MOLINE, Ill. – It’s been five years since the Quad City Mallards retired Glen Stewart’s number on January 4, 2013. Since then, the Mallards joined a new league, had one affiliation agreement, and then dropped that affiliate for another one. There have been a lot of great Mallards players in the team’s 21-season history, from the glory days of the original IHL and the UHL, to the new days of the CHL and ECHL.
The debate will rage about which Mallards team you choose to remember; those that brought glory to the area, or the current iteration that’s built in the name of “developing players,”
It’s safe to say there will likely not be another Mallards team like the ones that won the Colonial Cup or won 50 or more games in six consecutive seasons. The Mallards are now in the ECHL, which is at its root a developmental league. The league’s veteran rules limit a team’s ability to keep a “core” group of players that can lay down roots in a market.
I did a brief survey of Mallards fans on Twitter and Facebook to see whose number they wanted to see join Stewart, Steve Gibson, Mark McFarlane, and Kerry Toporowski’s in the rafters. Before we go into my opinion, let’s see what the fans say.
Topping the list of votes was goaltender Sergei Zvyagin. Likely the greatest Mallards goalie to put on the sweater, Zvyagin won a franchise-best 84 games. With all the movement in the ECHL, it’s highly unlikely that Zvyagin’s record could ever come down, as it seems improbable that a goalie could play more than 84 games for the Flock, let alone win that number. In his four seasons with the Mallards from 1995-96 to 1998-99, Zvyagin backstopped the team to back-to-back Colonial Cup Championships, as well as being a part of the professional hockey record-breaking team that won 50 or more games per season six seasons in a row from 1996-2002. Zvyagin played 60 out of the 74 games in the 1996-97 season, winning 42 of them. In all, he had an average save percentage just under .900.
Patrick Nadeau came in a second-place tie with Darren McMillan with three votes. Nadeau is the longest tenured Mallard, having seen action in 456 games over an eight-year span from 1999-2007, as well as 66 playoff contests. In those eight seasons, he amassed 149 goals, 193 assists, and 364 penalty minutes. Nadeau also won the Colonial Cup in 2001 with the team, the last time a Mallards’ club would hoist a championship trophy.
McMillan, over his seven years with the team in its three different leagues, appeared in 415 regular season games before retiring at the end of the 2015-16 season. The blueliner also played in 34 playoff games over those years. His best season defensively was 2011-12, when he earned a +24 rating in 66 games. He totaled 20 goals and 89 assists in 415 games for the Mallards organization.
Carl LeBlanc was next in the pools, receiving two votes. A defenseman selected in the tenth round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals, LeBlanc never moved higher than the AHL. He played three seasons for the Mallards between 1996-99. While with the Mallards, he scored 16 goals with 123 assists. In the 1997-98 season, he was third on the team with penalty minutes, only Toporowski with 189 and McFarlane with 186 ranked higher. LeBlanc still resides in the Quad City Area.
Joe Dimaline, Mallards netminder from 2000-03, received a single vote, as did fellow tendys Jeff Reynaert, Hugo Proulx, and Garry Gulash. Dimaline had a winning record similar to Zvyagin’s, though a smaller sample size. Dimaline appeared in 98 games, winning 70 of them with a save percentage of just under .910. In the 2001-02 season, he won 38 of the 46 games; the previous season, after being acquired from the arch-rival Muskegon Fury, he had won 14 out of the 17 games he played.
Reynaert was between the pipes for the Mallards in 116 games, winning 67 over the three seasons from 2002-05. In the 2003-04 season, he played 56 games, winning 37. Gulash, another former Mallard who settled in the area after finishing his hockey career, played four seasons with the Mallards from 1998-02. He also helped the team to their record 50+ wins in six consecutive seasons, spending 1,170 minutes spent in the sin bin before being traded to the Adirondack IceHawks during the 2001-02 season. After that season he retired, becoming a firefighter for the city of Davenport.
Proulx is second only to Nadeau in games played in a Mallards uniform, appearing in 437 contests between 1996-97 and 2003-04. He won three Cups with the team, scoring 213 goals and piling up 329 assists. His best season was also the Mallards’ first championship season, in which he scored 48 goals with 58 assists.
In my opinion, Zvyagin’s number should have been retired last season to go with the hullabaloo of the 20 seasons of Mallards hockey. The only goaltender that will likely ever acquire so many wins in a Mallards uniform deserves to have his number hanging in the rafters.
If Zvyagin’s number isn’t retired, I would vote for McMillan’s number to be hoisted up next. He was a face of stability during the years of Mallards hockey when fans weren’t sure if there was going to keep being Mallards hockey. When the CHL went into financial distress, when the league took ownership of the Mallards, and when the CHL joined the ECHL suddenly, always McMillan was there.
I think there’s a lot of Mallards players deserving of the honor. As someone told me on Facebook recently: “There have been a lot of great players in Mallards’ history, it’s not possible to retire that many. I would love another way to honor players without retiring their numbers.”
Frankly, I have to agree with her. If numbers cannot be retired, something should be done so Mallards fans can celebrate those who built the legacy.