Ever since title-winning forward Jim McKenzie got promoted to Triple-A in early January, the Quad City Mallards have been seeking another locker room voice to join incumbent captain Darren McMillan and his other assistant captain, Mike Stinziani.
The Mallards finally named a replacement Tuesday, with second-year forward Jeff Lee earning the bump both with solid play this season and even firmer words of late.
Just in the last week, Lee found himself scoring a pair of game-winning goals as well as taking teammates to task for a less-than-stellar effort.
"I prefer to be a leader by example,'' Lee said ahead of tonight's visit by CHL leader Missouri. "But I'm speaking up more now, because we have such a great group of guys, who get along so well together, I want the best for them. This is the best team I've been a part of, so I don't want us settling for less.''
That's saying something.
In Lee's final year of college hockey two seasons ago, the University of New Brunswick won Canada's national title.
"We had an unbeaten team the year before, but got upset in the first round of the playoffs. Most of the guys were coming back, though, so we regrouped,'' Lee said. "We had a lot of fun, too, and we were accountable to each other. Our togetherness is why we won. The same thing is happening here.''
Lee has been helping foster those same feelings since arriving to the Quad City last summer as the future considerations payoff from a deal last season with Rapid City.
"I was a third-line player, the 10th forward on a veteran team, so I was fighting to get on the ice last season,'' said Lee, whose rookie campaign included only seven goals and 21 points in 55 games.
"If you weren't on the power-play unit, you didn't get too many opportunities, because we didn't score much. We were all about defense. I pride myself on being a good two-way player and working hard on defense, but I was excited when I got the call from (QC Mallards coach) Terry (Ruskowksi).''
Lee had never met the Mallards coach, yet knew well the reputation of one of minor league hockey's winningest bench jockeys.
Lee's older brother Aaron was an all-star forward for the CHL's now-defunct Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees from 2008-2012, playing under Ruskowski in 2011-12.
"From many conversations with Aaron, I knew he was a good coach, who really knows his stuff, and he's a demanding coach, who expects a lot out of his players,'' Lee said.
"But if you play hard, play defense and play the systems he gives you, you're going to get rewarded 10-fold. Who wouldn't want to play for the guy? He stresses balance, three lines that score, so I knew I'd get a fair shake here.''
In turn, Lee has done his fair share of shaking things up, helping push the Mallards into a fourth-place tie with the Double-A circuit's defending champ Allen, and into the championship conversation, mere points behind Missouri heading into the final six weeks of the regular season.
The 25-year-old Canadian rides a six-game point streak, scoring three goals and 10 points during that hot streak, while recording 17 points and 5 goals in the last 12 Mallards games.
Lee's far eclipsed his output last season, too, leading QC with 16 goals and is tied with Gergo Nagy for the team lead at 38 points. His plus-minus rating is +10, third on the Mallards and tied among the CHL's Top 25.
"I'm just a big guy who likes to use his size and skill to create scoring opportunities for others,'' said the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Lee. "Offensively, I like to take it to the net, get by the first guy and make the defense decide, do they jump out to stop me, or do they leave a guy wide open for a pass?
"I'm just a guy who will do anything I have to do so our team wins.''
Specials tonight: Winning Wednesday, with a Mallards victory earning each fan in attendance a free ticket to QC's next Wednesday home game (Feb. 26), courtesy of post-game party host T.G.I. Friday’s. The Harris Pizza Puck and Pizza Package also offers four lower-level ($55) or upper-level ($45) seats, plus a certificate for a free large single topping pizza from Harris.
Storyline: The Mallards (24-12-8, 56 points) are rematched with CHL leader Missouri (31-13-2, 64 points) three days after the Flock's four-game winning streak was stopped in the Kansas City suburbs, 5-2 Sunday. QC is 0-2-1 this season against the Mavericks, who are making their first of five visits this season. In all, Mizzo meets the Mallards seven times in the final 22 regular-season games.
Notes: QC is 8-for-26 on the power play in the last 5 games, and 12-for-41 with man-advantage goals in 8 straight contests, to climb out of last place in the league with a 14.1-percent power-play efficiency. ... QC placed forwards Mike Hellyer (14-day, lower body) and Thomas Frazee (7-day, upper body) both on the Injured Reserve list Tuesday.
Around the league: Missouri is 8-2-0 over the last 10 games, scoring a trio of 5-2 wins last weekend over QC and Allen (twice). ... Missouri's reigning CHL MVP, Sebastien Thinel, has 18 assists over the last 10 games besides finally becoming the sixth to 300 career CHL goals. ... The Mavs lead the league in goals for (3.67) and against (2.72), power-play efficiency (22.6 percent) and penalty kill (86.4 percent).
Next: In a four-games-in-four-cities stretch this week, the Mallards visit Tulsa (Friday), Wichita (Saturday) and Allen (Sunday) this weekend.
Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses. 1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000. 1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city. 1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association. 1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College. 1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.