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Quad-City Mallards goaltender Ivan Kulbakov (31) skates back and forth to stay loose during the first period of their game at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline on March 2. The team will cease operations at the end of this season.

Scott Mullen has long believed that hockey can work in the Quad-Cities.

Now the TaxSlayer Center executive director has to go to work to keep that belief a reality.

After Quad-City Mallards team owner Jordan Melville announced Tuesday he would no longer own the team after the season ends in April, Mullen said he is prepared to look for other options to keep the sport.

"We'll begin pursuing other events and other sports tenant options immediately," Mullen said. "We have to do what's best for the building and the community. It's entertaining, we've got good fan support, arenas always like to have sports tenants ... it's definitely something I personally want to see in the building."

If there is to be hockey at the TaxSlayer Center next year, it will not be in the ECHL.

League commissioner Brian McKenna said that even if the team were to be sold between now and the end of the season, the earliest the Quad-Cities could return to the ECHL would be for the 2019-20 season.

"For the future, it's hard to say. At some point we'd like to be back there," McKenna said. "It becomes an open market so from that perspective, anybody could move forward in the market for the 19-20 season and beyond in our league or any other league, for that matter."

That leaves the Southern Professional Hockey League as the only remaining realistic choice for professional hockey while the United States Hockey League could provide an amateur option.

The USHL is a junior league that has teams throughout the Midwest, including Dubuque, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.

If the SPHL is an option, the Peoria Rivermen can serve as a good example of what the league can offer. The Rivermen joined the SPHL in 2013 after eight seasons in the AHL, where they averaged 4,711 fans.

After averaging 3,506 fans in its first season in the SPHL, Peoria has averaged 3,980 fans in the last four seasons and has made the last two league finals.

"We're pursuing all our options and we'd love to make (hockey next year) happen," Mullen said. "If we can find the right situation."

Even though Melville has decided to no longer own the team, he does think that hockey can work in the Quad-Cities, given somebody with the right attitude going in.

"I don't believe they're going to be without hockey for very long," Melville said. "It is a great market, but I think it needs a new start, it needs a new vision, it needs someone to come in and maybe not call it the Mallards anymore. The market needs a new team. The Mallards have had their flight.

"The advice I would give to the new owner is start new. It's a great hockey town, they love the team, they love the sport but start baggage free."

Mullen doesn't voice the same opinion, citing the response to alumni reunion weekends, including one last year that drew a combined 13,288 fans for two games. He also noted the response to the Quad-City Flames, an AHL team that supplanted the Mallards for two years from 2007-09. The Flames averaged 3,279 fans over those two years. When the Mallards returned in 2009, they averaged 4,067 fans.

Mullen said the building owns the Mallards trademark and he would like to see the name continue in the future.

"It would be nice to get somebody in here and keep the name and Mallards' tradition going," Mullen said. "But we'll take it one step at a time."


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times