When the final horn sounded, members of the Quad-City Mallards were on the ice smiling and hugging, more jubilant than normal following a mid-January game.
For the first time in over a month, they were winners.
The Mallards rallied back from multiple deficits, scoring three goals in the third period at the TaxSlayer Center to grab a 5-3 win over the Indy Fuel, the team's first win since Dec. 2 and snapping a franchise record 13-game losing streak.
"It's obviously a good feeling," forward Sam Warning said. "I think a handful of guys had never been through this before. You wish it happens to nobody, but it happened to us, and we've just got go out there and work hard and compete."
Warning scored two goals and added an assist, his second goal giving the team a 4-3 lead in the third period and his assist to Tristan King sealing the deal later in the frame.
Warning's second goal gave the Mallards their first lead since Dec. 29 and ended a stretch of 291 minutes and 15 seconds of which the Mallards did not hold a lead.
"It's one of those things, it might be tough coming to the rink sometimes but you've just got to go to work, put your head down," Warning said. "Tonight I think everybody was on the same page, and the end result was a win."
It was a week full of turmoil, with head coach Phil Axtell not making the trip with the team last Thursday and owner Jordan Melville holding individual meetings with each player to try and get a better grasp on the direction of the organization.
Early on, it looked like all the adversity was going to continue as with just 14 skaters, the shorthanded Mallards fell behind 2-0, the second goal coming on a fluke play. A shot from Josh Shalla, who scored the first goal, bounced off the head of Darian Dziurzynski and over C.J. Motte into the goal at 17:54 in the first period.
Where that kind of goal might have sunk the Mallards in the last month, it instead woke the team up. Ryan McGrath answered back quickly, jumping on the puck at center ice, splitting two defenders and beating Etienne Marcoux to cut the lead to 2-1 just 69 seconds later.
"I think, having a tough last week, playing hard and not getting the results we wanted really motivated us this week," McGrath said. "Huge momentum swing. Being down 2-0 is nothing special so getting that one on the board was huge for the team and got the momentum going the rest of the game."
The spark lit by McGrath turned into a flame in the second period, exemplified especially by an open-ice hit from Kyle Follmer on Darian Dziurzynski that led the way for how the Mallards played the rest of the game.
"With everything that's gone on around here the last couple weeks, to come out and get a win ... I think you saw players tonight that played their game that haven't played their game in a long time," Follmer said.
Warning tied the game up, taking the puck all the way through the Indy defense and beating Marcoux with his 14th goal of the season, but the Mallards had one last hurdle to clear. Shalla gave the Fuel a 3-2 lead just 1:04 into the third period, but the Mallards again responded quickly as Gergo Nagy tied it up one minute later.
It was Motte's first start with the team since Dec. 15 as he spent the last month with the AHL's Iowa Wild. He made 40 saves in the win, his first with the Mallards since Nov. 26.
"It was a great team effort. We've been facing a lot of adversity here lately, and I can't be more pleased than I am right now with how they kept going," Axtell said. "I think we needed it."
The Mallards now have to turn the page quickly and avoid any emotional letdown when they host the Fuel again tonight at 7:05 p.m.
Grant new captain: Triston Grant is the new team captain, wearing the ‘C’ Friday that had been vacated when the team traded Chris Francis to Orlando last week. Grant was signed by the team on Dec. 20 and is a 13-year veteran who has played 11 games in the NHL in his career.
Paterson joins Mallards: Prior to the game, goaltender Jake Paterson was loaned to the Mallards by the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and goaltender Matt O’Connor was reassigned to the Admirals by the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
Paterson has played in one game this season with Milwaukee, making 34 saves and allowing three goals in a loss to the Chicago Wolves on Dec. 17. In five games with the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals this season, Paterson has gone 1-4-0 with a 4.64 goals against average and a .891 save percentage.
Last season Paterson was named to the all-ECHL second team while playing with the Toledo Walleye.
O’Connor went 0-4-2 with a 5.12 goals against average and a .53 save percentage in six games with the Mallards this season.