After a breakup, sometimes it's good to try to remain friends.
Four years after the Quad-Cities' brief relationship with the American Hockey League came to an end, the Quad-City Mallards announced an affiliation agreement Tuesday with the National Hockey League's Minnesota Wild, and their AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild.
"We're proud to be associated with this great community, and this great organization," said Iowa Wild general manager Jim Mill in a news conference at the iWireless Center in Moline. "We're really looking forward to this relationship."
The agreement will allow for the Mallards to serve as a developmental program for Wild prospects throughout the season.
"We're hoping to provide an opportunity for the Wild to develop players here in the Quad-Cities," said Mallards president Bob McNamara. "We can be a resource for them when they have injuries and they need a player at short notice, we can get them up there within a few hours notice in time to play on the ice."
The Minnesota Wild, who have been an NHL team since 2000, are also affiliated with the Orlando Solar Bears out of the East Coast Hockey League. With the Iowa Wild set to begin their first season in Des Moines after moving from Houston, the Wild organization decided to also align themselves with a team that's more local.
"Geographically, it makes a lot of sense with the Wild's American League team now in Des Moines, just a few hours up the road and obviously Minnesota being a Midwestern team," McNamara said.
This is not the first experience the Quad-Cities has had with the AHL. After flirting with the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers, the area finally secured an AHL team in 2007 with the Quad-City Flames, the affiliate of the Calgary Flames.
The relationship didn't last long, as the Flames only lasted two seasons in the Quad-Cities before moving to Abbotsford, B.C. in 2009. The move was due to financial losses cited by the ownership group.
The Mallards returned to the Quad-Cities the following season but have faced financial difficulties since. Boston Pizza Restaurants took over ownership of the Mallards in June, and this is hopefully a first step in ensuring long-term security for hockey in the Quad-Cities.
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"There were some down years and some frustrating years in terms of some different groups that were in here," said McNamara, who took over as team president in January of last year. "I've always been a 'look out the front window' guy rather than a 'rearview mirror' guy, and I know (hockey) was successful many years ago, and there's a lot of passionate fans in this market that care about the Mallards, that care about hockey, and we're going to reach them and reach out to those people, and this helps."
While the agreement is in its infancy, McNamara thinks it will pay long-term dividends to the quality of hockey in the area.
"It's a recruiting tool," he said. "If a player knows that if he signs with the Mallards, at some point he may have a chance to play in the American League in Des Moines, whereas he could sign with another team and not have an opportunity to go up to the American League, he's going to sign with the Mallards. It's going to help us in the long run."
Similar to the Quad-Cities River Bandits, fans should get used to seeing new faces constantly donning the Mallards' sweater. As the Iowa Wild need players because of injury or recalls to the NHL, they will rely on the Mallards to fill the gaps. This means Ruskowski, who also serves as general manager, will be relied on to find new talent.
"That's going to be the work of Terry, to fill those roster spots," McNamara said. "There's other leagues where players may be available to us. There's also players coming out of college that may be available as well. You rely on your coach and GM to fill those holes as the holes are filled."
The Mallards don't take the ice until Oct. 19, when they host the Rapid City Rush. With the hockey season fast approaching, both teams have yet to hold tryouts and finalize rosters.