Subscribe for 17¢ / day

When he became the owner of the Quad-City Mallards, Jordan Melville hoped to bring a championship back to an area that was spoiled early on with three of them.

Instead, five years later, he's leaving with at least $4 million less in his bank account and perhaps a little more perspective on what it takes to make a minor league hockey team truly successful.

"There's things I'd do differently but I wouldn't not do it," he said. "If I could do it again, I'd do so many things differently but I enjoyed every moment of it."

Melville was nothing if not confident he could make the Quad-City Mallards work. Back in 2014, he told the Quad-City Times, "With the proper management, this should be fine."

That looked to be true when the team hired Bob Hoffman to be its executive vice president in 2015. In one season with Hoffman, who had served as the director of operations for the Central Hockey League for seven years prior, the team saw its attendance increase from 3,913 to 4,369.

Hoffman left after one season to become the team president of the AHL's Tuscon Roadrunners and the Mallards' attendance dipped down to 3,928 last year.

That void was never really filled, and things went south from there.

At some point, Melville needed to truly invest in his team. The team's commercial presence has always been light, with the occasional TV spot or newspaper ad but was never what it needed to be to grab the eye of a casual fan or the interest of a newcomer.

The in-game experience needed to be changed. Anybody else sick of cowbells and kiss cams?

The Mallards also needed to be more involved in the community. Dan Beauchamp was the team's manager of community relations but he left before the 2016 season and the team's community involvement took a noticeable dip. It takes more than going to elementary schools once a month to convince the general public that these players are people they should become invested in.

These are things an owner can notice when he's constantly around, but not when he's 3,000 miles away in Vancouver.

Still, the distance isn't necessarily an issue if there's a strong presence in the front office to lead the team. But Bob McNamara wasn't providing the type of leadership needed for a young team with a rookie head coach in Phil Axtell. Things fell through the cracks, which eventually turned into chasms and when Melville decided to fire McNamara, he left the team without a leader.

It wasn't until a tumultuous 13-game losing streak and Melville was forced to fly in to have individual meetings with all the players that it became noticeable the owner was taking an interest in learning about the market he had hoped to thrive in. By then it was too late to salvage the season.

Still, Melville seemed adamant he was going to stay committed to the Mallards and up until recently, that conviction didn't seem to waver.

The news about Darryl Porter's health, that his pancreatic cancer has returned, is tragic, and it's understandable that Melville's emotions could have changed significantly.

But even Melville admitted that by the end of it all, paying $1 million a year for a product he barely gets to enjoy is hardly worth it.

And it's hard to blame him.

If there is to be hockey in the Quad-Cities next year, the next owner needs to learn from Melville's mistakes, but also take note of his successes.

Melville should be commended for having the guts — and the pocketbook — to keep the Mallards alive, both in 2012 and in the five years following.

When Melville and the CHL took over the Mallards in 2012, the team was essentially dead in the water. The Mallards were waiting on equipment and insurance and some players had trouble with their immigration. Training camp started nine days late but somehow the team made the playoffs, thanks in large part to the coaching job done by Terry Ruskowski.

That run helped convince Melville hockey could work in the Quad-Cities and he bought the team five more years. Four of those ended in playoff berths.

Melville paid off debts he never owed, carryovers from the carousel of owners that came before him. He helped bring ECHL hockey to the Quad-Cities, the best level of hockey in the area since a brief stint in the AHL. But he still couldn't capture the glory of the early days, when the Mallards captured the hearts of many, not enough of whom stuck around.

"I feel bad for the fans," forward Alex Globke said. "They've been fans for 23 years and it's definitely not easy to see a team go. Fortunately, we don't know the future. You never know whether someone may buy the team or bring it back.

"Hopefully there are brighter days ahead."


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times