As August slips away and September draws near the hockey world is collectively getting ready for the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. With so many fantastic NHL players in attendance the World Cup will truly be a spectacle to see, and there will be a Toledo Walleye Alumni in attendance! Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings, a former Walleye goaltender, is a likely candidate for starting goaltender on Team Czech Republic. While Mrazek prepares for the World Cup, Toledo has been preparing for the start of the 2016-17 season with some late summer additions to the roster and coaching staff. Hopefully Mrazek and the Walleye will find success in the coming months, for now we shall focus on your Toledo Walleye.
Rosters aren’t the only changes made to an organization during an offseason, the coaching staff may change as well. Toledo has already seen a major shake up with the departure of Derek Lalonde for the Iowa Wild of the AHL with Dan Watson being promoted to Head Coach afterwards. With the Walleye’s most recent addition to the team comes former NHL defenseman Andy Delmore, who will serve as an Associate Head Coach. Delmore and Watson were teammates on the Sarnia Sting of the OHL during the 1996-97 season, both of whom were defensemen. With a career that started in 1993 with the North Bay Centennials of the OHL and carried over to the Europe at the end of his career in 2013, Andy Delmore brings two decades of hockey experience and knowledge to the Toledo Walleye.
NHL teams that made roster spots for the Ontario native include the Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators, and Buffalo Sabres. While with the Flyers Delmore set a club record for most goals in a playoff season and is the only defenseman in franchise history to score a hat trick in a playoff game. Coach Delmore is going to be invaluable to all the players for the Walleye, especially to the defensive unit. I am very excited to see the progression in the defense zone, which will have to perform at a higher level with the absence of Jeff Lerg. Speaking of defensemen, Toledo has added three blue-liners for the upcoming 2016 campaign.
Defense wins championships, and the Walleye have added some powerful pieces to their defensive core. Three defensemen have been added to make sure our netminder isn’t blitzed with shots this year: Derek Docken, Jordan Hill, and Scott Czarnowczan. Jordan Hill is a new acquisition from fellow ECHL club Norfolk Admirals, but he brings an absolute abundance of experience to The Pond. Last season he served as captain for the Admirals, Hill also has played 205 games in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose, Manchester Monarchs, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and the St. John’s Ice Caps. During that time in the AHL he has 197 penalty minutes, so I’m anticipating a hard hitting no nonsense player who won’t take mistreatment of his teammates. Derek Docken is one of the greenest members of the defensive unit, with only 54 professional games played in his career. He played 48 games for Toledo last year, racking up an impressive +/- rating of 16 with five assists tacked on for good measure for what was essentially his rookie campaign. Docken is a blue-liner that can learn a lot from being around Hill and Coach Delmore, so I am very excited to see his improvement as the 2016 season advances. Finally, we come to one of my personal favorites on the team: Scott Czarnowczan.
Czar has great vision on the ice, which has earned him a place on the power play unit to go along with his defensive prowess. During the past two seasons Czar has split playing time between the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL and the Walleye, accumulating 50 points for Toledo during his 67 games played here. With these three defensemen bolstering the ranks I feel extremely confident in our team’s defensive ability, hopefully we will stay high on the list of lowest goals against average (GAA) this season. In order to make our opponents GAA rise, we have brought back a Walleye record holder: Evan Rankin.
Walleye fans are very familiar with forward Evan Rankin, as he has been putting on a show in Toledo for quite some time. Rankin has played in 172 games for the Fish spanning from his first stint with the team, 2009 to 2012, and his reappearance during the 2015 season.
Over the course of these four seasons Rankin has amassed an impressive 159 points, nearly a point a game during his ECHL career. Evan holds the franchise record for 83 goals, as he passed former captain Kyle Rogers last season to claim the record. Now he is working toward the record for Walleye career points, Kyle Rogers currently holds this record at 177 points. Rankin is also third for the franchise record for assists behind teammate Shane Berschbach and Kyle Rogers, who again holds the top spot at 108 assists. Finally, Evan tied a franchise record for five goals in a single game during a contest against the Cincinnati Cyclones. Rankin has also spent 221 games in the AHL where he played for the Rochester Americans, Manitoba Moose, Grand Rapids Griffins, Syracuse Crunch, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, St. John’s Ice Caps, and the Utica Comets. In case I haven’t made it clear through these stats, Rankin is kind of a big deal here in Toledo. Scoring ability aside, his experience alone makes him a valuable asset to the team, having close to 400 professional games played. The young guys, especially the forwards, have a great leader and mentor in Rankin. As for the season, I can’t wait to see the scoring line of Berschbach, Jenks, and Rankin get to work and light up opposing ECHL goaltenders.
At the beginning of the offseason I was very concerned about how the roster would look at summers end. With Toledo’s early exit from the Kelly Cup Playoffs, I knew there would be drastic changes to the team. Now that we are here and the first preseason game is about 6 weeks away, I can say with confidence that the team is looking good. Even with the exit of our head coach and star goaltender, I feel like we have made up for it in additions elsewhere. The only thing left to properly address is goaltending, but I am confident that Jake Paterson will be handling the majority of reps for the coming training camps and season. All we have left to do as fans is to wait and speculate, but we won’t have to wait much longer before we can get back to T-Town Hockey!
Statistics and picture were provided by the Toledo Walleye website at: http://www.toledowalleye.com/ Player Statistics and teams were provided by:http://www.hockeydb.com/ Images are my own unless otherwise noted.