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Spring of '98 brought 52 days of pure magic

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Flint's Chad Grills catches the Mallards' Travis Tucker with an elbow to the face during Game 2 of the UHL championship series in 1998.

A timeline of the Quad-City Mallards' and Quad-City Thunder's championship runs of 1998:

March 22 — The Quad-City Thunder ends the regular season with a 114-108 victory over the Grand Rapids Hoops to finish with a record of 38-18. That's seven games better than any other team in the Continental Basketball Association.

March 23 — The Thunder prepares to play the La Crosse Catbirds in the opening round of the playoffs on just one day’s rest. "I don't like nothing about La Crosse," says Thunder point guard Jeff McInnis, a former North Carolina star. "I see them, and it's like Duke to me."

March 24 — Reserve guard Jesse Pate scores 20 points as the Thunder opens with a 99-95 victory over La Crosse at The Mark of the Quad-Cities despite some internal strife. League MVP Jimmy King pouts on the bench with a towel over his head after hardly playing in the second half and reserve forward Clifford Rozier is seen glaring angrily at head coach Dan Panaggio.

March 25 — Rozier leaves the Thunder and later is suspended by the team.

March 26 — Center Doug Smith collects 28 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists in a 98-86 Thunder victory in Game 2 of the best-of-five series. Pate adds 18 more points and King makes several big plays in the second half, but McInnis pouts on the bench over decreased playing time.

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The Thunder's Jimmy King pops a shot over La Crosse forward Ronnie Grandison during a 1998 playoff game.

March 27 — With La Crosse’s arena being used for a lawn and garden show, Game 3 is played in Viterbo College’s 1,600-seat R.W. Beggs Gymnasium. The Thunder thoroughly dominates the Catbirds to complete the sweep with a 106-85 victory. Alvin Sims leads with 22 points but Matt Steigenga adds 19, McInnis 18 and Pate 17.

March 28 — The Quad-City Mallards lose on the road to the Muskegon Fury 6-5 in a shootout after losing to the Flint Generals the night before, denying the Mallards a chance to break the United Hockey League record for wins in a season. They finish 55-19, including a 12-1 record in shootouts.

March 29 — Pate sinks two free throws with four tenths of a second remaining to give the Thunder a 90-89 victory over the Rockford Lightning in the opening game of the best-of-five semifinal series at The Mark. The game includes 29 lead changes.

March 31 — The Thunder continues its roll with an 85-83 conquest of Rockford at The Mark. McInnis scores 20 points and nets the winning points on a running jumper with 24 seconds remaining.

April 3 — The Mallards open the playoffs with a 3-1 loss to the Madison Monsters at The Mark. Former Mallard Darryl Gilmour makes 44 saves. Meanwhile, in Game 3 of the CBA semifinals, former Iowa State star Jeff Grayer scores 30 points as the Lightning rebounds to defeat the Thunder 99-81 at the Rockford MetroCentre.

April 4 — Darryl Gilmour makes 41 more saves to help Madison again defeat the Mallards 3-1, putting Quad-City in a quick 2-0 hole. The Mallards were 11-3 against Madison during the regular season. Even worse, the Mallards lose enforcer Kerry Toporowski when he breaks a finger while punching a Madison player.

April 5 — Rockford ties the CBA series at two games apiece with a controversial 94-92 win at the MetroCentre. Sims fires in a 25-foot jumper at the horn, but official Gary Zielinski waves it off. There was no video replay to check in those days. "He was waving before (Sims) caught the ball," Panaggio complains.

April 6 — With the semifinal series down to a deciding Game 5, McInnis implores Q-C basketball fans to come out and support their team. "I have never been on a team that had so many great players on it and had so little fan support," says the point guard.

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The Thunder's Byron Houston gets hacked while going to the hoop by Adrian Caldwell of the La Crosse Bobcats in the first round of the CBA playoffs. Houston ended up being named the finals MVP when the Thunder won the title.

April 7 — In a game featuring 24 lead changes, the Thunder finally gains control in the middle of the fourth quarter and holds on for an 86-80 victory to advance to the CBA finals. Byron Houston collects 15 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots to delight an energized crowd of 3,172. "We've had bigger crowds, but I can tell you that 3,172 people were really into this one," center Barry Sumpter says.

April 8 — Steve Gibson breaks a 1-1 tie less than eight minutes into the third period and the Mallards rebound to claim a 4-2 victory over Madison in Game 3 at Dane County Coliseum.

