And down the stretch they come! Flock fighting for playoff berth

Originally Posted Online: March 02, 2013, 7:42 pm
Last Updated: March 02, 2013, 11:25 pm
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By Steve Tappa,

I've been asked the question so many times in private over the last month that today I finally feel the need to address the issue publicly.

"Can the Quad City Mallards make the playoffs this season?" at least one member of the Flock's faithful seems to pose to me daily.

My stock answer? Well, yeah, sure they can.

After all, the Mallards headed into Saturday night tied for the eighth and final Central Hockey League playoff spot with three weeks left.

Half of QC's remaining 12 regular-season games also are against nearby rival Bloomington, which was tied with the Flock heading into the Blaze's Saturday night visit to league power Wichita.

"OK, butWILL they be a playoff team?" the Flock's followers dutifully press on, suspecting this veteran sportswriter owns some special insight.

To be blunt, I say, I sure wouldn't bet the farm.

Then again, nothing would surprise me less in this crazy season that almost never happened, with the CHL and Moline's i wireless Center stepping in at the last minute in October to take over from a failed ownership transfer.

Does that make sense?

At least that sums up these Mallards.

No less than QC coach Terry Ruskowski readily admits his up-and-down outfit is confounding to figure.

"We're just not consistent enough," lamented Ruskowski, a two-time CHL title winner and one of the Double-A circuit's all-time winningest coaches.

Case in point? A wild week leading into today's home matinee with second-place Fort Worth.

Last Saturday, the Mallards limped out of Denver after a deflating road loss torpedoed hopes of leapfrogging Bloomington in the playoff chase.

Yet, Tuesday the Flock found a way to win at red-hot Rapid City to draw even with the Blaze.

Two nights later, the Mallards laid an egg in a head-to-head matchup at Bloomington.

However, 24 hours later, QC pulled off a dramatic shootout win at Missouri to halt the CHL's longest active winning streak at three games.

Now, coming down the stretch, the Mallards regrettably have a tougher strength of schedule than Bloomington, a .507 winning percentage to .462 for the Blaze.

However, QC only has four road contests left and hosts four of those crucial six head-to-head meetings between the rivals, including two in the season's final three days.

The wild card is seventh-place Arizona, which stood just a point ahead of both rivals before Saturday night's action and with one less game remaining.

The Sundogs also face a withering final month, taking on opponents with a combined .529 win-percentage, including Fort Worth five times.

The moral of this story?

Don't believe the Ducks are dead until the final horn sounds on this regular season, three Sundays from now at the i-wi when Bloomington comes to town.

Or, just maybe, buy into the fact this season is over, because this team loves to prove others wrong.

Blaze in trouble? Bloomington president David Holt denied a report this week the Blaze have joined the Mallards, with the CHL assuming control of QC's rival from owner Sandra Hunnewell.

The Junior Hockey News credited unnamed sources and noted Holt now owns the Blaze's affiliate in the Midwest Junior Hockey League.

"The (CHL) has not taken over the Blaze, and I don't own the Junior Blaze," Holt told the Bloomington Pantagraph.

Hunnewell's company, Hockey Sensations LLC, is a year into its ownership of the Blaze and also purchased the Bloomington Edge indoor football team in October.

Holt admitted the Blaze are not currently turning a profit but said both minor-league teams are "going to be fine." The Edge are scheduled to kick off their season March 13.

The Mallards deal between the CHL and i wireless Center was extended to the 2013-14 season in January, but both sides pledged to continue seeking a long-term, third-party owner.

Double the fun: Because of a manufacturer's error, the Mallards announced Saturday that today's YMCA Youth Sports Day event has been altered. The first 1,000 kids, 12 and younger, now receive a voucher for a special youth jersey when those giveaways arrive at a later date.

In addition, the Mallards will give those first 1,000 youngsters a voucher good for a free ticket to a remaining regular-season home game for the Flock.

A second YMCA jersey giveaway also has been added to Fan Appreciation Day on March 24. The first 1,000 fans older than 12 attending the regular-season finale also receive an extra large Mallards jersey.

The Mallards also will give away a host of other door prizes on Fan Appreciation Day, including a free refrigerator to one lucky fan courtesy of American.

Three for two

-- Note: The three CHL teams fighting for the league's last two playoff spots, with the remaining ``Strength of Schedule'' and a breakdown of their remaining games (with the team's current home or away record). SOS determined by the combined record of remaining opponents (and the winning percentage):

Quad City Mallards
 326-272-45 (.507).
Home games (12-10-3): Today: Fort Worth; March 9, 17: Missouri; March 10, 15, 22, 24: Bloomington; March 19: Denver.
Road games (12-14-3): March 8, 16: Missouri; March 12, 23: Bloomington.

Bloomington Blaze
276-256-65 (.462).
Home games (16-11-1): March 12, 23: QC; March 16-17: Denver; March 19: Missouri.
Road games (10-15-1): Late Saturday: Wichita; March 5: Missouri; March 8: Tulsa; March 10, 15, 22, 24: QC.

Arizona Sundogs
322-221-66 (.529).
Home games (13-11-3): Late Saturday: Rapid City; March 15-16: Wichita; March 20, 22-23: Fort Worth.
Road games (12-14-2): March 5-6: Tulsa; March 8-9: Fort Worth; March 12: Allen.

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