the most offensive player but like I said he does the simple things.”
Leading By Example
He’s been the Mallards’ captain longer than any other player to wear the uniform. Ruskowski hopes some of McMillan’s leadership and temperament bled through to the team.
“He’s been the leader for a long period of time and now we will see how the young leaders come in and take over,” Ruskowski said. “We’ve always relied on him, and now he won’t be there. Next year we’ll see who’s going to step up and be the leader.
“He brought class to hockey and he brought class to the Quad City Mallards in the way he handled himself and presented himself. He’s just a fine hockey player but he’s also a fine human being. You don’t find that a whole lot in the sports world now, where you’re quiet and mild mannered. He shows it by example and goes out there and plays hard every night.”
Reflecting On His Career
It is hard for athletes to walk away from playing a sport they grew up with. For McMillan, there are thing he will and won’t miss about playing hockey.
“Coming to the rink every day has kind of been my routine for probably close to 20 years now since juniors. Playing in front of all the fans kind of gives you a rush and I’m not going to get that any more,” he said.
When reflecting about what he will miss, the answer was easy: “Some of the road trips. The 3 games in 3 nights in three different cities, getting in at seven in the morning and having to play that night. That’s probably the toughest part of playing in this league.”
As he hangs up the skates, mild-mannered McMillan says his ability to be consistent was the greatest accomplishment of his career. “I tried to play through injuries. I tried to play every game if I could. Some years it worked out, some it didn’t. Working hard every night and trying to lead by example.”
McMillan says he has yet to discuss a future with the franchise and says he is looking for work in the Quad Cities area.