One month ruined what could have been another strong season for the Quad-City Mallards.
Really, it was more like 48 days.
The Mallards were just 1-13-2 in that span, which lasted from Dec. 3 through Jan. 19. Things were bad. Really bad.
But for as maligned as the Mallards rightfully were during that stretch, what they've shown since is worth commending.
Since an 8-2 home loss to Kalamazoo on Jan. 19, the Mallards are 10-5-1, a .656 winning percentage, which extrapolates out to 47 wins over a full season. The Mallards won 40 games last year, their most since 2006.
Without those 48 days, the Mallards are 18-15-2, a .543 winning percentage that would have equaled 39 wins over a full season, and very likely another playoff appearance.
"Obviously December was tough but it's behind us and we've done a lot of good things in that locker room and in practice, preparing the right way," forward Brayden Low said. "We're coming out fast as of late and guys are doing the right things, we're preparing the right way and I think some teams are taking us a little bit lightly. Some teams come to Quad-City, we're in the bottom part of the standings but we're not the team on paper, we're better than a last-place hockey team."
When the Mallards were at their lowest, owner Jordan Melville met with every member of the team, and came out of it wanting to see three things for the rest of the season — trust, loyalty and respect.
This stretch is showing just that, and what's perhaps most impressive is the team is doing all this without its leading goal-scorer. Sam Warning has not been with the team since Feb. 2 after signing a professional tryout agreement with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda. The team is 7-3-0 in his absence.
Tristan King has eight goals and two assists in that span. Gergo Nagy has four goals and eight assists. Matt Pohlkamp has three goals and six assists. Alexander Kuqali has three goals and three assists.
"Guys are holding themselves accountable," head coach Phil Axtell said. "Ever since Jordan's message of playing for community, his family, the Mallards, for me, guys really took a hard look in the mirror and said, all right, let's go. They're trusting it, there's more respect and loyalty.
"Those three words hit home for those guys."
It's also helped to have C.J. Motte back in net. Over those 48 days of losing, largely without Motte, the Mallards allowed 4.61 goals per game. They're allowing 3.63 since. Motte is leading the way, having gone 6-2-0 with a 3.09 goals against average and a .924 save percentage since returning from his last AHL stint.
That included making 60 saves in a shootout win over Fort Wayne two weeks ago.
"There's a different comfort level with C.J. in net," Low said. "It's obvious to the fans, we definitely feel we're comfortable and he gives us a chance every night to win. We know that if we get scored on once or twice, he's going to give us a chance to be in the game the whole time."
Right now, the team is looking one game at a time, one goal at a time. They've climbed out of the league's cellar but aren't looking ahead at trying to make a late playoff run.
They also aren't interested in thinking about what might have been.
"Right now, all we're doing is looking at the next game. Everybody can do the 'If this happens and that happens,'" defenseman Jake Bolton said. "It's pointless ... in this league, at this time of the year, things start to get hinky because teams start to look at the standings, they might sit back a little bit coming into games or start to feel comfortable. You've got to push that all aside and all we're doing is focusing on the next day, whether it's practice or a game. Focusing on each game at a time and each shift is what got us here and that's what we've got to stick to."
Warning nets first AHL goal: Warning scored his first career AHL goal last Friday in the Barracuda's 5-4 overtime loss to the Stockton Heat. In six games with the Barracuda this season, Warning has scored one goal on seven shots while posting a minus-5 rating and two penalty minutes.
Mariners name coach: The Maine Mariners, who will begin play in the ECHL next year, named Riley Armstron as their first head coach. Armstrong has served as an assistant coach for the Wheeling Nailers the past two seasons.
Players of the week: Tulsa Oilers forward Garrett Ladd was named the Sher-Wood Hockey player of the week after scoring three goals and adding five assists in three games for the Oilers. Reading Royals goaltender Branden Komm was named the CCM goaltender of the week. Komm, who played one game for the Mallards this year, went 2-0-0 last week for the Royals, posting a pair of shutouts and making 60 combined saves.
This week: The Mallards play three games in three days this week in Indy, Thursday at 6 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 6:35 p.m. These are the last meetings of the year between the two teams. The Mallards are 4-4-0 against the Fuel this year.