The Quad City Mallards are looking for a new alternate captain.|
Joel Gasper, who held that leadership position the last two seasons, mutually decided to part ways Monday with new coach David Bell, six days before the regular-season opener for the local minor-league hockey team.
Additionally, Bell announced defensemen Martin Kubalaik and Quinn Waller asked for and were granted their releases from training camp, while the Mallards also consummated a trade with last weekend's preseason foe, Missouri, for defender Jared Lavender.
"Talk about a busy off-day from practice," said Bell, who barely had time to ink camp surprise Mickey Lang off a tryout agreement, with the contract heading to the Central Hockey League office this morning.
With Sweden's Karl Linden heading to the suspended list pending immigration clearance, the Mallards are suddenly at the Double-A circuit's season-starting 19-man roster.
But Bell says he's hardly done with his off-ice construction work ahead of Saturday night's season-starter at Moline's i wireless Center.
"We're still looking for talent on the waiver wires," Bell said, with roster hopefuls Jeff Moor and Tyler Gilmore still here on tryout agreements. "But we're not going to push the panic button. We're going to find the right fit. The nice thing is we have some time — we only have one game this weekend. Hopefully we're settled by next week at the latest."
Among the moves Monday, the biggest shocker was Gasper's exit. The sixth-year pro recorded 23 goals and 56 points in 138 games for QC.
"When I first got this job, I asked all of the players to tell me about themselves and tell me about their team. And to a man, they all talked about what a great guy Joel is in the dressing room and on the ice," Bell said. "Quite certainly he can play in this league. Unfortunately, he just wasn't the best fit for my (attacking offensive) system. He's a thinker out there, always in the right position, so I can see how he fit well in what (former coach) Frank (Anzalone) was doing.
"But we're doing the total opposite. Our forwards have to be able to do something when the puck's on their stick. Look at a flyer like (Brandon) Marino. They pretty much reversed roles, where Joel was maybe the No. 2 forward last year and Marino was their sixth."
While Gasper is waiting for a team to pick him up off the waiver wire, Bell said regular jobs await the two defensemen who decided to exit despite being contract signees.
"I had a 10 a.m. meeting scheduled to get Kubaliak in an apartment, and he just came to me and said, 'I really miss my 2-year-old daughter,'" Bell said. "His wife's got a good job in Alabama, so they're staying there while he'd have played up here. Being a father myself, I respect that and understand that.
"Same thing with Waller. He said, 'I'm a first year pro and didn't know what pro hockey would be like.' Instead, he's going to use his degree and go work for a bank.
"They both got through the weekend, thought about it and then told me they wanted to go in another direction. That's better than deciding on Friday that they have cold feet. Nobody here's getting rich, and like I always say, you work to live, not live to work, so you better be doing something that makes you happy."
The trade certainly made Bell happy.
Lavender, 27, suited up for Missouri the last two seasons, posting a plus-minus ratio of plus-7 in 45 games last season.
"He upgrades our defense a lot," Bell said. "In his two games up here over the weekend, I liked what I saw. He's mobile. He's gritty. And, he moves the puck, which is great, because we need to get it in the hands of our fast forwards.
"Sunday when we played them, guys were coming back to the bench saying, 'I don't like playing in front of the net with No. 6. He's hacking and whacking.' That told me all I need to know. He's not the biggest guy (at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds), but he's really hard to play against."
Best of all? The Mallards picked up Lavender for future considerations. He's expected by practice Wednesday.
"They brought in some big-money guys, so my guess is they had some salary-cap issues and needed to move somebody rather than lose them for nothing," Bell said. "Whatever their reason, I like the deal on our end. He really fits what we're trying to do here."
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