The puck gets airborn as Cincinnati's Winston Day Chief and Mallards Gergo Nagy battle for the puck, Friday, December 29, 2017, during first period action at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline.

A little older and a little wiser, Gergo Nagy wanted another shot in North America.

Nagy had spent the last two years playing hockey in Europe but knew he wanted a little more, perhaps another look from the AHL or a strong continuation of his career in the ECHL.

"Looking back on my last ECHL season, I thought maybe I should have stayed another year, but I chose European hockey with my family there," Nagy said. "I just want to give it a last shot for myself because life’s short, and when I’m going to think back in 20 years, I might be mad at myself if I didn’t try it again."

Nagy chose to rejoin the Quad-City Mallards, the team he made his North American debut with in 2013. The first Hungarian player in team history returned last month, hoping to help the Mallards regain their form.

So far, it hasn't taken, as the team has lost 11 straight, nine since Nagy returned, but he thinks there's still potential on the team, despite the results.

"It all starts in the D-zone," Nagy said. "If we have a good D-zone, we’re going to have chances. We have potential here. We have three or four pretty good lines for offense, and I think if we correct those mistakes in the D-zone, little details in our zone, it’s going to open up space for our faster players.

"They didn’t forget how to play hockey. We’re going to work hard, and we have to turn it around."

Nagy had a big year in his first time playing in North America as a 24-year-old. He scored 20 goals and added 34 assists in 64 games with the Mallards and also played two games in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves.

The Mallards had a strong season, making it to the Central Hockey League conference finals before falling in seven games to eventual champion Allen.

Nagy left for the ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings the next year, scoring 18 goals and adding 36 points. After that, he chose to go back to play in Hungary, where he spent the next two seasons.

But with the desire to return to North America strong, the run the Mallards went on four years ago left an impression.

"We had a really good team here, we made it to the semifinals, almost made it to the finals — we lost Game 7 — so I enjoyed my time here. The fanbase is unbelievable," said Nagy, now 28.

Mallards head coach Phil Axtell didn't have any personal experience with Nagy, joining the team as an assistant the season after Nagy left, but after the loss of Chris Francis to an injury prior to the season, he was on the lookout for any centers who could help the team.

Nagy was at the top of the list, thanks in large part to director of hockey operations Jon Piche, who was the team's athletic trainer back in 2013.

"I had a great connection with the staff here. The head coach isn’t the same, but J.P. is here, and we kept in contact through the years, and I had a great time here in Quad-City," Nagy said. "We talked here and there throughout the years but started having serious conversations in early October."

Nagy and the team had an agreement early in the season, but immigration issues kept him from joining the team until last month. He has taken time to get used to the smaller North American ice, with just two assists in his first nine games, but his addition helps with the depth of the team.

Players have had to play out of position throughout the season, and the trade of captain Chris Francis doesn't necessarily help that problem, but with the return of Tristan King from injury, Axtell is hoping to find the right combination that can lead to wins on the ice.

"When guys can play roles they’re comfortable with, that they’ve got experience playing, it helps a lot. It’s more natural," Axtell said. "It’s like having the behind the scenes guy that puts a speech together, get up there and give the speech. It’s completely different. The guys have done it and the record is what it is, but I think guys have done a great job up front at playing a different role."


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times