Back in October, as the Quad-City Mallards became the last Central Hockey League team to open training camp, CHL commissioner Duane Lewis spoke confidently about the Quad-City market, stating that neither he nor the league was willing to give up on an area that had so much potential.
As the Mallards’ regular season came to a close on Sunday with the team on its way to the postseason, it was clear that the league’s belief was vindicated.
Q-C finished the year by becoming the sixth team in the CHL to crack the 100,000 fan mark for the season, a number that seemed improbable at best five months ago.
“It’s satisfying,” Lewis said. “It’s hope for other franchises that maybe aren’t there anymore or may be struggling, because not every team does very well. (But) you look at this turned in this direction, and why can’t here, here or here? Maybe a market that sat dormant for many years or maybe a market that is not working right now, changes can be made. For us, this is almost a poster child to say, ’Here’s what can change with a few of these adjustments.’ This, to us, is a huge deal.”
Lewis expects the positive momentum to continue as the Mallards head toward their first offseason in years where there is no doubt about whether they will return for next season. After what was unquestionably the most difficult summer for the franchise since it rose from the ashes of the Quad-City Flames in 2009, the Mallards possess both an experienced coach and president, allowing them to solely focus on building a winner and selling tickets.
“The momentum is going so well, and it hasn’t been there because there hasn’t been the continuity,” Lewis said. “We’re seeing, I think, a resurgence of the market. It’s nice to be in here on a Sunday and see the crowds like this, and watching from a distance, we’re pretty happy.”
Lewis said there is no urgency for the Mallards to find a permanent owner and re-emphasized that the league would wait as long as needed for the right person. Whether or not they have a new owner, the Mallards will return to a league that projects to have 12 franchises next year with the additions of St. Charles, Mo., and Brampton, Ontario. Lewis said that a 13th franchise is a possibility next year in Casper, Wyo., and the league could add even more teams after next season.
Of course, before that happens, there is the small matter of the Mallards’ attempt to win a championship this season. Despite the rough start to the year, the Mallards claimed the sixth seed in the 10-team CHL and will open the postseason against the third-seeded Fort Worth Brahmas on Thursday in Texas.
“For Terry to come in with not really much to work with, and certainly not a lot of time or a training camp, this is pretty impressive,” Lewis said. “Obviously, we’re very proud of the job Terry’s done here.”