By now, the narrative is all too familiar for guys like Mickey Lang.|
With the NHL lockout turning two months old today, careers have been put into a holding pattern, especially in hockey's minor leagues.
NHL players sign overseas contracts or take away spots in the Triple-A. Out-of-work overseas players mix with those displaced AHL players looking for jobs. It's been nearly impossible for even the most promising players from the Double-A Central Hockey League to climb the sport's ladder.
"But you can't get down," reasoned Lang, the Quad City Mallards' hard-working forward. "All you can do is keep working and hope to God you stay healthy until your turn comes."
By all rights, Lang should be in Las Vegas tonight, playing for his homestate Wranglers in the ECHL, rather than taking the ice in Wichita, toiling for the Mallards for a second straight season.
The Flock's current scoring leader finished last season as the CHL's top star and top rookie in the final month of the regular season, posting 9 goals, 13 assists and 22 points in a dizzying 13-game finishing stretch in March.
"I had a good (training) camp, a good 2 1/2 weeks there," Lang said. "I hadn't been in Nevada in nine years since growing up there, but I still have a lot of family and friends in Vegas, and hopes were high I was going to stick.
"I traveled to Alaska. I played in four exhibition games. Things were looking good. But then the coach pulled me aside and said he had some AHL guys coming in. He said if it hadn't been for the lockout, I showed I belonged there."
That's why Lang is back with the Flock this season, not that new Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski is complaining.
In eight games, the 26-year-old is tied for the team lead in goals (6) and points (11). Included is a five-game point streak, with multiple points coming in three of QC's last four games.
Lang's been clutch, too, with a shorthanded score last Friday with 15 seconds remaining to force overtime and then a shootout with CHL-leading Allen.
"He's so good, so fast, so skilled," ruminated Ruskowski, a former Chicago Blackhawks captain and one of the CHL's winningest coaches. "He won't be here for long, so enjoy him while we got him."
Lang, in turn, is doing the same.
"There's no reason to sit around and cry about (a missed opportunity)," Lang said. "There's bigger tragedies in life.
"I'm back (playing) with some friends, and we've got a good group of guys here, for an organization and town I like, playing for a great coach. What's to complain about?"
Of course, countless players before Lang have pouted over such career disappointments.
"But I'm confident, I know I belong there," said Lang, among six 40-point scorers for the CHL's second-best offense last season. "And, I know from seeing what Brandon (Marino) did last season, I can have a big season here and really get my foot in the door."
Like Lang, Marino is undersized, but after toiling for two seasons with QC, finally enjoyed a breakout campaign last season.
Winning CHL MVP honors helped Marino secure a spot in the ECHL this season.
"Brandon became a good friend last season, so we talk all of the time," Lang said. "He's doing great up there and tells me all of the time he'll see me soon."
QC Mallards this weekend
Games: The Mallards visit Wichita's Intrust Bank Arena (7:05 tonight) and Bloomington's U.S. Cellular Coliseum (7:05 p.m. Saturday) before hosting Rapid City (4:05 p.m. Sunday) at Moline's i wireless Center.
Radio: WFXN-AM 1230 & wfxn.net. Pay-Per-View TV: myqcmallards.com (CHL TV). Twitter updates: @Ness_DA (Sunday only).
Special: Sunday is this season's first Family Skate Day presented by Genesis Health System. Fans can bring their skates and join the Mallards on the ice immediately after their game against the Rush.
Storyline: For the Mallards (3-3-2, 8 points), this three-game weekend is their third in the Central Hockey League season's first month. Wichita (6-4-1, 13), Bloomington (6-3-1, 13) and Rapid City (6-4-0, 12) all sit in front of QC in the 10-team circuit's standings. The Flock has lost four of its last five games, but two of those salvaged a point in the shootout, including a Nov. 2 setback at Bloomington. So far this season, QC is 1-1-1 against their neighboring rivals and 1-0 against Wichita, winning in an Oct. 28 shootout at the i wi. Saturday is the first meeting between QC and Rapid City.
News: The CHL and the Professional Hockey Players' Association has ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in a vote this week by teams and a majority of players. Main financial components such as the CHL salary cap, salary floor and the league’s minimum salary remained unchanged. The deal includes alterations to the injured reserve system as well as the Christmas break. Also continued is the player assistance and career enhancement programs, as well as off-ice health insurance for players and their families.
Notes: Since joining the CHL three seasons ago, QC has never won in four visits to Wichita. ... In five games since ranking among QC's late Canadian arrivals, rookie Mike Stinziani has 5 points (2 goals) and leads the team in plus/minus ratio (+5). ... The 45 saves and 49 shots faced in last Friday's shootout loss by QC's John Murray are this season's highs so far in the CHL. ... The Flock is 2-2 in games decided after regulation, winning their lone sudden-death overtime game but losing their last two shootouts. ... The Mallards lead the league in shorthanded goals (3), yet are last in the CHL on the power play (3-for-31 for a 9.7-percent success rate).
Around the league: NHL Phoenix forward Kyle Chipchura, playing in the Double-A circuit during the big league's lockout, was the CHL's Player of the Week for Arizona. Chipura leads the league with a +11 rating and has the Sundogs off to their best start since winning the President's Cup in 2007-08.
Next: The Mallards visit Texas on Tuesday before embarking on another three-game weekend with travel.
— By Steve Tappa, email@example.com