Maybe hockey isn't dead in the Quad-Cities after all.
In front of a loud and boisterous crowd of 5,402 fans, the Quad-City Mallards gutted out a 5-4 shootout win over the Kalamazoo Wings, finding answers time and time again to everything the Wings could throw at them.
"When it's this crowded and packed in this building, it's easy to play," forward Alex Globke said. "The fans get into it, give you the adrenaline you need and we all know it may be over for the season and the Quad-Cities, unfortunately, but we all still have to fight for jobs. We're still playing to try and give you guys the best we can give."
Globke scored the game-tying goal with 28 seconds left in the third period and Chris Izmirlian scored the winner in the sixth round of the shootout. Izmirlian's goal caused the Mallards to storm the ice and mob the rookie near the penalty box, celebrating a win, which came too infrequently this season.
"The fans were awesome tonight, even when we were down, they always kept us in it," Izmirlian said. "It's nice they came out for the last week and we could get a win for them. A thrilling win at that."
There were plenty of emotions following the win as the cheers filled the rafters. The players all saluted the crowd, and goaltender Eric Hartzell — who made 30 saves and stopped all but one of the shootout attempts for his third straight win — stayed out on the ice continuing to pump up the crowd.
"We talked about the nightmare of a season it was but also about not giving up and not calling it quits early, and we showed tonight it pays off," Hartzell said.
The Mallards expect a similar if not larger crowd tonight when they wrap up their tenure in the ECHL by hosting the Cincinnati Cyclones in their regular season finale.
"We've been saying the fans are here," head coach Phil Axtell said. "We've just got to find them."
The Mallards were shorthanded all night, starting with just 14 skaters and became even more banged up as Alexander Kuqali and Ryan McGrath both suffered knee-to-knee injuries, McGrath's knocking him out of the game in overtime.
Kalamazoo, meanwhile, is fighting for a playoff spot and kept coming at the Mallards, taking four one-goal leads throughout the game.
Considering the way the season had gone, it would have been easy for the Mallards to pack it in every time they fell behind. Instead, each time the Mallards answered, with Globke's goal coming with Hartzell on the bench.
Along with Globke, McGrath, Matt Pohlkamp and Stanislav Dzakhov all scored, with Dzakhov grabbing his first career goal late in the second period.
Hartzell believes that fight comes from the top.
"I've got to give credit to (head coach Phil Axtell). He's been the leader of this ship the whole way, and I feel bad for him. He's had a rough year for a coach," Hartzell said. "He's kept guys in it. Without him, we wouldn't be winning games, and who knows, this ship might have already sank. But he's done a great job of keeping the ship afloat, and you've got guys buying in and sticking with it, and it's fun to win in that fashion."