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Quad-City Mallards Nolan LaPorte (left) celebrates the goal scored by Grant Arnold (14) with only seconds left in the second period of Game 5 Saturday at the iWireless Center. The Mallards had a lot of youth this year, but won 40 games for the first time since 2006.

This year's Quad-City Mallards had you on the edge or your seats until the very end.

It wasn't until the final horn sounded with the puck in Pat Nagle's glove did the reality set in that the Mallards wouldn't find that goal that had seemingly always come when they needed it the most.

It's another disappointing end, another first-round exit, but the feeling after this loss is much different than in years past. This team did things that hadn't been done for over 10 years, winning eight games in a row, winning 40 games in a season.

The Mallards had five 20-goal scorers, and every night, coming to the rink, win or lose, the Mallards entertained.

The firing of Terry Ruskowski was a shock, and raised a lot of eyebrows, but Phil Axtell made the move the right one. Putting a rookie coach in place of a veteran could have backfired, but Axtell pushed the right buttons and got the players to play hard every night, not matter the result.

That was evident in Game 5. After putting forth so much effort in Games 3 and 4, it wouldn't have been surprising for the team to fall big and end the season. Early on it looked like the game was headed that route as the Mallards went down 3-0.

But the team never quit, fighting through so much to cut the score to 3-2, and give the fans at the iWireless Center hope for just a while longer.

There's a lot of promise with this team, but the key, like so many other seasons, will be who returns. Players will move on, to different organizations, different leagues, different countries, but some will stay, and maybe more if Axtell gets a contract extension. The players genuinely seemed to enjoy playing for him, and that can be big in deciding where to play next year.

If the core of this team returns, and Axtell has a full offseason to recruit and sign players he wants, this team could start making noise in the playoffs. It doesn't feel like the Mallards are as far off as they were in mid-January, and a bounce or two here or there could have had the team moving on instead of packing their bags.

There's not much more to say as the season ends, but in a league where players come and go all the time, the players on this team felt like they truly embraced being a Mallard, and showed it all the way until the end.

That's the kind of unity that the Allens and the Fort Waynes exhibit on a yearly basis, and if this is just the start, the Quad-Cities could get to witness a lot of fun in the coming seasons.


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times