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Quad-City Mallards forward Sam Warning (11) defends Cincinnati Cyclones Dominic Zombo (41) during a game last season. The two teams meet today at 9:30 a.m., their first meeting of the year.

Jeff Cook, Quad-City Times

Rise and shine.

While folks may be driving into work, settling in at their desk, or maybe grabbing their third cup of coffee today, the Quad-City Mallards will be on the ice, playing the Cincinnati Cyclones in a game scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m.

The early start time — 10:30 a.m. locally as the Mallards travel to Ohio to play at U.S. Bank Arena — is due to a field trip day presented by Mount Saint Joseph University. The time is inconvenient, sure, but a good way to grow the game by bringing school kids in to watch.

It's not the first time the Mallards have had an unorthodox start time. They hosted Tulsa at 1 p.m. on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last year and played a road game against Brampton in 2015 that started at 10 a.m. — and lost both those games. Since 2014, of their five games played before 4 p.m., the Mallards are just 1-2-2.

It's an important game as the Mallards trail the Cyclones by one point in the standings, so the team traveled to Cincinnati on Monday, trying to get mentally ready to go before lunchtime.

"We've got to try and make sure we get a good night's sleep, a quick turnaround," forward Sam Warning said. "But you take it like it's any other game, you've just got to prepare, go out and play 60 minutes."

It's a tough task for the Mallards, who played both Saturday and Sunday, with their Sunday game starting at 4 p.m., the first early start time of the season for the Mallards. But coming off a four-point weekend, which included a 2-1 overtime win over Indy on Sunday, gives the team confidence.

"Not everybody's used to the earlier start time," Warning said. "I thought we did a good job defensively and Ivan's playing great in net. It's fun to watch."

Meanwhile, there's not much head coach Phil Axtell can do other than make sure his players are as ready as possible when they hit the ice.

"Just got to be mentally prepared," he said. "We got off to a good start in our first 4 p.m. game so we've just got to be ready to outwork them."

It's the earliest Axtell has had to prepare his team for a game and doesn't know what new challenges this start time could provide.

"I don't know," he said. "I'll tell you afterwards."

All-star broadcast: The ECHL announced last week the 2018 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic will air on the NHL Network at noon Monday, Jan. 15. This is the second straight year the game will be broadcast on the network.

The league also changed the format for the event. Unlike in years past where the host team would play the all-star team, this year the event will feature four teams representing each of the league's divisions. Those four teams will compete in a 3-on-3 tournament.

League welcomes 100 millionth fan: The ECHL announced Friday night it welcomed its 100 millionth regular-season fan at the Kalamazoo Wings game against the Adirondack Thunder at the Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The league distinguished Kyle McGhan as the milestone, presenting him with an ECHL jersey with a "100,000,000" nameplate as well as ECHL 30th anniversary apparel and a league pass to attend any ECHL game this season, including the all-star game.

This week: The Mallards travel to Cincinnati to play the Cincinnati Cyclones at U.S. Bank Arena today at 9:30 a.m. This is the first of nine meetings this season between the two teams. The Mallards were 4-4-1 against the Cyclones last season.

The Mallards return to the TaxSlayer Center this weekend to host the Tulsa Oilers Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and the Kansas City Mavericks Sunday at 4 p.m.

Friday night is $2 Dogs/$2 Beers presented by 97X. 

The team will wear Vegas Golden Knights-themed jerseys both Friday and Saturday and then auction off those jerseys after Saturday's game to benefit the Genesis Health Services Foundation.

Sunday the Mallards will give away a trip for two to Las Vegas during the game. Fans can enter to win the vacation at each of the team's three home games. There will also be a postgame skate.

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Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times