Originally Posted Online: Jan. 03, 2013, 4:09 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 03, 2013, 7:45 pm

`Next season' guaranteed for Mallards

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By Steve Tappa, stappa@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Scott Mullen, Executive Director of Moline's i wireless Center, (right) shakes hands with the newly announced team president, Bob McNamara, at a press conference Thursday, January 3, 2013, at the i wireless Center. The Mallards also announced the CHL will fund the franchise for one more season and named Jim Kersten as director of corporate sales. McNamara played hockey for the Rochester Americans, Buffalo Sabre's American Hockey League affiliate. He worked as the assistant general manager for the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the IHL and served as the director of hockey operations and general manager of the Grand Rapids Griffins of the IHL.

For the first time in Scott Mullen's eight years locally, the Executive Director of Moline's i wireless Center won't be worrying about the future of Quad Cities hockey.

The Central Hockey League made sure of that Thursday by extending both its lease agreement with Mullen's building through next season, and introducing minor-league front-office veteran Bob McNamara as the new president for the Quad City Mallards.

With the downtown Moline arena's support, the 10-team Double-A circuit assumed control of the beleagured local franchise for this season in late October from a non-performing new owner.

Mr. Mullen hailed Thursday's dual moves as a sure sign the Mallards are heading in the right direction as the CHL and building continue to seek a long-term owner for the team.

The CHL is the fifth owner in five seasons for the local hockey club, with the Mallards hastily revived after the demise of the Triple-A QC Flames following the 2008-09 season.

``Starting to plan for next season the season before is something that's never happened before in my entire time here,'' Mr. Mullen said. ``We've been living year-to-year and rebuilding every year. Now we don't have to start all over again. Now we're moving forward with certainty. It makes everyone's job easier, and not just in attracting future ownership.

``I've talked to a couple of interested parties already, but everybody's in a wait-and-see mode, including us. We're not going to just jump at the first person who expresses interest. We've been forced to do that in the past, but I've never had the chance to shop it around. We've been out of business and saved at the last minute. Now we'll get a better caliber of ownership candidate.''

The addition of Mr. McNamara to Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski, one of the CHL's winningest coaches, and a former NHL captain, means any prospective owner has the perfect front-office and on-ice personalties in place, Mr. Mullen added.

Mr. McNamara spent the previous 16 seasons as a general manager in the Triple-A American Hockey League.

During a 15-season tenure in Grand Rapids, the Griffins won two regular season championships and five division titles, plus increased attendance in four of the 51-year-old's final five seasons.

Last year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the 1983 Notre Dame grad and former AHL goalie oversaw the 2012 AHL Outdoor Classic, a game that set a Canadian AHL attendance record of 20,565.

``We've got the best of the best in terms of management for any team in this league,'' Mr. Mullen said. ``We have an NHL guy and an AHL guy, and they are veterans, not first timers. So come May when it's time to start building a team for next season, between these two guys, were going to be able to open some doors that haven't even been in reach for a long, long time.''

The Mallards boast one of minor-league hockey's greatest winning traditions.

From 1996-2004, the Flock claimed three league titles, appeared in six finals and won 50-or-more games seven times. The Mallards also averaged 7,223 fans per-game during those eight seasons.

However, average attendance has dipped to 3,347 per game in the past seven seasons combined of the Mallards' extistence, including 2,444 so far this season.

``I've been around hockey for a long time, and been to the Quad Cities on several occasions, so I know the passion of the fans here,'' Mr. McNamara said. ``I know the market, I know it's been successful, but I also know there have been problems of late. But I also know how important this team is to the Central Hockey League, and to this community, so I have a real high level of comfort entering this situation and believing we can turn things around.''

After tonight's jersey retirement for Mallards great Glenn Stewart -- to kickoff a 15th anniversary celebration for Stewart's back-to-back title winners in 1997 and '98 -- Mr. McNamara's to-do list is full.

In the short term, Mr. McNamara wants to revive the Mallards' community commitment with player appearances.

In the long term, the goal is to roll out season tickets by the end of this month after reviewing the team's ticket pricing.

Mr. McNamara also hopes to add another sales person, to help turnaround the league's worst corporate sales, while also meeting with QC's new Canadian-based ticket-consultants, Cosmo Sports, to ``get a better sense of what we need them to do for us,'' the new Mallards president said.

``There's a lot to do, but busy is good,'' added Mr. McNamara, also pointing to the expanded promotional calendar announced Thursday for the remainder of this season. ``I don't like sitting on my hands all day.''

Besides the promise of a brighter future, McNamara's hiring also marked a front-office shakeup for the Mallards.

The team's front-office head for the past year, vice president Ryan Simmons, severed ties by declining a new assignment within the organization. Simmons also declined comment beyond his Twitter feed.

``I'd like to thank all of the Mallards fans I've gotten to know and love over my time at the (organization),'' the United Township grad Tweeted after his second tour of duty with the team. ``Truly (you) are the greatest fans. Take Flight.''

Besides adding McNamara, the Mallards also rehired former QC River Hawks general manager Jim Kersten as the team's Director of Corporate Sales.

Kersten held the same role with the Flock during the 2010-11 seasons, and boasts nearly two decades worth of sports sales experience.

``I understand how important (the extension is) for the trust factor of this market,'' Mr. McNamara said. ``There's no more questions. There is going to be a team here. So now we can go out and talk to people with that level of comfort and get people excited about the product again, in terms of everything from season tickets to corporate sales.''