Last week's financial upheavel for two-month-old International Hockey League expansion cousin Dayton didn't lessen Chris Lencheski's conviction that the IHL is the best place for his Quad-City Mallards.
At least for now.
But while the Dayton Gems were stabilized with a transfer of ownership a week ago, the first-year Mallards owner made it clear he won't hesitate to take his team to another league next year - perhaps even last year's Q-C hockey host, the Triple-A American Hockey League - if he decides it is in the Q-C market's best interest.
"We are in the IHL and for the foreseeable future I am in the IHL," Lencheski said, but he added, "I have not made any decisions as I am sitting here. A prudent business man wouldn't.
"What I will say is the Quad-City Mallards will make their decision for the Quad-Cities market and we will listen to our corporate sponsors and fan base."
Lencheski said a clause in a longterm lease agreement between QCHT, LLC, and the i wireless Center essentially would force him to look to another league next year if the IHL dropped below its roster of seven teams.
"The IHL knows we have that clause in our contract," he said. "I informed the Board of Governors once I was (alerted to) what was going on in Dayton that we have a different set of contracts and rules in the Quad-Cities.
"It doesn't mean we would imminently do it. It just means if we felt it was in our best interests to have conversations with other leagues, we would conceivably do it."
The league last week removed startup Dayton owners Rich Bruner and Ryan Yerrick and replaced them with an eight-person team of Dayton, Ohio, residents headed by the team physician and the widow of an original, 1960s-era Gems player.
Lencheski said that change of command, coupled with progress under first-year owners in Flint, Mich., lessened IHL concerns he had in mid-November.
But does that mean he is comfortable that the league is stable for the long term?
"I am comfortable the rest of the league will play every game that is scheduled (this year)," he said. "Yes. That I can say."
Lencheski deemed the reconstituted Mallards a success story after the Q-C market endured two financially turbulent seasons as the AHL Quad-City Flames.
Although the team's attendance numbers are somewhat skewed by the inclusion of a large number of unused tickets supplied to corporate sponsors, the Mallards attendance average of 4,146 ranks second in the IHL and earlier this year ranked 20th in all of minor league hockey.
Through seven home starts, the average is more than 1,000 fans more than the Mallards averaged over 40 home games last year.
Lencheski, who bought into the Q-C market and the IHL along with partner Eric Galler in late June, couldn't say if the club will turn a profit by year's end, but he said the franchise "wasn't built for the first year."
He also said the existing level of fan and corporate support would have to increase considerably before he could ponder a return to an AHL, where his budget potentially would double.
But, he said, "If the fans and the market speak to us to the level we would need to support that kind of team, then we will do whatever they tell us to do."
Leaving the IHL likely would include paying the league a financial penalty in the mid-six-figures, but Lencheski said, "A penalty is not going to make a decision on whether we stay or go."
Other next-season options could include other Double-A options, the ECHL or Central Hockey League.
But Lencheski said the best option of all next season would be an expanded, Midwest-based IHL, possibly one that included former AHL partners Peoria, Rockford and Des Moines.
"I have said before that I prefer the (IHL) business model," he said. "There are things that need to be fixed. But I think they are fixable."
MALLARDS THIS WEEK
Friday vs. Dayton
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: i wireless Center
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: It's the first meeting between the league's two expansion teams. .. Dayton is 10-9-3-0 under veteran coach John Marks. ... Goaltender Derek MacIntyre played 150:11 of shutout hockey last week, including back-to-back shutouts. ... Fellow goalie Ryan Mior last week was called to the AHL's Rochester Amerks and had 52 saves in two games, including 30 in a win Sunday over the Abbotsford Heat, who, of course, were the Q-C Flames last season. He is due back this week. ... Jonathon Ornelas leads the Gems in scoring with 8 goals and 7 assists. ... The first 1,000 fans through the gates will receive a stadium scarf.
Saturday at Bloomington
WHEN: 7 p.m. Where: U.S. Cellular Arena, Bloomington, Ill.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The PrairieThunder have lost three straight to fall into fifth place with a 9-7-1-2 record. ... Bloomington has collected five points in three meetings with the Mallards, but the Mallards have won the past two sessions. ... Q-C is 0-2-0-0 in Bloomington. ... Ryan Finerty, who had 4 goals and 10 assists for the Thunder, left the team this week for a team in Germany. ... Craig MacDonald is the league's top scorer who doesn't wear a Muskegon sweater. He is fourth with 12 goals and 13 assists.
Sunday vs. Flint
WHEN: 4 p.m. Where: i wireless Center.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Mallards trail the 6-12-1-2 Generals by two points in a race to escape the IHL basement. ... The Generals are 3-0-1-0 in their past four, following a 0-6-0-1 string last month. ... Rookie goalie Rob Nolan has been in net for all four games. ... Flint forward John Nori was named IHL Rookie of the Month for November. ... The Mallards have dropped their past two clashes with the Generals after winning the season opener. ... Flint is led in scoring by center Jamie Schaafsma, who has 9 goals and 10 assists. ... The Mallards are hosting a Teddy Bear Toss for Toys for Tots; the arena is offering $1.50 hot dogs.
Rookie goaltender not sure to play this week
Hip surgery in September made rookie goaltender Jerad Kaufmann available for an early December signing by the Quad-City Mallards on Tuesday.
It also might keep the former Nebraska-Omaha collegiate standout out of the goal this weekend.
Q-C coach Frank Anzalone said Kaufmann still is rounding back into shape after undergoing surgery to repair the injury he discovered during a one-game, post-collegiate ECHL stint in Bakersfield last spring.
"This goalie is pretty good,'' Anzalone said of the long-awaited replacement for the two-weeks-retired Sebastien Laplante. "He's pretty big. He's soft to the puck. He just needs to get his game back. He has been skating, but (practice this week) is the first time he has been in a competitive environment with shooters like this.''
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Kaufmann, 25, had planned to play in the Central Hockey League before he opted for surgery.
He was 45-38-14 with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .898 saves percentage over four college campaigns. He had four shutouts.
Anzalone praised the work of Kyle Jones, the second-year goalie who has started nine of the Mallards' past 11 games and would face a three-games-in-three-nights set if Kaufmann couldn't take a weekend turn.
The coach said a couple of more veteran goalies he was considering were injured last week, making Kaufmann the clear choice after a deliberate search.
A.J. DelBuono, who had backed up on an emergency basis, joined a Class A team in New Hampshire this week.
Harrison will return from injury this week
Idled by an upper-body injury the past three weeks, forward Terry Harrison will rejoin the lineup this weekend, Anzalone said.
"He seems to be around 85 to 90 percent,'' Anzalone said. "We waited the extra weekend so that this weekend would be real definite. It was painful to wait because I wanted him out there. But he wasn't totally ready. Now, he is.''
Owner: Flint ice had better be up to snuff
Mallards owner Chris Lencheski said he has put the league on notice that his team will not play on substandard ice again at Flint's Perani Arena and Event Center.
Mallards defenseman Chris Burke suffered a broken ankle in a Nov. 8 game at Flint, when his skate was caught between a board and the ice and he was simultaneously hit by another player.
The Mallards cited the ice conditions as a factor.
Two weeks ago, a game was canceled at Flint when the ice was deemed unplayable.
"I wasn't kidding,'' Lencheski said of his announcement to the IHL board of governors. "There's not enough tea in China for me to face a negligence lawsuit.''