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The Final Migration Of The Mallards?

05/17/2011 11:04 AM - Mike Peck
In what’s becoming almost an annual event, last week the Quad City Mallards of the Central Hockey League announced that they were suspending operations. Now raise your hand if you even realized that the Mallards were, still around, let alone in the CHL.MallardsLogoX.jpg

This is very sad for a once proud and mighty franchise. If you want a bit of a Cinderella story, look at how things have played out for the Mallards, IceHogs and Missouri River Otters.

Back in 1999-00, United Sports Venture owned and operated all three franchises. The Mallards were a model minor league hockey franchise averaging nearly 7,000 fans per game and the River Otters weren’t too far behind.

The IceHogs, in a much smaller market, older venue and saw little success on the ice, was kind of the black sheep of the teams. Quad City played in the shiny Mark of the Quad Cities while Missouri called the brand new Family Arena home.

The was why USV was able to sell both the Mallards and River Otters before selling off the IceHogs in 2002 to Dr. T, Jim McIlroy and Jeff Smith.  But the dedicated fans stuck with the IceHogs through the good times and bad, and the attendance here has increased in three straight seasons and five of the last seven overall.

Missouri was the first team to fall. Whether it was bad business decisions, poor management, a subpar market, or a combination of all three, the River Otters attendance plummeted. The team folded in 2005-06 and pro hockey hasn’t returned to St. Charles since.

Closer to home, the Mallards began their slow decent into a hockey abyss in 2004-05. I know some people might blame the AHL and the name change to the Flames, but the decent started before the 2007-08 campaign.

Attendance was slipping and casual fans in the QC weren’t showing up.  I remember Quad City used to be the measuring stick for us here in the IceHogs office. Their promotions, merchandise, game operations, just about everything was compared to them.

Was it complacency? Bad business deals that finally caught up with them? Whatever the reason, the second coming of the Mallards has come and gone and I’m not sure that it would be worth putting professional hockey back in Moline for a while.

The market has seen four leagues (UHL, AHL, IHL, CHL) in five seasons, three name changes (Mallards, Flames and then back to Mallards), so any brand they established has been thrown in the trash.

Now a big turning point for the IceHogs in their battle to pull even the Mallards came on August 4, 2004. That was the day that Steve Martinson signed forward Jason Ralph.

Ralph was courted hard by Howard Cornfield and the Mallards. I know he was flown to the Quad Cities for a little wining and dining, but Ralph ultimately chose Martinson and the IceHogs.

That might have been the first time that a player had outright chosen Rockford over Quad City and from the IceHogs gained ground on the franchise, eventually passing them attendance wise.

Ralph spent three seasons in Rockford and captained the team to the final Colonial Cup in 2007.

If you would have told me back in 2001-02 that the IceHogs attendance would surpass the Mallards, I would have called you crazy. If you would have said that Quad City would be without hockey in 10 years, I would have thought you were a complete lunatic.

This is why we try not to take anything for granted here. Attendance, Booster Club, support in the community all has been tremendous here. Once you rest on your laurels in minor league sports, all of your success can disappear.