Mallards getting new owner; camp delays tied to deal

Originally Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012, 10:16 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 16, 2012, 7:13 am
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By Steve Tappa,

An already-late training camp start, compounded now by a five-day delay to workouts, bodes poorly for the Quad City Mallards' season-opener Friday at Wichita.

However, that rough beginning to the Mallards' 16th season, and 18th overall for professional hockey locally, is a rather small price to pay for a new ownership group.

According to multiple sources close to the local minor-league team, a financially checkered 17-month reign by North Carolina-based Club 9 Sports is over, with a new regime taking the reins Tuesday and finally getting camp in gear.

"Some players are in town now or coming into town, and we're wrapping up some immigration issues,'' said Duane Lewis, the commissioner of the Mallards' Double-A Central Hockey League.

"(New coach and general manager) Terry (Ruskowski) will be there finally by the morning. The new president is already there, or at least close, and I'll be there Wednesday to help with any lingering issues.''

Asked to elaborate on the new president, Lewis refused to confirm if that meant the Mallards were getting new ownership. Lewis also refused comment on Club 9.

However, former QC coach and general manager David Bell said the camp delay had everything to do with negotiating a solution when Club 9 walked away from the Mallards and nearly $400,000 in debt last month -- some of that money, he said, loaned by the 10-team CHL last spring to keep the team operating.

"Ruskowski is not yet (there) because he hasn't been paid yet and he has nowhere to live,'' explained Bell, who abruptly left the Mallards in August for the same reasons.

Efforts were unsuccessful Monday in trying to reach Jon Pritchett, Club 9's chief executive officer and managing partner. Scott Mullen, the executive director of the i wireless Center, the Mallards' home arena, also did not return messages.

The Mallards' vice president, Ryan Simmons, and the team's media relations director, Brian Lavelle, also were unavailable for comment.

One person sources said were connected to the new ownership regime is Dave Parochetti, the local owner of the Taco Bell franchises. However, Parochetti said Monday, "That's news to me. We're not in discussions. I have no idea where that's coming from.''

Ruskowski refused to talk about any ownership and compensation issues, but did offer he's happy to get going finally.

The CHL's other teams opened training camps a week ago Monday. QC's was supposed to begin last Thursday, including a pair of weekend exhibition games that were canceled.

After this weekend, QC is scheduled to play at Tulsa the following Friday before opening at home the final Saturday and Sunday of October.

"We're going to get this thing going in the right direction,'' promised Ruskowski, a former Chicago Blackhawks captain and one of the winningest coaches in CHL history. "It's been a long process. I've already lost a couple of guys. But who can blame them? They're trying to find a jobs.

"Instead, I am amazed at the loyalty of the guys who are sticking around and seeing this through. They've shown they want to be in the Quad-Cities and, considering all of the adversity, they are going to get every chance to play for this team until they've shown they can't.''

Ruskowski said premature exits were taken by three defensemen -- veteran Dustin DeGagne, rookie Chris Bailer and unrostered tryout hopeful Brian Lear.

Lewis added that eight of QC's 10 remaining Canadians still need to clear immigration, though U.S. officials could issue work visas as early as this morning.

"They are all on the same petition, so if one gets approved, they're all coming across the border,'' Lewis said. "So I don't anticipate a problem.''

Without those eight Canadians -- and the three defections -- QC's active roster has been reduced to 11 players.

The CHL demands teams skate a minimum of 13 players, with lineups due 48 hours before game time. But Lewis promised the league will be flexible in light of the Mallards' season-starting situation.

"We have a rule in case of an unusual circumstance like teams dealing with injury or immigration issues. They can add spots to their roster, especially when it's a one-game situation like this,'' Lewis said.

"We're working to make sure that that game is as fair and competitive as possible for all involved. It's not the start anybody wanted. But on the bright side, the Mallards are playing only one game this weekend.''

Still, the league does have a contingency plan, Lewis said. If the Mallards are unable to make Friday's trip to Wichita, a replacement team is ready to exchange that game for a date later in QC's calendar.

"I hope it doesn't come to that, and I don't think it will,'' Lewis said, refusing to name the replacement club.

"It's a last resort, but we have had to reshuffle the schedule before because of travel issues brought on by the weather, for instance. The nice thing is we have only six teams playing on opening night, so there is some flexibility there.''

The Wichita Eagle is reporting the replacement team is the Tulsa Oilers who are idle Friday and playing in Wichita on Saturday.

Luke Schuellein, Wichita's director of ticket sales, also refused to name the replacement squad.

The Mallards' turmoil adds to a tumultuous summer for the 21-year-old CHL, which saw a pair of Texas teams fold and three of the Mallards' former UHL teams leave for the ECHL, including league champ Fort Wayne.

A new owner would be QC's fifth in five seasons.

"We know there are still passionate fans there, and they've been through a lot. But better days are coming soon,'' Lewis promised. "They want to have a great organization again and we do, too. We took a lot of positive steps (Monday) and more are coming.''


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