Netminders are notorious for being eccentric.|
Strange superstitions, crazy routines and wacky dialogue are as common to the hockey position as a mask and protective padding.
"People hate sitting next to the goalie in the dressing room. Not because they take up so much room with their gear, but because they're so darned weird," Quad City Mallards backstop Neil Conway agreed. "But I get told all of the time I'm normal, that I'm more like the rest of the team because I don't say goofy weird stuff that creeps people out. I guess I'm more of a geek than a weirdo. I wear the team underwear and socks. I don't go out too much. I'm pretty boring."
Beyond those uncommonly normal traits at an uncommon position, Conway has found another way to stand out.
And, the rookie hopes that helps him shine again tonight, with the Mallards hosting the highest-scoring squad in the Central Hockey League, neighboring rival Bloomington.
"What a great work ethic," said QC's Terry Ruskowski. "That's the first thing that everybody notices about Neil. He's always the first guy on the ice and the last guy off it, and he works on things by himself, without me having to tell him. That means he wants to get better and work on his craft.
"Time will tell how far he goes in this game, but he's got the work ethic to keep improving and move up."
Since joining the Mallards just before Christmas, Conway is 5-3-0 with a goals-against average (2.49) that ranks among the league's best.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native won the CHL's Goalie of the Week award earlier this month, and counting Conway's time in Rapid City earlier this season, the just-turned 25-year-old has a .908 save-percentage of 2.63 goals-against average to rank seventh leaguewide in both categories.
"It's just how I was brought up," Conway said. "Showing up early and staying late is not a burden. I love coming to the rink. I like facing extra shots. I like working on little things. It's my profession now, and I'm fortunate I love doing it."
Conway arrived late on the scene this summer, deciding against the on-the-job audition most hockey players opt for after the completion of their final college season by joining a minor-league team late in its season.
"Most times you're able to do your courses by correspondence, play a couple of games and then come back and finish up," explained Conway, a three-year standout at Canada's St. Mary's University. "But I'd overloaded my schedule to graduate early, so I was taking a lot of fourth-year classes for my major, things I could not miss, so I wasn't able to go pro at the end of last year.
"I don't know if it hurt me, but it didn't get me a leg up like other guys, who get a good thing going with a team and come back for their first full year."
Instead, thanks to the job crunch brought on by the NHL lockout, Conway spent most of the summer unclaimed.
Finally, Conway agreed to backup Tim Boron in Rapid City until Danny Battochio, a veteran title-winner like Boron, had recovered from knee surgery to fix an injury suffered in a motorcycle accident.
"We knew he'd return at some point, but I didn't take that as a negative that my days were numbered," Conway said. "I just knew I had to make the most of my time there."
Turns out, Conway did just that, impressing Ruskowski in a shootout loss to the Mallards on Nov. 18 at the i wireless Center.
"It's funny how things work out," Conway said. "(Rapid City coach) Joe (Ferras) decided to start me that day, and Terry obviously thought enough of me to give me a chance."
However, two weeks passed between his Rapid City release and landing with the Flock.
"My agent had a lot of feelers out; there just weren't any jobs," said Conway. "But when I was off for those two weeks, I stayed fresh, by being on the ice as much as I could with my younger brother's team, and I had some buddies who used to play juniors who'd come out and shoot at me.
"My girlfriend also is from Niagara Falls, and their college team there, I'm familiar with their coach and program, so I was able to practice with them for a week, too. I just needed to stay ready because I knew I'd get my chance."
So far, so uncommonly good.
Bloomington at QC Mallards
Tonight: 7:05 p.m. at the i wireless Center.
Radio: WFXN-AM 1230 & wfxn.net. Webcast: myqcmallards.com (pay-per-view CHL TV). Twitter updates: @SteveTappa_DA.
Special: "Mo Mallard" welcomes fellow mascots from the area for a night of kid-friendly fun.
Storyline: Unable to pull off a standings position-tying sweep last weekend at Arizona, the Flock's fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Central Hockey League shifts to rivalry rematches down the stretch. Starting tonight, the Mallards (17-18-5, 39 points) meet neighboring Bloomington 11 times in this season's final 26 games (and Saturday foe Missouri seven other times). Fourth-place Bloomington (22-16-2, 46 points) has beaten QC in five of eight meetings thus far, splitting a pair of early November contests in the Blaze's only other visit to the i-wi. The Mallards are three standings points behind Arizona but have played three fewer games than the eighth-place Sundogs.
News: Mickey Lang has returned to the Mallards after a brief Triple-A call-up by AHL Rockford. QC's scoring leader was promoted last Wednesday by the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate, played one game without registering any stats last Friday and was released Saturday morning before another loss by the last-place IceHogs. Lang missed QC's two-game weekend visit to Arizona. Last week's CHL Player of the Week currently ranks third in goals (22) and fifth in points (47) in the league.
Notes: QC's Matt Duffy is tied with Bloomington's Steve Markway for fifth among all CHL defenders with 24 points. ... QC's Mike Stinziani (33 points) and Mike Hellyer (32 points) are among the top four rookie scorers in the league. ... QC's Patrik Levesque needs a goal to reach the 100-goal career milestone.
Around the league: AHL Rockford also helped Bloomington's cause tonight by re-assigning David Gilbert on Sunday. A 2009 draft pick of the Blackhawks, Lang's fellow center has skated in three IceHogs games this season. ... AHL Chicago has re-assigned both Mathieu Corbeil and Kenton Miller to Missouri. ... Kip Brennan is back with league-leading Allen from AHL Houston.
Next: The Mallards visit Missouri on Saturday.
-- By Steve Tappa, email@example.com
Sherrard, IL Details
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