After yet another offseason of ownership questions, i wireless Center executive director Scott Mullen
wasn’t ready to let the Quad-City Mallards disappear.
Neither was Central Hockey League commissioner Duane Lewis, even though the Mallards have been part of the league for only two years.
On Tuesday, their work culminated in an unusual agreement that ensures the life of the Mallards for at least one more season.
For the first time in its history, the CHL will take over one of its clubs, agreeing to fund and operate the Mallards for the 2012-13 season until a buyer can be found.
Lewis confirmed that the league is prepared to operate the team for the entire season if no buyer is found and will step aside if a suitable buyer comes forward.
“We fully believe in the market,” Lewis said. “We certainly wouldn’t be in this position if we did not. We haven’t been in this position before, but with the past history and proud history the Mallards have, we want to get it back up to the level it was at.”
According to a statement released Tuesday evening by previous owners Club 9 Sports, the group wanted to return for a second season in the Quad-Cities, but sustained “a large financial loss” and decided it could not continue without new capital or new investors. The statement also said that when new money did not come, the club faced the prospect of having to shut down the team before the CHL found an unnamed buyer, to whom Club 9 Sports sold its entire stake in the Mallards on Sept. 2.
“At the request of the league office, we remained silent so that the new owner could decide how and when to announce the ownership change,” the statement said. “However, despite having executed a purchase agreement, signed players, hired a team president, paid for player insurance, arranged housing and managed the club for a period of six weeks, the new owner abandoned the club at the last minute and became completely unresponsive to all parties. This unprecedented event has put all parties associated with the Mallards in a very difficult position.
“Over the weekend, it was decided that the best course of action was to allow the CHL to take over the club on an interim basis until a new, long-term solution could be found.”
The decision allows the Mallards and the league to take their time in finding a buyer. Since the departure of the Quad-City Flames, the Mallards have changed hands from Chris Lencheski to Eric Karls to Jon Pritchett and John Prutch of Club 9 Sports, with each taking over a few months before the next season.
Mullen and Mallards executive vice president Ryan Simmons both said that forced the team to accept the best deal it could from a new owner, rather than being able to select a good fit for the Mallards.
With the league backing the team, both are confident the right owner can be found.
“At this point, this is the best thing that could have happened to the organization,” Simmons said. “With the league taking over the team, the funding is stable and secure. We have an opportunity now to take our time and go through a true vetting process, not scramble for six or eight weeks like has happened time after time.
“(We can) be selective about which ownership group is brought in. We don’t have to take the first ownership prospect that comes sniffing around. We can say, ‘Is this guy the right fit for us?’ I think that puts us in a pretty good position.”
The first changes for the Mallards will come in the form of assistance from Mullen’s staff at the Moline arena. Throughout the offseason, the Mallards’ staff has consisted of two people — Simmons and director of communications Brian Lavelle.
Mullen and the i wireless Center plan to assist the Mallards in corporate sales, game operations and other aspects of running events until the team is able to hire enough people for a full staff.
“I’ll put my staff up against any staff,” Mullen said. “We know what we’re doing, so we’re going to help them any way we can so they can get back on their feet. Before, when the Mallards had their staff, we focused on our events only. We’re all going to chip in and make sure the Mallards can handle the volume coming their way. Ryan and Brian can’t do it alone.”
On the ice, Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski now has the ability to bring in players with the assurance that the team will play a full season.
Ruskowski does not yet have his full team on the ice, but with the league backing the team, he’s at least able to fully focus on hockey with the team’s season starting Friday night at Tulsa.
The first home game is Saturday night against Wichita.
“It was a long time coming,” Ruskowski said. “We got the word (Monday) night that this was going to happen, and it was good because I really feel good for the players. They’re the guys that sacrificed a lot to come here knowing that it could not go. They still hung in there and waited the storm out.”
Mallards alternate captain Jason Kostadine said that through the drama in the front office, the players have kept their focus on the ice.
“If you focus on what’s going on outside the rink, you’ll drive yourself crazy,” Kostadine said. “We have no control over what goes on outside the ice, so it was pointless to worry about it.”