Originally Posted Online: Jan. 03, 2013, 10:28 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 03, 2013, 10:30 pm

`Rafter ride' tonight for Mallards `Stewie' -- Memories flood back with Flock retiring number

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By Steve Tappa, stappa@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Mizener
Former Quad City Mallards Player Glenn Stewart celebrates a goal during the team's 1999-2000 season. Stewart's number will be retired by the team during a ceremony tonight at the i wireless Center in Moline.

Gazing up into the i wireless Center rafters tonight, the hockey coach in Glenn Stewart will be unable to resist seeing a great game plan staring back.

"Add a goalie and another defenseman, and we'd be a pretty good line,'' the Quad City Mallards all-time goal-scoring leader joked ahead of joining fellow franchise greats Kerry Toporowski, Mark McFarlane and Steve Gibson in having their jersey numbers retired.

"We'd have it all in grit and toughness and scoring. It's an honor to be joining those guys. I'm looking forward to it.

"I don't know what my emotions will be. It's going to be an exciting moment for myself, my family and friends, so we'll see how I do with it, because I have a lot of people to thank and some stories to tell.''

Judging by Thursday night's dinner roasting Stewart, at The Lodge in Bettendorf, the only things No. 18 accumulated more than points during his four-season Mallards career were friends and anecdotes.

Stewart and former teammates Gibson, Howie Rosenblatt, Carl LeBlanc and Marty Fillion regaled Stewart's family and friends with tall tales deep into the evening.

"There literally was a story every day,'' said Stewart, who had 218 goals, 211 assists and 429 points in 251 games for QC, from 1996-2000. "We had such great chemistry and such a great group of guys. From the bus rides to Thunder Bay, to all of the practices and (on-ice) battles, we had some great times.''

The highlight, though, was winning back-to-back championships together in 1997 and '98, in the Mallards' second and third seasons as a franchise.

"The first one is always an amazing feat,'' said Stewart, who set still-standing QC season marks of 66 goals, 69 assists and 135 points that initial title season.

"Having never won a playoff game, much less never winning before at Flint, we went from them beating us 6-3 in Game 1, to us beating them in their place 8-3 in Game 2. That's when we knew this team is for real. That's when we knew we could perform when the chips are down.

"And then winning Game 6 of the series in overtime. That was a great moment because it was the first title we'd all won. Howie and Hugo (Proulx) and I all had been in a final in Greensboro a couple years earlier. We'd all gotten dispersed but (Mallards general manager) Howard (Cornfield) brought us all back together.

"Winning at home was awesome. The victory parade after the second (title) was incredible, too. I couldn't believe how many people were there on the waterfront. You tell some people that weren't here, and they also can't believe we played on TV. Or the arena was packed every night. Or people were in the building, just to watch it on closed circuit TV. That was crazy.''

The Mallards reached league finals the next two seasons with Stewart, but couldn't repeat that championship feat.

"It's so hard to win, much less back-to-back like we did,'' said Stewart, now the Associate Head Hockey Coach at Boston-area Merrimack College.

That's why the Mallards are kicking off a 15th anniversary celebration of those twin titles with tonight's jersey retirement.

A series of promotional nights the rest of this season includes a pair of game-worn jersey auctions, youth jersey and bobblehead giveaways, and the return of "Seats for Soldiers'' on Military Appreciation Night.

Along with the Central Hockey League agreeing to another season of ownership, and the addition of new president Bob McNamara, the Flock also announced Thursday the addition of five "College Nights,'' featuring dollar beer and hot dogs for the final five Friday home games of the season.

"Some good things are going around here again,'' said Stewart, now in his ninth season as a college coach. "It's so exciting for us old timers because we'd love to see those good days happen again.

"This is a place I know, if I ever needed a place to live, I could come back here. At my age, I'd still be playing here if I could because it's such a great place.''

Instead, Stewart will be content tonight to share the memories, with the family travel party including wife Bridget, their 3 1/2-year-old daughter Callan, and his parents. A brother, uncle and aunt also are expected by tonight.

"It's so nice the Mallards and the CHL are doing this for me,'' Stewart said. "We're so grateful because it's the chance for my family and friends to get together and remininsce about the good old days, and let me tell you, there's lot of them.''