During his short stint with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League in the 2007-08 season, Justin Chwedoruk could see that David Bell had the intangibles needed to be a successful coach.
Bell was an assistant at the time, and Chwedoruk recognized that his belief in an up-tempo system and aggression made him the kind of coach he would want to play for if the opportunity arose. So when Bell called him during the offseason and asked Chwedoruk to return to the Quad-Cities and join the Mallards, the speedy Canadian jumped at the chance.
His second tour of duty with the Mallards has gone just about as well as the first.
Five years after averaging almost a point a game for the UHL version of the Mallards, Chwedoruk has been even better for Bell's edition, scoring 32 points in 33 games and helping the Mallards develop one of the stronger attacks in the CHL.
"I enjoyed it here in 06-07, and when I saw Bellsie was here, I thought it would be a great time and a great fit to come back here," Chwedoruk said. "It's proved to be. We've had a great team and a good, hard-working group of guys that are having some success."
Chwedoruk has been a large part of that success, which is why Bell targeted him when he took the Mallards job in the offseason.
Bell wanted a speedy forward who would constantly attack whenever he was on the ice, which perfectly described Chwedoruk.
"He's pretty much the definition of the identity I want the team to be," Bell said. "He's tenacious, hard-working and on the attack. He sets the work ethic in practice and in the games, and he's a big, big piece of our identity as a hockey team."
Perhaps Chwedoruk's biggest contribution to the Mallards can be seen in the play of Brandon Marino. From the moment Chwedoruk signed, Bell knew he was going to construct a line around the two diminutive forwards, using their speed to frustrate opponents.
The pairing was an instant success. In 36 games, Marino has 24 goals, surpassing his total for his first two professional seasons combined.
"I've played with the guy all season, and we play well together," Marino said. "A lot of times, he's the first guy on the puck. He gets it to me and our linemates and has a knack for extending a shift. I think he's been a huge part of my success."
The same has been true when Chwedoruk has lit the lamp. Of the veteran's 11 goals, five have been assisted by Marino. The impact their styles have had on the Mallards is obvious, as other players such as Jared Brown and Sean Flanagan have found success when paired with Chwedoruk and Marino.
"He's the epitome of how our team wants to play," Marino said. "He's fast, in your face, speed, speed, speed. That's what Chewie is."
It's what he was the last time he was here, when he was one of the younger players on a Mallards team that fell in the first round of the playoffs. He's one of the veteran voices now, but otherwise, things are much like they were last time.
"There are a lot of similarities," Chwedoruk said. "Both are hard-working teams. Ultimately, I've had a similar experience with both teams playing on a line that's clicked through most of the year."
However, the teams are different in one crucial way. Chwedoruk believes that this time, the Mallards have the look of a contender.
"I think this year, we're more of a skilled team," he said. "That (2006-07) team tried to win, but I think we have that little extra edge. We have an opportunity to do something special this year."