We’re halfway there T-Town! After a dominating series against the Komets your Walleye have won their first Central Division Postseason title and have moved on to their second Conference Finals appearance in franchise history! Fun fact: the 4-1 series win was the first time the Walleye eliminated an opponent in less than seven games. For our second Conference Finals appearance, we will be facing the Colorado Eagles, and what a series this is shaping up to be! The Walleye and Eagles finished 1st and 3rd after this year’s regular season, and were neck and neck down the stretch for home ice until the last five games. Colorado is coming off a 4-2 series win over the defending two-time Kelly Cup Champion Allen Americans, so expect them to have a lot of confidence starting off. The Walleye are sure to be confident as well, our defense has improved drastically from Round 1 to complement our lethal offense and stellar goaltending! Before Friday’s Game 1, how about a quick comparison of each team’s performance thus far in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Toledo Walleye Playoff Roster:
Shane Berschbach, Kyle Bonis, Alex Globke, Alden Hirschfeld, A.J. Jenks, J.P. LaFontaine, Zach Nastasiuk, Charlie O’Connor, Evan Rankin, Carter Sandlak, Tylor Spink, Tyson Spink, and Dane Walters
Justin Agosta, Matthew Caito, Simon Denis, Jordan Hill, Landon Oslanski, Beau Schmitz, and Nolan Zajac
Jeremy Brodeur (ATO), Jeff Lerg, Jake Paterson
Jake Paterson and Zach Nastasiuk
Colorado Eagles Playoff Roster:
Alex Belzile, Darryl Bootland, Matt Brown, Matt Garbowsky, Ryan Harrison, Jackson Houck, Johnny Lazo, Cam Maclise, Julien Nantel, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Luke Salazar, and Shawn St-Amant
Sergei Boikov, Mason Geertsen, Sam Jardine, Jake Marto, Matt Register, Michael Sdao, Teigan Zahn, and Sean Zimmerman
Lukas Hafner and Kent Simpson
Top 5 Playoff Scorers for Each Team:
Tyson Spink (15), Kyle Bonis (14), Evan Rankin (12), Shane Berschbach (11), and Tylor Spink (9)
Alex Belzile (17), Matt Register (12), Jake Marto (8), Casey Pierro-Zabotel (8), Shawn St-Amant (7)
Goaltenders Playoff Performance:
Jeff Lerg: 5-2-0 with a 2.18 GAA and a 0.926 SV%
Jake Paterson: 3-2-0 with a 3.41 GAA and a 0.894 SV%
Jeremy Brodeur: No games played.
Lukas Hafner: 7-2-0 with a 2.56 GAA and a 0.904 SV%
Kent Simpson: 1-1-0 with a 3.02 GAA and a 0.872 SV%
Special Teams Play:
Our Power Play (PP) unit is the most efficient of the remaining teams in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, with a 26.7% conversion rating and 12 PP goals. The Penalty Kill (PK) unit ranks in at 3rd best with a kill percentage of 87.2% and 5 PP goals allowed (2nd best).
The Eagles PP has cashed in for 8 goals, scoring on 19.0% of their chances. As for their PK, they are by far the worst of the Conference finalists with a 77.3% kill rate and have allowed 10 PP goals.
Regular Season Series:
Teams have not met during this season.
Toledo Walleye Strengths (+) and Weaknesses (-):
+Special Teams Advantage
+Three More Days of Rest and Preparation
+HOME ICE! (7-0 at home)
-Must Overcome Colorado Physicality
-Paterson and Nastasiuk Injuries
Colorado Eagles Strengths and Weaknesses
+Have Leading Playoff Scorer (Belzile with 17 points and 10 goals)
+Fantastic Road Team (6-0 on the road)
-Poor PK Unit
-Must Deal with Speed of Toledo
Toledo looks to advance to their first Kelly Cup Finals with a series win against the Eagles, but it will be far from easy. We will have to contain the leading scorer in the Kelly Cup Playoffs: Alex Belzile. Through two rounds of play Belzile has 10 goals and 7 assists, and he is supported by the leading defensive scorer as well. Matt Register has managed to tally 12 points with 5 goals and leads all defensemen in the playoffs, so we face threats from many areas of the ice. The Walleye must take both Belzile and Register out of the equation to keep the pressure off the netminder, which will be Jeff Lerg for Games 1 and 2.
Paterson is currently day-to-day, but has been ruled out for both games this weekend. We are in more than capable hands though, any doubts about Lerg’s ability should have been laid to rest after the series against Fort Wayne. Lerg’s counterpart in this series is the former Walleye born and raised in Toledo: Lukas Hafner. Hafner has netted 7 of Colorado’s 8 wins in these playoffs, and is fully comfortable and confident to take on the Walleye. The defenses in front of both Hafner and Lerg will have to be sharp to help out their goalies, as the offenses are sure to make them work. If Toledo’s defense can build on their success against Fort Wayne, especially with the return of Denis, we can keep Belzile and Register in check. Colorado is sure to do their best to take away the space for Bonis, Rankin, and the Spinks though. So where is the deciding factor? Special Teams.
Coach Watson has often stressed the importance of his Special Teams, and he couldn’t be more spot on here. The most glaring difference between Toledo and Colorado are the quality of their PP and PK Units. The difference between the penalty kill is painfully obvious, as Toledo has allowed half as many goals while down a man when compared to Colorado (5 to 10 respectively). During the series there are sure to be many penalties for both teams, Toledo has 138 Penalties in Minutes compared to Colorado’s 153, so Colorado is bound to get lit up with a kill percentage of 77.3%. When you face our power play you must be sharp and precise, any open space will be exploited by the sharpshooters of Toledo. As evidenced by their performance so far, the Eagles have left a lot of open ice for shooter. In order for Toledo to best Colorado, we must score on our man advantages. Colorado’s PP unit is nothing to gloss over though, a 19.0% efficiency is sure to test the Walleye. Nastasiuk being out with injury hurts the Walleye here, he is a grinder on the kill unit that is great at taking pucks away and moving them up the boards. Next man up in the playoffs though, and we have the players to make it happen.
When I look at all of these factors I, like many of you I’m sure, see a long series ahead for both teams. Heading into Game 1 the storyline is who will fall first: The Road Warriors or Defenders of the Pond? Toledo has the best fans and the best arena in the league, and we must do our part before the series shifts to Colorado. Let the chants start early and often friends, so that Colorado learns what they’ve gotten themselves into. Toledo absolutely must win both Games 1 and 2 at home, and try to win at least one game while on the road. Anything less than that will put the Walleye in a deep hole that Colorado is sure to take advantage of. Expect a six or seven game series, with all the action and excitement that a Conference Finals series can provide. It’s time to capture the Walleye’s first Conference Championship, along with our first Kelly Cup finals appearance! Oh yeah, let’s try to avoid another triple overtime Game 7, alright guys? See you on Friday, and LET’S GO WALLEYE!