With no ability to improve their place in the standings, the Quad-City Mallards went into their regular season finale with the Missouri Mavericks Sunday looking to do two things — take momentum into the Central Hockey League playoffs and stay healthy.
Quad-City did the former, beating the top-seeded Mavericks 5-3 at the iWireless Center for its fourth-straight win, but failed to do the latter as leading goal scorer Thomas Frazee, top defenseman Nicholas Rioux and playmaker Gabriel Levesque all left the game with injuries.
"I just knew it," coach Terry Ruskowski said. "Every time it's a nothing game, something happens. You've got to be kidding me."
Two injuries may prove to be minor as Rioux and Frazee both left in the second period. Rioux suffered a laceration to the chin that required stitches and Frazee may have suffered a mild concussion. Ruskowski feels that both players will be ready for the start of the playoffs.
Levesque's injury, however, may be more serious. He left the game in the first period with a knee injury, and while an MRI is pending, Ruskowski fears that the injury may sideline Levesque for 4-6 weeks.
The injuries put a sour note on what was otherwise a well-played game by the Mallards. With both teams locked into their respective playoff matches and seemingly nothing to gain, Ruskowski reminded his players before the game what they were playing for.
"I said, 'We have people out there that are true, staunch fans.'" Ruskowski said. "'They pay your salary, they come out and support you ... they've been behind us the whole way, we play hard, yeah?' And everybody looked around and said, 'Yeah, we play hard.'"
And in front of 5,218 fans, the Mallards did play hard against a team they had struggled with all year, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Justin Fox and Mike Stinziani midway through the first period. Stinziani finished with a goal and two assists to finish out the season with 17 points in his last 14 games after struggling in the middle of the season.
"The season didn't go exactly the way I wanted to this year," Stinziani said. "It started off the way I did but the middle definitely wasn't what I wanted. I for sure ended it the way I wanted to this year and hopefully I can take this into the playoffs. That's what really counts."
Andrew Courtney scored at the 10-minute, 13-second mark of the first period and the two teams exchanged goals in the second period as the Mallards took a 3-2 lead into the third period. Missouri tied it up at the 2:00 mark of the third period but Jeff Lee put the Mallards ahead for good at the 4:04 mark of the third period on a shot that beat Mavericks goalie Erno Suomalainen as the net was knocked off. After a review, the officials ruled it a goal.
"It always feels good to score, the game-winner's just a cherry on top," said Lee, who finishes the regular season with a team-high 60 points. "I knew it was a goal, I was just hoping, (referee) Jake (Brenk) made a good call. It's a hard position, it's hard to see everything."
Matt Boyd added the final goal of the regular season and goalie Thomas Heemskerk made 25 saves to collect his fourth-straight win
"I don't think anything really changed, sometimes you get a bounce," said Heemskerk, who had lost nine-straight before this streak. "I was fortunate to get off to a good start (in a 2-1 win) in Allen and it kind of just carried over. Got the confidence back. Stop worrying about the score and playing the game the way it should be played."
The Mallards now turn their attention to Rapid City, a team the Mallards hold a 3-2-1 edge against in the regular season.
"We're just happy with where we're at," Ruskowski said. "They're all really good teams. I think we can beat them and I think they can beat us."
The playoffs begin in Rapid City Friday at 7:05 p.m.