MOLINE, IL – The past few days have been full of tumult and change for the Quad City Mallards, as they have announced the dismissal of President and General Manager Bob McNamara, as well as the addition of some players and the departure of others. Some of these changes were expected, some were needed, and some were a shock. First things first, however.
As reported by Dakota Johnson on Monday, Gergo Nagy has returned to the Mallards. His article about that Nagy’s return is here.
On Tuesday, McNamara was dismissed as president and general manager after leading the team for five years. He was hired in 2012 when Jordan Melville took over ownership of the team. McNamara had served as the GM of the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins for 15 seasons before being named the president and governor of the Hamilton Bulldogs for the 2011-12 season. He had also served as Assistant General Manager of the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League before moving the Grand Rapids.
Melville said on Tuesday, “We’re currently working to continue to strengthen our partnerships with the TaxSlayer Center and the ECHL to build on what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last five years. We’re also focused on becoming an even stronger presence in the community and I’m excited about spending even more time in the Quad Cities personally as we move forward.”
Minutes after the McNamara dismissal was announced, forward Justin Kovacs was suspended by the team in order to begin his career in Europe with the Slovakian team HK Nitra of the Tipsport Liga. Kovacs had just returned from a concussion suffered on November 12 against the Indy Fuel when his departure was announced. Kovacs is in his third professional season, having played his first year for the Kalamazoo Wings (6G, 23A in 63 games). For the Mallards, he totaled 20 goals and 40 assists in 68 games last season. He had played 11 games with two goals and six assists this season before being injured.
Kovacs cited the larger ice in Europe as a contributing factor, as it would hopefully reduce the chance of more hits like the one he suffered. He also has a fiancé and a nine-month-old daughter, and pay often is better in Europe than in North America.
“After college I knew I eventually wanted to get overseas and play and definitely finish my career over there if it didn’t work out here,” Kovacs told Bobby Metcalf of the Quad-City Times. “An opportunity came up for us, having a baby and this was the best thing for the whole family financially and from a career standpoint it was tough to pass up on an offer like this. We decided as a family it would be best.”
Kovacs went on to tell Metcalf he didn’t want to take another chance of having a concussion, like the one he suffered at the hands (more specifically, forearm) of Ryan Rupert on November 12, and also had some thinly veiled criticism for how the league handled the suspension of the hit:
“I’ve been in this league a couple of years and a couple cheap shots like that out of nowhere where a guy gets suspended or whatever, it’s just a dirty hit for no reason. I don’t want to risk doing that any more,” Kovacs said. “Obviously all the hits are different but that hit, I don’t think I was anywhere near the puck, I didn’t even see him. And then he went directly for the head, it seems pretty clear it was an intent to injure.
“As far as the league goes, I’m not really sure on that, they suspended him for four games so I guess he served some time for it. As far as the other hits go, it’s hard to say, it just depends on the hit. His was a pretty bad one and he did it for whatever reason and it sucks sitting at home watching our team go against him.”
The same day as Kovacs’ news was announced, the Cleveland Monsters re-assigned defenseman Jacob Graves to the Mallards. He had been with the AHL club since December 5 after playing 13 games for the Mallards. In those 13 games, the defenseman notched only one point – an assist. He played 19 games for the Monsters last season, with a goal and an assist, but did not play during his short call-up this season. He also appeared in nine games for the Cincinnati Cyclones last season with one assist.
The last transaction for Tuesday was placing defenseman Alexander Kuqali on injured reserve. He is now out with an upper-body injury after playing 20 games with the Mallards this season. He has as of now one goal and five assists in those 20 games. Kuqali was acquired during a midseason trade last year with the Florida Everblades in exchange for the ECHL rights to Jake Baker. With the Everblades, Kuqali racked up ten assists in 35 games before totaling six assists for the Mallards in 28 games.
The day after the dismissal of McNamara, the departure of Kovacs, and the return of Graves, the Mallards signed goaltender Eric Hartzell. Hartzell began his professional career in 2013-14, playing 25 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and 14 for the Wheeling Nailers. He has also seen time with the Idaho Steelheads, the Stockton Heat, the Fort Wayne Komets, the Heilbronn Falcons of the German DEL-2 league, and most recently the HK Nitra. With HK Nitra this season, he appeared in 15 games with a save percentage of .918 after making 413 saves on 450 shots faced.
The Chicago Wolves assigned defenseman Kenney Morrison on Wednesday, rounding out the busy three-day stretch for the Mallards on the transactions front. Morrison has appeared in 10 games for the Wolves so far this season, totaling three assists. He played last season with the Stockton Heat, amassing four goals and eight assists in 51 games. Morrison has spent his entire professional career with the Calgary Flames’ AHL team, whether it was the Adirondack Flames or the Stockton Heat. He first played for the Adirondack Flames in 2014-15 after completing his college career at Western Michigan University that same season.
Whether all these shake-ups will help the Mallards get out of their worst losing record in a long time remains to be seen, but the next chance to see if it helps is tonight. The Mallards take on the Cincinnati Cyclones at 6:30 PM both Friday and Saturday.
(h/t: Bobby Metcalf, Quad City Times: https://qctimes.com/sports/hockey/professional/minor/mallards-forward-kovacs-departs-for-europe/article_1e119592-b305-5271-a2a3-ce378b3c72dc.html)