The Quad-City Mallards are limping into the playoffs, and after a barrage of bad news this weekend, might be on their last legs.
First, the Mallards lost leading scorer Jeff Lee to a lower body injury on the first shift of the team's 3-1 loss to the Missouri Mavericks on Sunday. Coach Terry Ruskowski said Monday that he still had no indication as to the severity of the injury or how long Lee would be out.
Second, the Mallards found out that the player they'd been counting on to give them a late-season boost, Aaron Lee, Jeff's brother, would not be able to join the team after his European team, the Tilburg Trappers, lost in overtime of game five of the Dutch Eredivisie finals. Lee would have been a welcome offensive addition to the Mallards. He put up 117 points in 56 games with the Trappers this season.
The Mallards had signed the older Lee prior to the CHL's European signing deadline on Feb. 10, but those players are obligated to finish out their European seasons before returning to America and CHL rules stipulate that a player must play in at least three games prior to the start of the playoffs in order to be eligible. The Trappers' loss, coupled with a date change to the Dutch playoffs, means that Lee would not be available until at least March 28, after the Mallards' third-to-last game against the St. Charles Chill.
"They changed the date," Ruskowski said. "So we lost him."
Third, the Mallards lost two players to the American Hockey League. Defenseman Nicholas Rioux was called up to the Mallards' affiliate, the Iowa Wild, and goalie Ty Rimmer — who was a unanimous selection to the CHL's all-rookie team Monday — was called up to the Oklahoma City Barons.
"We don't have any call-ups for the last two months," Ruskowski said. "Now bam, two in one day."
This is the second call-up for both players this season. Rioux earlier played in six games for the Wild. Rimmer played in three games for the Barons, going 1-0-1 with a 2.65 goals against average and a .930 save percentage.
Ruskowski didn't indicate a plan to sign any players prior to the Mallards' game Wednesday against the Allen Americans, meaning that equipment manager Drew Kitts or athletic trainer Jon Piche may be asked to suit up as an emergency backup goaltender. St. Charles had its equipment manager, Mark Roof, dress and see playing time as an emergency goaltender on Jan. 31.
"We've got to play shorthanded for Wednesday, then I don't know what I'm going to do for (the weekend against) St. Charles," Ruskowski said. "I'm going to have to find a goalie somehow, some way."
Ruskowski thinks Rimmer will return for the playoffs, which begin next week, but could not comment as to how long Rioux would be gone. The Mallards have played the second half of the season without veteran forward Jim McKenzie, who has been up with Iowa since Jan. 10 but has not played since suffering a sprained ankle on March 2.
"Once he gets better and (Iowa's) out of the playoff (race), he's coming down to us," Ruskowski said.
In the meantime, Ruskowski is looking at prospects finishing up their junior and college careers to hopefully come in and give the Mallards a spark.
"What did I do to deserve this?" he said. "The first part of the season went so smooth without a glitch, then all of a sudden, this last quarter has been a nightmare, and I don't know why. Nothing is working out."