April 11 — In Game 1 of the best-of-seven CBA finals, the Thunder runs into an untimely cold spell. They make just six of their last 26 shots and end up losing to the Sioux Falls Skyforce 95-92 at The Mark. "I don't think it was as much their defense as it was our offense," Jimmy King says. The Mallards also suffer a distressing defeat as they lose to Madison 4-3 despite outshooting the Monsters 49-18. The win gives Madison a 3-1 series edge.

April 12 — With one period remaining in Game 5, the Mallards are on the brink of elimination as they trail Madison 3-1. Then something clicks into place and they reel off four goals to win 5-3. The game has its share of ugliness as the Mallards’ Mark McFarlane knocks out Madison’s Randy Holmes with an elbow and the Monsters’ Jan Vodrazka draws a game misconduct for head-butting Andy Faulkner.

April 13 — Matt Steigenga sinks two free throws with 4.8 seconds remaining to help the Thunder defeat the Skyforce 82-81 and even the CBA final series at a game apiece.

April 14 — The Mallards survive and extend their opening series to a seventh game by pounding home five goals in the first 25 minutes. They barely hold on to defeat Madison 5-4.

April 15 — Defenseman Brad Barton scores a goal 5 minutes, 28 seconds into overtime and the Mallards advance with a 3-2 victory over Madison in front of a wild crowd of 8,520 at The Mark.

April 16 — The Skyforce jumps back on top in the CBA series with a 94-93 victory over the Thunder at Sioux Falls Arena. King misses a contested 8-foot jumper with a second remaining that could have given Quad-City the win. There is more dissension in the Thunder ranks as Jesse Pate refuses to go into the game when Panaggio calls on him in the second quarter. And Sims, the CBA rookie of the year, sustains a broken hand.

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McInnis Hudson

The Thunder's Jeff McInnis defends Troy Hudson of Sioux Falls during Game 4 of the 1998 CBA finals.

April 18 — King and McInnis provide most of the heroics as the Thunder rallies from a 16-point deficit to defeat Sioux Falls 108-106 in Game 4 of the CBA finals. McInnis finishes with 36 points and nine assists while King scores 10 of his 27 points in the last three minutes and adds seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Back home at The Mark, the Mallards open their semifinal series by blowing a 5-1 lead, then pulling out a dramatic 6-5 overtime conquest of Muskegon. Bogdan Rudenko scores his second goal of the game late in the first overtime.

April 19 — Sioux Falls shoots 76 percent from the field in the first quarter, bolts to an early lead and holds on for a 107-95 victory over the Thunder in Game 5. Q-C gets to within 86-83 on a Pate putback with about eight minutes to go before the Skyforce pulls away.

April 20 — Muskegon scores four goals in the second period, resulting in the pulling of popular goaltender Sergei Zvyagin, and the Fury claims a 6-3 victory in Game 2 of the Colonial Cup semifinals at The Mark.

April 21 — Backed against the wall with no margin for error the Thunder responds by pummeling Sioux Falls 107-85 in Game 6, forcing a deciding Game 7. It’s a close game until the Thunder puts together a 24-2 scoring run to open the fourth quarter. Sioux Falls coach Mo McHone and leading playoff scorer Victor Page both are ejected as the Skyforce makes it clear what they think of the three-man officiating crew. "We'd take Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Jose Feliciano over those guys ...’’ Sioux Falls forward Stacey King says. “And they're blind."

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Thunder players Jeff McInnis and Jesse Pate celebrate after winning the 1998 CBA championship.

April 22 — Five players score in double figures as the Thunder takes control in the final minutes to claim a 92-88 victory in Game 7, winning the franchise’s second CBA championship in front of a home crowd of 4,502. McInnis has 18 points and 11 assists, and makes eight free throws in the final 34 seconds. Houston has his fourth double-double of the finals, collecting 19 points and 14 rebounds while being named the series MVP. “It took a whole team to win,’’ Houston says. “It took the coaches. It took the fans. It took everybody to win this game."

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The Thunder's Jimmy King holds his Continental Basketball Association MVP trophy while standing next to the CBA championship trophy during a celebration rally at The Mark of the Quad-Cities.

April 24 — In another tense battle at Muskegon’s L.C. Walker Arena, the Mallards eke out a 4-3 win and take a 2-1 series lead when captain Travis Tucker finds the net with a long, bouncing shot with 35.9 seconds remaining.

