Mallards Have NWL Ties to St. Cloud, Duluth

As the Mallards prepare to play in their first Northwoods League Championship series in team history, and will learn tonight whether they will be facing the St. Cloud River Bats or the Duluth Huskies, a number of intriguing connections surface between the Mallards and either opponent.

Madison and St. Cloud: Coaches

A match-up between Madison and St. Cloud pits two of the longest tenured coaches in NWL history?Darrell Handelsman and Tom Fleenor?and both have had decorative careers. ?Skip? Darrell Handelsman is the winningest coach in league history, having recently picking up his 300th victory this season on Aug. 7, and now has 303 wins. Also in 2004, Handelsman was selected as the NWL Manager of the Decade, and was named manager of the year for the third time (2001, ?02, ?04) in his nine years of coaching in the league. Skip is going for his second league championship after winning it all with Waterloo in 2002. Handelsman is in his second year with the Mallards, after coaching at Kenosha for three years, and at Waterloo for four. Fleenor, who has 228 career wins, is also in his second year with St. Cloud, and he too is looking for a second NWL championship after winning one with the Rochester Honkers in 1999. Together, the coaches have 15 years of NWL experience. Fleenor coached the Honkers for four years before coming to St. Cloud. Fleenor guided the River Bats to the 2003 NWL Championship series, where they lost to the Wisconsin Woodchucks, who also happened to out knock the Mallards one series before in last year?s divisional round. A year later, Handelsman has steered Madison to its first League Championship series, and Fleenor is one win away from doing the same.

Handelsman has not lost to Fleenor when the teams have played at the Duck Pond over the last two years, which is notable with Madison owning home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Madison and St. Cloud: Teams and Players

St. Cloud has been in the playoffs every year except their first season, 1997, and has won two league championships. Going into this season, the River Bats have won the North Division pennant five out of the last six years. The Mallards have never won a league championship, but have won the first half South Division title last year, and claimed the second half title this season. St. Cloud won the North Division first half title this year.

Mallards? third baseman Chad Frk was a member of the Waterloo Bucks for three seasons and was part of the Bucks? 2002 championship team under Handelsman. Frk became the NWL all-time ironman this year, eclipsing the 186 games played mark on June 19th. Mallards? pitcher Jake Eiler, who will pitch game one of the Championship series on the road Friday, is from Morris, Minnesota, and attends St. Scholastica in Duluth. Pitchers Mark Moriarty and Zach Peterson also hail from the land of 10,000 lakes; Moriarty from Inver Grove Heights; Peterson from St. Paul. Moriarty also attends St. Scholastica.

Madison and St. Cloud: Front Office

Madison?s General Manager, Vern Stenman, got his start in the NWL as an intern for the River Bats at the age of 19, working under current owner Joel Sutherland. Stenman worked at St. Cloud for four years, two of which as an assistant GM. Scott Schreiner, the River Bats? current GM, worked for Stenman as an intern in St. Cloud. Stenman and Schreiner attended Rocori High School in central Minnesota, as well as Ryan Voz, GM of the Alexandria Beetles.

Madison and Duluth: Teams and Players

One of the biggest reasons the NWL decided to bring in a team from Duluth is the success of the Madison Mallards. Formerly the Duluth-Superior Dukes of the Northern League, the Dukes struggled financially and competitively, and looked to Madison as a model when drafting a NWL team. The Huskies are now in their second season in the NWL.

The Huskies are led by pitcher Steve Plucinski, who attends Lakeland College in Wisconsin, and represented Duluth in the 2003 All-Star game in Madison. Mallards? pitchers Jake Eiler and Mark Moriarty are both from Minnesota, and attend college at St. Scholastica in Duluth. Jake Eiler is scheduled to pitch game one of the league Championship Series, and if Duluth wins tonight, will be pitching in front of many known faces in a familiar setting.