Posted Online: April 01, 2013, 8:47 pm

Mallards Game 3 lineup bolstered

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By Steve Tappa, stappa@qconline.com

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Nick Buonassisi, Quad City Mallards.
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Bob Preece, Quad City Mallards
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Nick Buonassisi in action earlier this season. The Quad City Mallards signed the amateur out of the junior ranks as an emergency replacement for Central Hockey League Rookie of the Year Mike Hellyer, who will miss the rest of the playoffs because of injury.
Terry Ruskowski got more than his man Monday.

The Quad City Mallards coach bagged a pair of much-needed players with the Flock preparing for Game 3 of their best-of-seven, CHL opening playoff series with Fort Worth.

The biggest get, with QC down 2-0, was the Mallards' hunt for a defenseman to replace the injured Bob Preece ending in their own dressing room.

Preece, who suffered a Game 1 concussion in the first five minutes of last Thursday's 4-1 loss, was cleared to return to QC's top line. Hepassed his concussion baseline test upon returning home Sunday from Texas, and got back on the ice for practice Monday.

"That's a big sigh of relief," Ruskowski said. "That's the best possible scenario for us. He's a proven guy and doesn't have to learn on the fly. He's a guy that knows how to pinch (on defense). He moves well. He's a veteran who just knows how to play. He's definitely going to be an asset for us."

As expected Monday, Ruskowski also signed a replacement for CHL Rookie of the Year Mike Hellyer.

Forward Nick Buonassisi joins the Mallards after scoring 14 goals and totaling 34 points in 69 games this season with Canada's Brandon Wheat Kings of the major junior Western Hockey League.

Hellyer, QC's second-leading scorer, suffered a serious knee injury in the first five minutes of the opener, too, and is out for the remainder of the playoffs.

"I took him sight unseen," Ruskowski said about the 20-year-old Buonassisi. "I'd made several calls, but he was the only one interested in doing anything at this time. I needed a center ice man, and he fits the bill, so we're giving him the shot.

"I don't need anything flashy; I just need him to be solid, and this kid is my kind of player. He plays defense, he's not afraid to get physical and he passes the puck well."

The 5-foot-10, 188-pound Buonassisi has played the past five-plus seasons in the WHL, producing 60 goals and 171 points in 339 career junior games.

Buonassisi practiced Monday morning with the Mallards, and gets another crash course today before Wednesday's Game 3 at Moline's i wireless Center.

Buonassisi takes up one of the Mallards' two postseason roster spots reserved for amateur players.

"He did fine," Ruskowski said about the newcomer's first workout. "He picked up on things quickly. He showed he can play. Now practice is a lot different than a playoff game, and there's going to be an adjustment coming straight out of juniors, but we're going to throw him right into the fire, because I think he can handle it."

The addition of Buonassisi, and the return of Preece, helps to solidify QC's three lines of five skaters each.

The Mallards were forced to finish Game 1 with only 14 skaters, and were shorthanded again for Game 2's 3-2 overtime setback, even with undersized Gabriel Boutin-Gagnon filling in for Hellyer on the blue line.

The Flock had only five defenders for most of Game 1, and during the stretch of Game 2, when six are the normal compliment.

"It's too bad because that line of Hellyer, (Mike) Stinziani and (Shayne) Toporowski was playing so well going into the playoffs," Ruskowski lamented. "Hellyer was such a playmaker. But we have to adjust as best we can."

Over the weekend, Hellyer's injury forced Ruskowski to shake up QC's lines on the fly.

The biggest affect was shifting scoring leader Mickey Lang to center. The CHL MVP runner-up did score one of QC's three goals so far in the series after finding the net 41 times in 64 regular-season games, second-best in the Double-A circuit.

"Mickey can play there OK, but he's much more devastating using his speed on the wing," Ruskowski said. "If the defender stands up, he flies right by him, and if they slack off too much, Mickey makes the play from the blue line. So it's good to have him back in his natural spot."