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Mallards nest: Q-C home now to some Canadian hockey players

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Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013 3:49 pm | Updated: 11:24 am, Wed Aug 20, 2014.

BETTENDORF -- Like most professional athletes in North America, hockey player Kerry Toporowski got to see most of his adopted country, jumping from sea to shining sea while chasing on-ice job opportunities and big-league dreams.

During a 15-year career, the pitstops included Chicago, Las Vegas and Indianapolis. The Canadian also played minor-league hockey in Spokane, Wash.; Adirondack, N.Y.; Birmingham, Ala.; and even Russia.

However, not until arriving in the Quad-Cities in 1997, with his young family in tow, did Mr. Toporowski finally feel he'd found a home with Joy, his wife of 20 years now.

"We immediately fell in love with the area,'' said Mr. Toporowski, who settled in Bettendorf while playing for the QC Mallards and became a community fixture.

"People are so friendly here, the cost of living is good and the schools are great. When we first came here, our daughter (Alexis) started kindergarten in the Pleasant Valley schools, and now she's a senior this year.

"My boys (Jake and Luke) were both born here. My business is here. And even though the kids all play (youth) hockey outside of the Quad-Cities now, they've never wanted to leave, and neither did we. All of their friends are here. All of our friends are here, too.''

Indeed, Mr. Toporowski is among a group of a half-dozen former Mallards who have remained in the area long after their playing days were over.

The Canadian transplants include Mr. Toporowski's former teammates Steve Gibson, Carl LeBlanc, Garry Gulash and Marty Fillion.

Minnesotan Andy Fermoyle also ranks as an import from the now 16-season local minor-league team.

"Some guys married girls from here. Some guys got jobs they love. 'Gibby' got both, building his (construction) business here, for instance,'' said Toporowski, who tries to get together with those holdovers a couple of times each month.

"What kept us all here is this is just a good area to raise a family. There's a lot of things to do here, but it's also easy to leave and get to a place like Chicago if you need to. It's centrally located, and the interstates are right out your door.''

Mr. Toporowski said those former Mallards building a permanent nest from their minor-league home is hardly typical in the hockey world.

"Before coming here, for instance, we were in Birmingham only for a couple of months,'' he said. "We didn't like the area, and we didn't like the team. But once we got here, we quickly figured out we were home.''

Mr. Toporowski's experience with the Mallards certainly played a factor.

The Flock won league championships in 1998 and 2001, appeared in two other finals (1999 and 2000), and won an astounding 50 games in six of the seven seasons Mr. Toporowski played here, from 1997-2004.

The 41-year-old is one of four players to have their jersey numbers retired and hanging from the rafters above the ice rink at Moline's i wireless Center.

"It was incredible to be part of this franchise,'' Mr. Toporowski said. "The fan support we had was awesome. A couple of years the average attendance was over 8,000 people (in a 9,000-capacity building). It was like playing for a mini-NHL team.It was fun.''

No wonder, then, the financial adviser founded a business while playing here in 2000, opening Ameriprise Financial branches in Moline and Davenport.

"Business has been very good over the years,'' Mr. Toporowski said. "My clients are Quad-Citians, so it only made sense to stay here, too, after my playing days were over.''

The transition was not tough, either, despite the differences between the Quad-Cities and Mr. Toporowski's boyhood home of Paddockwood, more than 1,300 miles to the northwest in the Canadian lumber land of Saskatchewan.

"Of course, I grew up playing hockey, where it's still not that big in the Quad-Cities,'' said Mr. Toporowski, who has worked to change that asa coach and board member in the infancy of the QC Youth Hockey Association.

"I come from a town of 200 people, so that's a big difference, too. The Quad-Cities is a much bigger community, but it has a small-town feel. You're close enough to Chicago if you want a fast pace, and you're close enough to the country if you don't.''

Those lifestyle logistics especially are important now to Mr. Toporowski since Jake, 14, and Luke, 11, are playing hockey for Chicago youth teams.

The boys are either practicing or playing in the Windy City four or five times a week. Alexis, 17, plays for a girls' team based in St. Louis. During the week, she practices with the local high-school boys' team, the QC Blues, and she meets her club for games on the weekends.

"There's a couple of other families doing the same thing, so we car-pool a lot, and then my wife and I trade off (driving duties),'' Mr. Toporowski said about managing the hectic travel schedules. "Their goal is to move on and play in college.''

And perhaps the kids will get into the family's first business of pro hockey. Mr Toporowski's younger brother, Shayne, is a current member of the Mallards.

"But no matter what happens,'' Mr. Toporowski said, "we have no plans of leaving. This is home for us now.''


-- Location: Northern North America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean on the east, North Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Arctic Ocean on the north, north of the conterminous United States.

-- Population: 34,300,083 (July 2012 estimate). No. 35 in the world.

-- Languages: English (official) 58.8 percent, French (official) 21.6 percent, other 19.6 percent (2006 Census).

Source: CIA World Factbook.

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