The playoffs have been great proving grounds for some past members of the Quad-City Mallards as they came out of college.
Jordan Mayer, Joe Perry, Jake Baker and Matt Neal are all players who have cut their professional teeth in the postseason, and all have parlayed that experience into careers in various leagues.
This year Kyle Novak and Chris Leibinger get a chance to do the same.
Both rookies were on the Mallards' playoff roster submitted Monday and will be a part of the team when it takes on the Fort Wayne Komets in the first round starting Friday.
"If you get the opportunity to play a playoff game, you've got to show up and be ready to work hard and do what you're good at," Leibinger said. "You never have to get ready for a playoff game, you know you want to go to the rink at the beginning of the day and you want to get on the ice. I think the atmosphere will bring the best game you have out of you."
Leibinger was signed out of Michigan Tech University on March 30, four days after the Mallards signed Novak after his career at Western Michigan. Naturally a defenseman, Leibinger has been utilized as a forward out of necessity, with the Mallards missing several key pieces down the stretch.
He played the majority of his senior year at forward, so the transition wasn't a difficult one.
Novak has also seen plenty of ice time, and notched his first career assist in a recent game against the Alaska Aces.
The transition from college to pro is not an easy one, but both have shown plenty to earn a spot on the roster."He’s not a liability on the ice, both of them, actually," head coach Phil Axtell said. "A handful of those games we only had nine forwards so it was great to get them some time up front and get them prepared for the playoffs."
The comfort level is high from both players, and for good reason. Novak played in college with current Mallards Justin Kovacs and Nolan LaPorte, as well as with LaPorte and Grant Arnold in juniors with the Green Bay Gamblers. Leibinger has a brother enrolled at Palmer College of Chiropractic and was teammates in college with Mallard forward Alex Petan.
"Coming in here I can tell it's a close family and I think you can tell on the ice," Novak said. "It's helping me a lot. I didn't really know what to expect coming into it, but the older guys have helped me out and made the transition very easy for me."
As for the rest of the team, the playoff roster isn't much different from the one that won 40 games this season. The key will be the health of the team, as Arnold, Petan and Brady Brassart are all working to get back after missing time in the last month. All three skated in Monday's practice.
This week is about getting healthy and solidifying the little things that will make the difference against the Komets.
"We're looking for the type of play that won us eight in a row, that got us the 40 wins and 21 wins after all-star break," Axtell said. "Team-first hockey, Mallard hockey, pucks in, pucks out. Taking hits, making simple plays ... playing defensively minded hockey games."
ECHL awards continue: Toledo's Tyson Spink was awarded the John A. Daley Memorial Trophy Monday as the league's rookie of the year. Spink, 24, scored 33 goals and added 42 assists this season for the Walleye.
Allen Americans defenseman Joel Chouinard was named the AMI Graphics plus performer of the year after finishing the season with a plus-47 rating while Allen forward Chad Costello won the league scoring title with 122 points.