Winter has officially arrived, much to the delight of those filled with the holiday spirit! Christmas is only four days away, but Toledo has been celebrating all month as a city and as a team. The city introduced the first ever Hensville lights in mid-November to go along with the Lights Before Christmas at the Toledo Zoo. Both of these events feature lights, with Hensville using downtown buildings and the Toledo Zoo using the majority of the zoo grounds, that are used to create holiday scenes for the whole family. The Walleye were even at the Lights Before Christmas to spend time with the fans and celebrate the holiday season! The best gift a Walleye fan could ask for is a winning team, and boy has Toledo delivered the goods this year. On Friday Toledo will play host to the Winterfest Holy Toledo Night, a celebration of the city via many downtown activities available to all. Before we get to Friday though, let’s examine how Toledo has performed up to the changing of the seasons. Spoiler alert: they’ve been really good.
Offensively, no one in the ECHL can hold a candle to the Walleye. 112 goals scored on the year are most in the league by 8 goals over the Orlando Solar Bears, and 15 more than their closest division rival. In terms of scoring, the Walleye are not relying on any one person. Rather, it’s been a team effort from the first drop of the puck. Five players (Jenks, Sikura, Rankin, and both Spink brothers) have at least 10 goals on the season, while ten players have at least 10 assists. Tylor Spink, Jacob MacDonald, and Shane Berschbach are at 19, 18, and 19 assists respectively. Only four players out of the Walleye’s active roster of seventeen forwards and defensemen have yet to reach a double digit point total. Of those thirteen players with double digit points, seven of them have over 20 points on the year. Three players in particular have been particularly impressive to me so far in 2016: The Triple S line of Tylor Spink-Tyler Sikura-Tyson Spink. The Spink twins are rookies playing their first full season in the ECHL with Sikura centering the brothers in his second full year of pro hockey. A connection has formed on this line that most coaches could only dream of, the puck always seems to be in the right place at the right time when they’re on the ice. The members of Triple S have combined for a total of 79 points consisting of 32 goals and 47 assists over 25 games played, and all three skaters are ranked in the top four on the team for points. Should each of them continue to average at least point a game, we could see more Walleye records broken this year to go with Evan Rankin and Shane Berschbach’s accomplishments. Rankin of course set the Walleye record for franchise points and Berschbach set a franchise record for assists, both surpassing former Walleye Captain Kyle Rogers to gain their records. By the way, the Power Play ranks first with 27 goals and a 24.8 percentage… just in case you were wondering.
As for the Walleye defense, much has improved since the start of the year. Cal Heeter and Jake Paterson were averaging over 30 saves a game with around 3 goals allowed early in the season as the defense struggled to establish itself. Coach Delmore has done a good job reducing the shot count for our netminders, while keeping the defensive pairings sharp even with constant shuffling due to injury and call ups. As we approach Christmas the Walleye defense has surrendered 71 goals through 25 games, that leaves them tied for 5th place in the ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder. 2.84 goals allowed per game is certainly high, but with an offense that is putting up 4.48 goals per game we have managed to make it work. Three of the best +/- ratings on the roster go to defensemen: Jacob MacDonald at +14, Simon Denis at +13, and Beau Schmitz at +13. The Penalty Kill Unit still needs some tweaking to raise it up to our Power Play standard, the PK is ranked 16th in the league at 83.1% and 14 power play goals allowed. Looking at it from a different perspective, that’s a power play goal every two games. Once Derek Docken returns from injury, and Nightingale returns from his loan to the Chicago Wolves, our defense and PK will start to resemble a full squad once again. Hopefully that brings a better performance in front of our goaltenders.
Speaking of which, goaltending has been rock solid this year for the Walleye. Cal Heeter, who was called up once again to Grand Rapids, is 10-1-0-0 while his fellow netminder and Detroit Red Wings prospect Jake Paterson is 11-3-0-0 on the year. I expected Jake Paterson would step up to take the number one spot due to Jeff Lerg’s departure to Denmark, but Heeter had other ideas. The two goalies have split time equally as a result of Heeter’s stellar play early in the season, and Cal has been the choice to move up to Grand Rapids twice this season due to call ups higher in Detroit’s system. One could argue that Heeter is the starting goaltender here in Toledo, but Paterson actually has the better numbers in the crease aside from record. Heeter has faced 332 shots and allowed 34 goals (0.898 save percentage) while Paterson has faced 394 shots, turning away all but 36 of them for a 0.909 save percentage. Should Heeter spend extended time in Grand Rapids due to Jared Coreau’s call up, Paterson will have the crease to himself in Toledo for the foreseeable future. In order to support Paterson while Heeter is gone Toledo native Andrew Gedert has been signed to an emergency backup goaltender contract. Keen Walleye fans will recognize Gedert as the former Woodmore High School goalie who earned a spot in the Walleye Training Camp earlier this year, but ultimately did not make the regular season roster. If Gedert sees game time in the coming future, he would realize a dream of playing a regular season game for Toledo. I wish him the best of luck, and hope that Coach Watson can put him into one of the coming two home games.
One quarter of the season is in the books, and those books have been dominated by the Walleye. Off to their best start in franchise history with 21 wins through 25 games, Toledo is looking to continue the pace into the new year. Many Toledo fans were concerned going into the season due to the coaching changes and the lack of a set roster prior to the first regular season game. I think it’s safe to say that Coach Watson and his team have put those concerns to rest in a grand way. Let’s give the city five more Christmas gifts during 2016, in the form of five more wonderful victories. Let’s Go Walleye!
Featured Image is available on the Toledo Mud Hens Twitter Account at:
Image featuring Tylor Spink is my own, while the image with Gedert and Fielding is Jarrod Maneval’s. Used with his permission.