Scott Mullen
Scott Mullen Talya C. Arbisser

Time was, basketball coaches such as Lute Olson and Lou Henson would stop by Scott Mullen's Dubuque home to break bread with his father, Bob, then basketball coach and athletic director at Loras College.

"He was a pretty well-respected coach," Scott Mullen said of his father, who went on to become an athletic director at Southern Colorado and LaSalle University. "Bobby Knight sent him a retirement gift."

So how does a son of basketball wind up as, perhaps, the new godfather of Quad-Cities hockey?

"I have been around it at a lot of different levels," said Mullen, who has worked at or managed arenas in Nassau County, N.J. Philadelphia, Hershey, Pa. and Long Beach, Calif. "When I saw (the game), I thought it was pretty cool."

His conversion to fullblown hockey fan is not the only reason Mullen, now the executive director of the i wireless Center, thought it uncool when it was looking last winter like the Quad-Cities would be left in the cold as professional hockey market.

But if factored.

"Every major sports arena needs an anchor tenant," Mullen said of his lead role in efforts to re-create the Quad-City Mallards. "It's good for the community. It's another dimension to the arena."

In January of last year, when he first got official word that the American Hockey League Quad-City Flames might not be returning, Mullen began working behind the scenes to find a professional alternative.

He first joined hands with Howard Cornfield and Beacon Sports Properties to pursue new ownership, then teamed with the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau to retain a fan base.

The latter effort, through, yielded about 300 potential season-ticket holders and 1,000 petition-signing, would-be Mallards fans.

With Cornfield and Beacon Sports, Mullen found Chris Lencheski and partner Eric Galler, who formed QCHT Inc., and officially announced the Mallards return at a July 1 media conference.

Cornfield said that only happened because Mullen kept the puck moving forward.

"There were points where both of us were ready to throw up our hands and say forget it," said the former managing partner of the first flock of Mallards. "It was only his devotion to completing the project that made it happen."

Working under a directive from the Quad-City Civic Center Authority to retain hockey as long as it made economic sense, Mullen promised four potential ownership groups free parking, a value concession menu and an outlay of no less than $25,000 to land a well-known band and create an outdoor festival to highlight a new team's home opener.

All three of those promises, as well as a brand-new crew of International Hockey League Mallards, will come home to roost today when Night Ranger takes stage at 4 p.m. and a Mallards vs. Fort Wayne hockey faceoff follows at 7.

Lencheski and his partner had options beyond the Quad-Cities. Determined to branch from motorsports promotions into minor-league professional hockey, they considered two arenas in Ohio and another in South Carolina.

Consultant Steve Ryan, former president of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, came back most impressed with what Mullen and friends were pitching.

"It would be a very fair statement to say that Scott's hard work - and the work he is going to do, this is an ongoing thing - really led us to be very comfortable," Lencheski said.

Cornfield, whose early Mallards outfits averaged 7,500-plus over a five-year span, is comfortable anointing Mullen as a full-fledged Q-C hockey hero.

"No question, he went above and beyond to keep hockey here," Cornfield said.

Mullen said that is because he thinks Q-C hockey has a future because of its past.

"The building had a reputation and the Mallards had a reputation," he said of the golden days of nearly a decade ago. "It's out there. It's do-able."