April 25 — Jim Brown’s goal, again with 5:28 gone in overtime, sends the Mallards to a 2-1 triumph in Game 4 at Muskegon. Quad-City trails 1-0 before Wayne Muir scores with 54 seconds left in regulation to send the game to OT.

April 26 — The Fury stays alive in Muskegon with a 3-2 victory over the Mallards in Game 5. The much-despised Robin Bouchard launches a long shot from the red line that somehow trickles past Zvyagin for the winning goal.

April 29 — The Mallards put an abrupt end to Muskegon’s upset hopes and the Fury doesn’t take it well. Ryan Black scores two goals and Quad-City romps to a series-clinching 7-1 victory in front of 8,098 fans. Bouchard is slapped with a game misconduct in the first period and refuses to go through the post-game handshake line. Following the contest, Muskegon players hurl racial and ethnic epithets at Mallards players in The Mark parking lot and an all-out brawl erupts. Police finally arrive to break up the battle.

May 2 — For the second straight year, the Mallards face the hated Flint Generals in the Colonial Cup finals and they grab the upper hand with a 6-2 victory in Game 1. Mark McFarlane, Tom Perry and Stas Tkach all score in the first 2½ minutes of the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit.

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Flint's Kevin Kerr holds up his stick in celebration as teammate Nick Forbes gives him a hug after Kerr scored a goal in overtime to give the Generals a 5-4 win in Game 2 of the 1998 UHL finals. The Quad-City Mallards' Kerry Toporowski stands over them, ready to interrupt their celebration and precipitate a brawl.

May 4 — Flint’s Kevin Kerr scores the winning goal midway through the first overtime as Flint evens the series with a 5-4 win at The Mark. After the deciding goal, Toporowski incites a melee by skating into the midst of the celebrating Generals and "accidentally'' tripping over Kerr and another Flint player.

May 5 — Rick Emmett scores two goals and the Mallards regain the upper hand with a 5-2 win at Flint’s IMA Sports Arena.

May 7 — The longest game in United Hockey League history ends when Flint’s Jeff Whittle scores a goal 5:49 into the third overtime, giving the Generals a 3-2 victory. It’s a power play goal as Brad Barton had been sent to the penalty box with a marginal holding call. After it’s over, Barton angrily charges referee Jerry Pateman and is assessed a game misconduct and a gross misconduct.

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Sergei Zvyagin, Mallards

Mallards goaltender Sergei Zvyagin made 58 saves in one playoff game while helping Quad-City win the Colonial Cup.

May 8 — UHL commissioner Richard Brosal comes down hard on the Mallards for their Game 4 antics, suspending Barton for the remainder of the series and for the first 20 games of the following season. Assistant coach Kirk Tomlinson also is suspended and general manager Howard Cornfield is restricted to watching the remaining games from the suite level of the arena.

May 9 — Flint dominates in claiming a 6-2 win, giving the Generals a 3-2 lead in the series. Mallards coach Paul Gillis is so upset he makes his players watch a video replay of the game on the long bus ride back to the Quad-Cities.

May 11 — The Mallards launch 52 shots and force another Game 7 with a 6-2 victory in front of a screaming sellout crowd of 9,494. "We had to let it all out,'' says Jim Brown, who scores his 13th goal of the playoffs. “We had to play desperation hockey.’’

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Ryan Black gets hugged by a teammate after scoring the winning goal in overtime in Game 7 of the 1998 Colonial Cup finals.

May 14 — When the Mallards won the championship the previous year, the player wearing No. 14 scored the winning goal in overtime and it happens again. Ryan Black finds the net about nine minutes into the extra period to set off a wild celebration at The Mark. On a night when the final episode of the popular Seinfeld series is airing on TV, a total of 10,145 people cram into the arena with more than 400 of them watching the game on a closed circuit telecast in an adjoining conference room.

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Mallards defenseman Carl LeBlanc shoots video as he rides in a convertible during the team's championship parade in 1998.

May 15 — The Mallards are treated to a victory parade that begins at The Mark and winds its way through Moline and Rock Island before finishing at the President riverboat casino in Davenport. Among those riding in open convertibles is the popular Toporowski, who has announced his retirement from hockey. "If you are going to retire, this is the way to go out," he says.

-- Don Doxsie, Quad-City Times

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