For the second straight year, there will be no postseason hockey in the Quad-Cities.
An inconsistent inaugural season for the Quad-City Storm ends this weekend when the team hosts the Evansville Thunderbolts for a two-game set Friday and Saturday at the TaxSlayer Center.
There won't be much intrigue.
Both teams are missing the playoffs, at the bottom of the SPHL standings for most of the year. But unlike last season when the Mallards finished last in the ECHL, the Storm hold an eight-point cushion over the Thunderbolts.
Another difference from last year: the Storm plan to return, unlike the Quad-City Mallards, who folded up shop once the season was done.
"I've never been in a scenario where I haven't made playoffs professionally," first-year head coach Dave Pszenyczny said. "This is a learning curve for me. I've got to learn from it, and there's a lot of things I've got to do better for next season."
Despite the disappointing season, there's still things the Storm are playing for. A weekend sweep would secure a .500 record at home as the Storm are currently 10-12-4 at the TaxSlayer Center.
It's not much, but it's a goal the players want to attain.
"Right now, we're really just playing for pride. Playing the last two games at home, the fans here especially have been supportive of our team through all the ups and downs," forward Dean Yakura said. "We want to play hard for each other, and we want to play hard for this city. There's a lot of people who care about this team, and we want to show them they're important to us, too."
Yakura's season will end sooner than he expected. Two months ago, he was on the Peoria Rivermen, who secured the league's top record last week. Now, thanks to a trade, he'll be packing up his things after the weekend.
In that trade between two teams who quickly forged one of the league's fiercest rivalries, Yakura saw himself go from villain to hero, scoring a goal to beat the Rivermen five days after the swap.
"The day I got here, I just felt really welcomed, even though I was coming from a rival team," he said. "All the fans, all the players made me feel immediately like I was part of the family, and it made the transition a lot easier. ... This is my new team, and I want to work hard for them."
There are also some individual goals still left to play for. Shane Bennett and Tommy Tsicos are tied for the team lead with 27 points. Bennett and John Scully are tied for the team lead with 13 goals — though Bennett has 16 total goals and 36 points after starting the season with Fayetteville.
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The Thunderbolts are also one of three teams the Storm have winning records against, making it a little easier to get up for the weekend when wins are realistic.
"We want to come out and get a couple wins and end on a high note," forward Phil Bronner said. "It's frustrating. This is my sixth year pro, and I've never been eliminated this early. That's certainly been a mental battle for everybody, but we're certainly dialed in and ready to get a couple wins this weekend."
After the grind of six months, Saturday could be the light at the end of the tunnel for players, eager to rest and recuperate from all the losses.
But there are never certainties in an offseason. For some players, this could be their last game in the Quad-Cities, or they may decide to move on from the sport entirely.
"Summer's right around the corner, and you're going to have to start paying $20 for ice time," Bronner said. "You kind of appreciate everything a little bit more.
"No one's happy the season's coming to an end, even though it's been a struggle."
Whether it's playing for the fans, for pride or for love of the game, these next two games are also opportunities for players to earn jobs for next year.
Even though the Storm have been eliminated from the playoffs for more than two weeks, Pszenyczny has been continuing to evaluate his team and has already seen some players play themselves off the Storm next year.
"There's guys in that room that have pretty much written themselves off for next season, I'll just be blunt about it," Pszenyczny said. "Then I've got guys who are willing to block shots, kill penalties when we're down 5-1. Those are the guys that I want because they care."
Despite the struggles, it feels as if the Storm have laid down solid groundwork for the future.
They've become a strong presence in the community, donating over $131,000 to their charity partners this season. Team president Gwen Tombergs has been nominated for an Athena Award, which honors women who, by their example in their professions and communities, are inspiring other women to realize their potential.
Off the ice, the Storm are doing positive things. Considering how dire hockey's future in the Quad-Cities looked a year ago, that's no small feat.
"There wasn't going to be a team here at the beginning of the season," Pszenyczny said. "The boys have done everything off the ice correctly, now it's about on the ice."