Turning a sinking ship into a playoff qualifier nearly earned Terry Ruskowski the Central Hockey League's Coach of the Year award Thursday.|
The Quad City Mallards coach finished second behind Fort Worth's Dan Wildfong in voting by their peers. Wildfong received seven first-place votes and 41 voting points to Ruskowski's two top nods and 22 overall points.
Last season's award winner, Wichita's Kevin McClelland, finished third with 14 points, accounting for the other first-place vote. Coaches are not permitted to vote for themselves.
Ruskowski's club sits sixth in the 10-team league's standings, having clinched a playoff berth heading into the regular season's final weekend.
The Mallards have climbed three places in the standings since March began, boasting the Double-A circuit's best record this month, winning eight of 10 starts.
However, earlier this season, the Mallards earned the moniker "UnderDucks," with the CHL and Moline's i wireless Center stepping in to take over a financially strapped franchise beleaguered by season-starting delays.
"Terry's done a fabulous job," raved QC's Shayne Toporowski, an 18th-year pro, who played briefly in the NHL. "Not only did he hold it together, but he threw this together on the fly at the last minute, and he's made this team better each day and every week.To see where we're at now, it's just been an amazing transformation."
Just this week, second-year standout Mickey Lang landed on the six-man All-CHL squad, and Mike Hellyer made the equally elite CHL All-Rookie team before being named the CHL's Rookie of the Year.
The near-miss almost supplied the capper to a season full of milestones for Ruskowski, a two-time CHL title winner and the league's Coach of the Year in 2006.
The 18-year coaching vet celebrated his 600th minor-league victory on Dec. 22, became the third coach in league history to 400 CHL wins on March 3, and coached in his 700th CHL game last Friday.
"I'm thankful to the Mallards organization for having faith in my ability to do the job here," said Ruskowski, who sports a career record of 620-442-108, also working in the ECHL, IHL and UHL.
"I'm also thankful to our players for their hard work and dedication, and to the fans for their huge support. They made my job a lot easier with their great response to this team."
Ironically, the former Chicago Blackhawks captain was out of a job last summer until mid-August when David Bell resigned after one season for lack of payment by the former Mallards owners.
The last two summers saw CHL teams fold financially beneath Ruskowski, first in Laredo in 2011, and then Texas rival Rio Grande Valley last June.
Ruskowski and Wildfong are likely first-round foes, with their squads meeting if the CHL playoffs started today.
"I'm just so happy with what these boys did this season," said Ruskowski, the only player in major professional hockey to captain four teams, playing 999 games in the NHL and WHL.
"I think back to two days before the season started and they finally gave us the green light. All of the things we went through to be where we are now? My hat goes off to the kids. They really worked hard to get where they have to be, and I'm proud of them."
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