The Quad-City Mallards are celebrating their 20th season this year, a history that includes championships, raucous crowds, and a particular proclivity for pugilism.
Friday night’s game was a throwback to those rough-and-tumble Colonial Hockey League days, as the Mallards and Tulsa Oilers combined for four fights, 90 penalty minutes and a 4-3 Quad-City victory.
"My nose is bleeding, my mouth is bleeding, I don't even know what's going on ... it reminded me of juniors," Mallards forward Grant Arnold said. "That's what you want in a big home game. It did get a little bit out of hand but guys stepped up, made big plays, got in some tilts and did a good job. That's what you want to see out of a team especially going into break."
The Mallards have plenty of time to heal up, entering the holiday break with 34 points, sitting in fourth place in the Central Division and with five days off until they resume play.
Arnold was one of the players involved in the fighting, and his first period scuffle lit a fire under the team after Tulsa had scored twice to take a 2-0 lead. Chris Francis ended the period with a goal at the 19-minute, 42-second mark to cut the lead to 2-1.
"He's just a smart, steady player that plays the game the way it's supposed to be played," Mallards head coach Terry Ruskowski said of Arnold. "I love the way he plays ... he's just a smart, good player and goes out and plays the game hard."
The Mallards took control of the game with three goals in the second period. The team looked completely different in the second period, and dominated play from start to finish. Pavel Jenys, Alex Gudbranson and Michael Parks all scored for the Mallards as they took a 4-2 lead into the third period.
"Coach came in the locker room (after the first period) and kind of got on us about sticking up for each other," said Nolan LaPorte, who had three assists on the night. "If the coach is coming in and saying that, obviously we're not doing our jobs so that sparked us enough right there to get us out there, get our guys going. Obviously there were a few fights."
Shawn Bates cut the Mallard lead to 4-3 early in the third period but Adam Vay stood tall in net the rest of the way. He wasn't tested much of the night, only making 16 saves, but was big in the final three minutes after Tulsa pulled goaltender Jamie Phillips for an extra attacker.
After Friday night's game, the Mallards head into break confident they can start to make a run up the division after play resumes. Fights and scuffles aside, the Mallards have beaten every team in their division and feel when they play the way they did against Tulsa, they can match up with anyone.
"That's how good we can be," Arnold said. "This is a huge game going into break, giving the guys some confidence. I hope that we can realize when we play like that, we're a hard team to beat."