The Quad-City Mallards walked out of the locker room following last week's battle against the Tulsa Oilers bruised, bloodied and battered.
The holiday break couldn't have come at a better time.
Though the players had just three days off, getting an opportunity to go home, visit family and take their minds off hockey was just what they needed as they retook the ice Tuesday night for practice.
"I think it was huge," defenseman Kevin Gibson said. "Guys are banged up, it's always nice to go home and see your family, not think about hockey for a few days. Hopefully everyone comes back hungry and ready to win more games."
There's still 45 games left, but the team is currently in possession of a playoff spot and off to its best start coming out of the holiday break since entering the ECHL in 2014. The Mallards did lead their division last year with 33 points in 28 games, but this year have 34 points in 27, and their .630 winning percentage is 41 points higher than last year.
"I think we've had a couple good streaks and a couple bad streaks," Gibson said. "We've got a lot of time to really hit our stride."
There's still more than half a season left, but the team's schedule is ideal to move up the standings. The Mallards' strength of its remaining schedule is the easiest in the division, with opposing teams combining for a .491 winning percentage.
The improving health of the team should also help. Defenseman Donnie Harris is expected to play tonight after missing the last 13 games with an upper body injury, while Mike Wilson is still working to come back from an upper body injury that has forced him to miss five games.
Many happy returns: Saturday's game against Missouri is the third time in the last three years the Mallards will have played on New Year's Eve, which also happens to be head coach Terry Ruskowski's birthday.
The Mallards are 2-0-0 on New Year's Eve since entering the ECHL, and 2-1-0 under Ruskowski, their loss coming in 2012. All-time, the Mallards are 10-2-1 on the final night of the year.
Monfredo milestone: Mallards defenseman Mike Monfredo will play in his 300th career game with the Mallards when he takes the ice tonight against the Indy Fuel. Monfredo will be the sixth player to reach that mark with the team. He is top 10 all-time in franchise history in games played, assists (102), and penalty minutes (460).
Captain Chris Francis will play in his 400th career game tonight as well.
Panzarella fined, suspended: Mallards defenseman Andrew Panzarella has been suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount, the result of an unpenalized elbowing infraction in the third period of the Quad-City Mallards' 4-3 win over Tulsa last Friday.
Panzarella will miss tonight's game against Indy and Friday's game against Missouri.
Player of the week: Kalamazoo Wings goaltender Joel Martin was named the CCM goaltender of the week for the ninth time in his career, extending his own league record. Martin made 32 saves and stopped all three shootout attempts in the Wings' 3-2 shootout win at Toledo.
This week: The Mallards host the Indy Fuel tonight at 6:35 p.m. Each child or parent who presents a report card with an "A" at the iWireless Center box office will receive a free ticket to the game. The Mallards are 3-0-0 this season against the Fuel.
The Mallards then play a home-and-home series with the Missouri Mavericks. Friday's game is at the iWireless Center while Saturday's game is at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri. The first 1,000 fans through the doors Friday will receive free Mallards scarves courtesy of KWQC-TV6. The Mallards are 1-0-0 this season against the Mavericks.
Both games can be heard on WFXN 1230 AM and at myqcmallards.net.