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Mallards' Ruskowski devoted to coaching
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener/tmizener@qconline.com
Quad City Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski talks strategy with his team during a recent practice.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener / tmizener@qconline.com
Quad City Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski chats with one of his players during a practice.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener / tmizener@qconline.com
Quad City Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski, in the green John Deere cap, talks with some of his players before a practice.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener / tmizener@qconline.com
Quad City Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski takes a shot during a post-practice skills game with his players.
Terry Ruskowski claims the dueling titles of globe's greatest winner and world's worst loser.

Even in the 59-year-old's hockey-playing days, when NHL teammates were taking their wives on the town after setbacks or enjoying a beer on the team bus after a road defeat, Mr. Ruskowski was ruminating in misery.

"Winning, though,'' the Quad City Mallards coach said, "now there's something to get happy about.''

A quarter century ago, when the roller coaster of cheers and tears could have ended with retirement from a 16-year, big-league career, Mr. Ruskowski decided to descend even further into this world of wins and losses.

"I love to hate it," he said of coaching, a vocation where the committed famously are hired to some day be fired.

"When we're winning, it's the best job in the world. I don't like it as much when we lose, but I really don't know what else I would do."

The only hockey player to ever captain six pro squads tried living a bucolic family life in the Houston suburbs in the late 1990s.

After getting fired for the only time in his coaching life by the Triple-A Houston Aeros in 1996, Mr. Ruskowski joined a friend in a successful staffing business for three years in Houston.

"I left with a bitter taste in my mouth," said Mr. Ruskowski, who had teamed as a rookie with hockey legend Gordie Howe to make the original Aeros champions in the NHL's rival WHA in 1974-75 but only got a season-and-a-half as the coach of the IHL reboot.

"We made the playoffs the first year of the franchise," he said. "The second year was tough, though, because I had a new owner and general manager and wasn't in control of my roster. I had cancer within our team, and I wanted to get rid of it and couldn't. I got frustrated with the politics. Being set up to fail burned me for a long time."

Mr. Ruskowski rejected four offers to return to coaching before getting a call in 1999 from the Mallards league at the time, the UHL, to launch another expansion franchise in Knoxville, Tenn.

"Everything was great," Mr. Ruskowski said of his personal and professional life at the time. "But there just was something that kept drawing me back to coaching.

"I really missed the thrill of victory. I missed that feeling of getting on a bus after you beat somebody on the road. I missed the feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing you taught these kids how to win and be successful. I missed bringing home a winner to the community you're a part of."

Mr. Ruskowski accomplished the latter with CHL titles in 2004 and '06 during a four-finals, nine-season stint in Laredo, Texas. That matched the two titles he'd won as a WHA Hall-of-Fame player with Houston and Winnipeg (1978-79).

Now, one of the most-successful coaches in minor-league hockey history hopes to do the same with the Mallards and resurrect a long-dormant tradition of championships by the Double-A franchise.

"There's not a whole lot of days off in this profession," said Mr. Ruskowski, who is in his second season with QC and sixth stop in 19 seasons as pro hockey coach, 21 years and counting, including the Canadian juniors.

"The job is nights, holidays and weekends," he said. "When we go on road trips, it's really time consuming as far as the hours spent traveling, but when we're home, and the players get a day off, you're still coming in to prepare practice, getting ready for the next game, watching game tape, talking to (player) agents or getting caught up on all of the paper work."

During summers in the off season, Mr. Ruskowski returns home to Houston and allows himself only weekends off from the constant phone calls required to recruit.

"My job is all about details," said Mr. Ruskowski, who hit the 600-win and 1,200-game milestones in the last year. "The little things all add up to the wins or losses."

As has been the case since returning to coaching, Mr. Ruskowski also wears the general manager's hat with the Mallards. The self-described "Canadian farm boy" handles the on-ice product while working for another former player, front office veteran Bob McNamara, with QC's president worrying about the operation's off-ice, fan-in-the-stands details.

"That way, I've learned, if something goes wrong, it's my fault," Mr. Ruskowski said. "If I do a good job? Pay me. If I do a bad job? Fire me, and I'm OK with that."

More than a decade ago, his wife Carol and two daughters decided to settle in Houston after a dizzying dozen professional moves.

"Carol still jokes with me, 'Can you get hired in Boston? We haven't lived in that part of the country yet," said Mr. Ruskowski, who played from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and Texas to Canada, coaching at several points in between.

Despite the distance, the devoutly religious man remains close to his family.

Ironically, the former Chicago Blackhawks captain has been less attentive to his all-consuming career, as witnessed by not playing one more game professionally to reach the 1,000-game milestone.

Near the end of his playing days, Ruskowski also was in line for an NHL assistant's job with Minnesota, but coaching legend Herb Brooks and his staff were let go.

A few years later, NHL New Jersey interviewed him, but consolation honors were as close as he's come to coaching in the big show.

"It's a dream, and maybe the good Lord still has a surprise in store for me," Mr. Ruskowski said. "No regrets, though. I may not be rich from coaching, but I'm richer for all of the great people we've met over the years."







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1914 -- 100 years ago: Levi Cralle, former Rock Island county sheriff, had come from his farm near Mitchell, S.D. to visit friends in the city.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Work is being rushed on the new high school building in Orion to replace the one destroyed by fire last winter. Classes are being held in churches.
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(More History)