Photos: Toledo Walleye; Chicago Wolves
The Quad City Mallards have released five players, including defenseman Mike Leone, who will retire to become a Mallards assistant coach, and forward Chris Francis, who did not take part in the Mallards’ training camp after suffering an offseason injury, as well as forward Sathis Soumelidis, defensemen Kristaps Bazevics and goaltender Kris Joyce, the Mallards announced today. The team also announced that forward Keegan Kolesar has been reassigned to the Mallards from the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves by the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights.
Leone, 29, joins head coach Phil Axtell and player/assistant coach Jamie Tardif on the Mallards’ staff. He steps behind the bench after sitting out last season due to injury. Leone last played in 2015-16 when he scored seven goals and added nine assists for 16 points in 62 games with the Toledo Walleye.
“Mike is a standout a person with an excellent hockey mind and after talking it over, we agreed this would be a great opportunity for him and great fit for the Mallards. He will be a tremendous addition to our coaching staff,” said Axtell.
In all, Leone registered 17 goals, 22 assists and 39 points in 127 career regular season games over three professional seasons across two continents. Leone spent two seasons in Toledo before being sidelined last year. Success has followed Leone throughout his career: he helped the Walleye to the Brabham Cup regular season title in 2004-15 and to the North Division crown the following year.
Leone rang up 14 goals, 26 assists and 40 points while playing 81 games in three years at Western Michigan University. In his first season- 2010-11- he won the team’s Most Improved Player Award as the Broncos reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years. The following year, Leone and his teammates won the first Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament title in school history and made a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the first time in the program’s history.
While coaching represents a new frontier for Leone, he has already learned from several top coaches. He played under Jon Cooper- now the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning- in the junior ranks for the North American Hockey League’s St. Louis Bandits while current Detroit Red Wings boss Jeff Blashill coached Leone at Western Michigan and Derek Lalonde coached him in Toledo before taking over the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild last season.
Francis was unable to pass a preseason physical examination because of an upper body injury suffered during the summer.
“It’s a very tough situation for Chris, who is a great guy and who has done so much for the team over the last year,” said Mallards coach Phil Axtell. “Unfortunately he won’t be able to get back on the ice until he has recovered from his injury and that could be a fairly lengthy process.”
Francis last season scored 27 goals and picked up 33 assists to total 60 points in 63 games for the Mallards.
Kolesar, a 20-year old rookie, last weekend played in the Wolves’ first two regular season games against the Texas Stars without recording a point.
Kolesar was acquired by the Golden Knights in June in a draft day trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Kolesar, who was originally selected by the Blue Jackets in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft with the sixty-ninth overall pick, was dealt to Vegas in exchange for a second round choice in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Kolesar turned professional after leading the Seattle Thunderbirds to the Western Hockey League’s Ed Chynoweth Cup championship last season. The 6-foot-2, 223-pound Winnipeg native scored 26 goals and added 34 assists for 60 points while picking up 101 penalty minutes in 54 regular season games before going on a playoff tear that saw him lead the WHL in points (31), finish second in assists (19) and tie for third in goals (12) while playing 19 postseason games.
Kolesar totaled 77 goals, 90 assists and 167 points along with 338 penalty minutes in 243 games over his four seasons in the WHL. Last spring’s finals appearance was the second in as many years for Kolesar and the Thunderbirds.
In the wake of today’s transactions, the Mallards’ roster now consists of 23 players: 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goaltenders.
The Mallards open their twenty-first season- and their fourth in the ECHL- Friday night at 7:05 p.m. against the Toledo Walleye on home ice. Mallards 2017-18 season tickets are still available. Season ticket holders enjoy significant savings off the walk-up ticket price and receive a host of exclusive benefits. For more season ticket information, fans can contact the Mallards at 309-277-1364 or email@example.com. Single game tickets are also now on sale at the TaxSlayer Center box office, Ticketmaster toll free charge-by-phone (1-800-745-3000) and ticketmaster.com.