For some reason, January hasn't been kind to the Quad-City Mallards under head coach Terry Ruskowski.
For each of the last four seasons, the first month of the new year has been the worst month for the Mallards. The team is 16-18-8 in January under Ruskowski, the only sub-.500 month of the season. Ruskowski's winning percentage the rest of the year is .585. March is his best month with a .607 winning percentage.
"I think they should fire me in January and rehire me in February," Ruskowski said. "I don't know, maybe it's the schedule, the grind of three months of having three lines and getting on and off the bus. Maybe just the wear and tear of it all and when you get to February and March you realize where you're at and you really have to put it together to focus and make the playoffs again."
The rough Januarys have never cost the Mallards a playoff spot, but last year's slide made it as dicey as possible. On the first day of 2016, the team was sitting in first place in its division and in firm possession of a playoff spot, but a 3-6-2 month sent the Mallards falling to fourth place and out of a playoff spot.
Though the team went 18-10-1 in the last three months, that stretch cost the team, which ended up barely making the playoffs and was forced to face top-seeded Missouri, a series that ended in a four-game sweep to the Mavericks.
Nobody has a definite answer for the trend, not Ruskowski, nor defenseman Mike Monfredo, who has been with the team for all five seasons under Ruskowski and has seen the January swoon firsthand.
"I think it's getting to that midway point of the year where guys are getting a bit sluggish," Monfredo said. "You're battling for two months and you kind of hit a point where mentally you can't stay with it. You've got to dig deep inside you and work even harder to get through that point and that's when you start putting games together and get on that streak."
If the Mallards can figure out what ails them to start the new year, they're poised to make some noise in 2017. The team is 18-10-2, in fourth place and with a nine-point cushion for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. They have the easiest remaining division schedule, but that only matters if they can take advantage.
"I think if we just play the systems, play our game and control what we can control, we'll be just fine," forward Sam Warning said. "We'd like (January) not to be a reset button. I thought we've played tremendous the first half of the year, we have a great record, we're sitting right where we want to be."
Big day for Motte: C.J. Motte has been one of the top goaltenders in the league this year and the Mallards goaltender received two rewards Tuesday for his efforts.
Motte was named as the second goaltender on the ECHL all-star team the same day he signed a professional tryout agreement with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers. The Mallards signed Coal Valley native Jake Reed as their emergency backup goaltender.
The move comes after Charlotte's NHL parent club, the Carolina Hurricanes, called up Daniel Altshuller to serve as a backup after Eddie Lack was diagnosed with a concussion.
Motte has gone 11-5-0 with a 2.25 goals against average and a .931 save percentage this season for the Mallards. Ruskowski said he wasn't sure how long Motte would be with the Checkers, but expected his goaltender to be gone while the Checkers are on a Midwest road trip that includes stops in Chicago, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids and runs through Jan. 10.
For a complete list of the all-star rosters, see Page B6
Indy snaps skid: The Indy Fuel rebounded from their loss last week to the Mallards — their 14th straight — with a 3-2 win over Cincinnati on Dec. 30. The 14-game losing streak was the fourth-longest in league history. The Fuel haven't gained any momentum from the win, however, having lost their last two games.
Who's hot, who's not: The two-time defending champion Allen Americans are starting to round into form, going 7-0-1 over their last eight games to move into a tie atop the Mountain Division with 42 points. The Wichita Thunder have lost their last seven games and have scored just eight goals over that stretch.
Players of the week: Reading Royals forward Justin Crandall was named the Sher-Wood Hockey player of the week after scoring two goals and adding six assists last week.
Toledo Walleye goaltender Jake Paterson was named the CCM goaltender of the week for the second time in his career after going 3-1-0 with a 1.76 goals against average and a .940 save percentage in four appearances last week.
Wild weekly: The Minnesota Wild had a franchise-record 11-game winning streak snapped Saturday with a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wild are 23-9-4 and in second place in the Central Division with 50 points. The Iowa Wild head into 2017 with a 14-17-3 record, sitting in a tie for fifth place in the Central Division with 31 points.
This week: The Mallards host the Fort Wayne Komets today at 6:35 p.m., and the Cincinnati Cyclones Friday at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, the Mallards travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana to face the Komets at 6:30 p.m. The Mallards have gone 1-4-0 against the Komets and 3-1-1 against the Cyclones this season.
Wednesday's and Friday's games can be heard on WFXN 1230 AM. All three games can be heard at myqcmallards.net