Walt Whitman is an American poet who penned the acclaimed O Captain! My Captain! His poem tells the tale of a returning ship and crew that has gained their goal, but at the cost of the Captain’s life. A sad end to be sure, however I bring good news: Captain Jared Nightingale returns to the Walleye! Jared rejoins Toledo along with Dane Walters and Tyler Sikura for the 2016-17 campaign. With preseason hockey coming up fast the Walleye are closing in on their opening night roster, the focus now will begin to shift to forward lines and defensive pairings. For now, let’s see what our three returning Fish bring to the table.
Adding depth and experience to a young forward core is essential for success at all levels of hockey, the ECHL being no exception. With the resigning of Dane Walters the Walleye have accomplished this very goal. The Western Michigan University Bronco has hopped back and forth between the ECHL and AHL since the beginning of his professional career. Walters has tallied up 143 games between the two leagues, and has suited up for the Walleye the past three years. Typically he averages around a point (1) per two games, though he’s a gritty forward able to play center or winger. Walters’ primary role while with the Walleye will be consistency and experience to fortify the youngsters present on the roster, though expect him to spend a fair amount of time in the AHL as well. On the contrary, expect to see a lot of Tyler Sikura in Toledo.
Speed and youth are a dangerous combo in today’s age of hockey, and Sikura brings both to Toledo. Sikura had a fantastic rookie campaign last season with Toledo, finishing second on the team for total points at 48 (16 goals, 32 assists). Tyler’s skating ability and speed lead to many opportunities for line mates in the offensive zone, as the Dartmouth graduate often drew the defense away from his teammates. Sikura was an essential part of the Power Play unit last season as well, nabbing many points while on the man advantage. The AHL got a small taste of Tyler’s skill as well, he notched four games with Portland last year. Entering his second professional year Sikura has to work hard to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, but I expect him to grow rather than shrink during the season. Many of the line mates that Tyler skated with last year are returning as well, including Jenks, Berschbach, Bonis, and Rankin. Together this forward core should pick up where they left off last season and put up points at a league leading pace. Sikura will play a crucial role in point production, while on the backend our returning Captain while prevent the opposition from doing the same.
Toughness. Grit. Determination. Loyalty. Guardian. All of these and more describe a captain of a hockey club. Jared Nightingale embodies all of the traits. Captain Nightingale is a force to be reckoned with on the ice in the most physical sense of the phrase. With over 600 professional games under his belt, most of which in the AHL with multiple teams, the defenseman has experience and resolve few can match in the ECHL. 175 of the pro contests have come in the ECHL, accumulating 38 points and a staggering 479 penalty minutes over that span. Those penalty minutes are due to defending his men. Nightingale does not and will not take flak from anyone, regardless if it’s against him or a teammate. I vividly remember last season when a vicious slashing call was missed against a fellow Walleye, Nightingale immediately went over and retaliated against the offender with his own slash before initiating a fight with the opponent. As you can imagine, this was not the only time the Captain took discipline into his own hands. The Captain will not back down and will always stand up for his team and his city. If Toledo is in need of a spark, the Captain will provide it with a big hit or a good fight. You’re not going to see him break any offensive records, but that’s not his job. The Captain’s job is to kill off penalties, mentor young players, and beat some sense into opponents that dare cross him or his team. I, along with the rest of Toledo, cannot wait to see him suit up this year.
Toledo’s one and only preseason game on October 7th draws near, and my excitement grows every day. I cannot describe how much I have missed the sounds of hockey; skates cutting ice, sticks slapping pucks, the blaring of the horn. Along with the sounds the sights thrill me, particularly the players taking the ice. Walters, Sikura, and Nightingale are all accustomed to these sounds, but I imagine they are getting eager for their return as well. Preseason games don’t count for the win/loss column, though they can still tell you a lot about your team. For the Walleye, I’m confident that the preseason will reveal something to the rest of the ECHL. We are the biggest Fish in the pond. Let’s go Walleye!
Stats on players provided from either the Toledo Walleye Roster Page:
Or from the Toledo Walleye News Page:
All images are my own property.