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Quad-City's Chris Izmirlian celebrates his first goal of the season against Cincinnati on Sunday during first-period action.

During some games, blink and you might miss seeing Chris Izmirlian on the ice for the Quad-City Mallards.

But his contributions to the team's recent surge don't go unnoticed.

Izmirlian has spent much of his time since joining the Mallards from the Southern Professional Hockey League as the team's 10th forward. Despite spending several games seeing just a handful of shifts, the rookie and Yale graduate been a valuable addition, particularly on the penalty kill.

"He’s done it all," head coach Phil Axtell said. "He uses that Yale education and is really good on the penalty kill. He does his job, he’s not a liability, and I’m happy he’s here."

Since Izmirlian, 25, joined the Mallards, the penalty kill has seen improvement. When he joined the team, the penalty kill was only 78 percent successful, second-worst in the league.

With Izmirlian, the Mallards are killing off nearly 80 percent of their opportunities, and of the 10 goals they've allowed to opposing teams' power plays, Izmirlian has only been on the ice for two of them.

"I don’t want to say it’s just me — the team as a whole has gotten together, and we really wanted to. Special teams in particular we wanted to get better at, and if I can help on the penalty kill, it’s my job and I’m going to do it," Izmirlian said. "I’m a quicker guy so I think, based on our system, it works in my favor, so I’m glad I can help in any way that I can."

That's not to say the Highland Beach, Florida, native never sees a regular shift. With the Mallards battling some illnesses and injuries, Izmirlian saw a regular shift in the last two games, both wins.

Still, as is only natural, Izmirlian hopes to continue getting more and more playing time, but he's also happy with whatever role he's asked to play.

"That’s my mindset. Sometimes some guys’ minds wander when they’re in a game, but I try to keep focused even if I’m not playing as much as I would like to or time permits. I’ve just got to be ready whenever I can," he said. "Just try to watch the puck and think about what you would do in that situation, what other guys can do better or what they did really well and apply that to your game."

It's not an easy role to play.

"It was tough for me," Axtell said. "I didn’t PK, but there were years where I didn’t play a regular shift, and you get skipped over two or three shifts, then you get thrown out there. It’s hard to stay mentally focused, but for him to do that is huge."

Izmirlian joined the Mallards from the Macon Mayhem on Jan. 18 as the team was battling injuries and a short roster.

At the time, he was tied for third in the SPHL with 22 assists and tied for seventh with 30 points, which led league rookies at the time.

Izmirlian caught Axtell's attention thanks to the recommendation of current Mallards defenseman Jake Bolton, who went to prep school with Izmirlian.

The time spent in the SPHL helped Izmirlian — who started the year with the SPHL's Knoxville Ice Bears — join the Mallards ready to go, and he had quite a debut.

Izmirlian scored the game-winning goal in a shootout win over Kalamazoo in his first game, scoring the only shootout goal in the seventh round. The first person off the bench to congratulate him was Bolton.

"I had a weird feeling going into the game that something was going to happen like that," Izmirlian said. "I was just waiting for my name to be called, and when I heard it, I started laughing when I left the bench because I had a feeling. I went down and scored and then tried to carry it to the next game."

He did just that, scoring 69 seconds into the game the next night, his first career ECHL goal.

"It was a pretty cool feeling, get it out of the way early so it relaxed everything," Izmirlian said. "I think the shootout goal was pretty remarkable, that was pretty cool, just to come in first game and grab a big win for the team."

With Macon currently in fourth place in the SPHL, it's likely that at some point Izmirlian, who has one goal and two assists with the Mallards, will be sent back to help the Mayhem's playoff push.

But he's making enough of an impression that Axtell said he'd definitely consider making him a returning piece next season.

"The fact that he can play wing, he can play center and play 10th forward and only kill, and play a regular shift in Fort Wayne, he’s getting there," Axtell said. "You look down there and there have been guys that play half a year down there, or whatever it takes, and that’s it, they never go back. Hopefully he works hard and continues to do what he’s doing and after this year he never has to go back there."


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times