CINCINNATI — The Quad-City Mallards aren't winning, but at least they're starting to show some fight.
The Mallards lost 3-2 to the Cincinnati Cyclones, but more eye-catching was goaltender Adam Vay's one-punch knockout of his counterpart Michael Houser midway through the third period.
Vay — who practices mixed martial arts in his spare time — was hit with 19 minutes of penalties, including a game misconduct, bringing recently-returned C.J. Motte in to pitch a scoreless final nine minutes.
"It got a little spirited. I'd think frustration was probably building up and one thing led to another," head coach Terry Ruskowski said. "Somebody hit our defenseman hard behind the net and Vay just went after him. I don't like the situation but you have to have some sort of spirit or jump and everybody is flat right now."
The loss is the Mallards' fifth straight regulation defeat, their longest such stretch since January of 2010, when they were members of the International Hockey League. Their lead over Kalamazoo for the final playoff spot in the Central Division has been cut to five points after being 13 on Dec. 30.
The Mallards took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Jack Nevins in the first period, but Cincinnati rallied with three straight goals, including a shorthanded goal by Nick Huard in the second period. It's the sixth shorthanded goal the Mallards have allowed, tied for third worst in the league.
After Vay's fight, Nevins scored again to cut the lead to 3-2, but the Mallards couldn't tie the game after pulling Motte in the final minute.
Now, the Mallards are still looking for answers, and have more issues heading into their alumni weekend games with the Indy Fuel and Fort Wayne Komets. According to Ruskowski, Guillaume Gelinas, Donnie Harris and Sam Warning all sustained injuries in the game, though the extent is unknown. That further limits a roster that started just 15 players Wednesday night.
"I've got to get guys healthy and the guys that are playing aren't doing the job," Ruskowski said. "We put so much emphasis on them and they're squeezing the sticks so tight and they're not doing the job."
Ruskowski said he didn't start Motte — who rejoined the team after grabbing an AHL win with Charlotte Tuesday night — because the goaltender arrived in Cincinnati in the afternoon and wasn't mentally ready to start on such a short turnaround.