Losing sucks, plain and simple. After being eliminated by the Eagles, I keep waking up ready to pack my gear in my car for hockey at the Huntington Center. But as soon as I reach for my jersey I remember that the next time we get to see hockey in Toledo won’t be until October. Booooo. Playoff hockey is simply addicting, and now we must find other means to keep our addictions satisfied until the fall. We have plenty to celebrate from the 2016-17 campaign however! From setting a franchise record for single season wins, to leading the league in attendance percentage, we have a lot to be proud of. Let’s take a trip back into our season, and look at a some of the accomplishments and moments that stand out the most to me.
First, let’s focus on our accomplishments on the ice. Toledo finished the regular season with a record of 51-17-2-2, which was a franchise record for wins! Our performance at the Huntington Center was second best in the ECHL, with a home record of 26-7-1-2, while we were the best road team at 25-10-1-0. Enough cannot be said about how well our teams have performed in the regular seasons these last three years. Obviously we would like to see that success translate in the playoffs, but the product that has been on the ice has been amazing. There aren’t a lot of franchises that have the same level of consistency in our league, and it’s due to our tremendous coaching staff, player core, and management. All of which had many achievements of their own. Over the season we had 8 hat tricks, a new franchise record, and I was able to witness many of those hattys. My favorite hat trick on the season was so much more, when Dane Walters scored 5 goals against the Indy Fuel in the last regular season game. A career mark for Wally, and a great night for the whole arena, the game provided so much energy and momentum heading into the playoffs. Also, whoever edited the Fuel’s Wikipedia page, well played. You are a legend! In case you missed it, let’s just say the Fuel were under new ownership for a short time after the 10-0 loss to Toledo. Evan Rankin and Shane Berschbach put on a show all year long, with Rankin surpassing the 100 goal mark for Toledo and Berschy becoming the franchise and single season leader in points. Shane and Evan set multiple records between them, but to keep myself from rambling I’ll move on. Overall the Walleye set 33 new records after this season! THIRTY. THREE. That’s just insane, can you even remember the last team that has done that in one season of ECHL play, if there has been one? I sure can’t, and I don’t want to be the guy digging for that statistic! Something even better than the records broken though were the ‘Wow’ moments that many of us got to be a part of this year.
When you are at a sporting event sometimes you recognize a play or occurrence that is going to stick with a team or franchise for a long time. Toledo had many of those moments this year, both on the ice and off of it. Two in particular stand out to me. One of the greatest moments in Walleye history was the return of Alden Hirschfeld. For you new Walleye fans, Hirschfeld suffered a seizure last season while in the AHL with the Griffins that caused him to miss the over half of the 2015-16 season. Alden opted to undergo brain surgery to end the seizures and continue his career, and was back playing for Toledo at the start of the 2016-17 season. For a more complete description of what he had to go through, check out my article “Walleye Warrior: Alden Hirschfeld”. The roar of the crowd when he was introduced on opening night sticks with me to this day, I can still feel the vibrations from the noise and see the entrance flames light up Hirsch as he skated out. Everyone who was there or saw it on BCSN will almost certainly never forget that moment, and I think it’s safe to say we are all proud to call him the Captain. Another one of those moments was the return of Lerg. Now I experienced it a little differently than most fans, as myself and many other season tickets holders got to be there at the reveal. The Walleye invited the season ticket holders out to a morning skate prior to a Saturday night game and told us they had an announcement, but gave no details. At the time, it was not confirmed that we were going to host the 2019 All-Star Classic, so rumor had it we were announcing that. Others believed Toledo has decided to move to the AHL, and then another group believed that a certain wall of a man was returning to the crease. As we all know, that last group was right. The players lined up at the introduction tunnel like they do prior to a game, and all the ticket holders in attendance packed the hall and stands surrounding them. The boys came out single file, and the last man in line was the one and only Jeff Lerg! The roar from the fans, and the beaming smile on Lerg’s face, was truly a special moment. A feeling of confidence swept over us all, as we had been without a good backup/ second goalie for Patty due to Heeter’s call up. At that moment, we realized we had just become a more complete team, and we reveled in it. Lerg sure didn’t disappoint us either! Many other moments are just as memorable: eliminating Fort Wayne 5-0 at home, skating with the players after Sunday games, and being able to attend the Huntington Centers 100th sellout during Game 7 against Kalamazoo. All of these experiences are part of what makes Toledo hockey so special.
Finally, look at what our fan base was able to accomplish! I mentioned earlier that we lead the league in attendance percentage, well we had 22 total sellouts this season. 20 of those sellouts came in the regular season, which led the ECHL. As a result of those sellouts, we broke our single season attendance record with a new mark of 254,660 fans coming to watch T-Town hockey! We also have solidified ourselves as the best traveling fan base in the ECHL. Numerous fans made the trip up to Kalamazoo and Fort Wayne during their respective playoff series, at times rivaling the amount of home fans in attendance. For the players and viewers to hear the “LET’S GO WALLEYE!” chant while on the road is simply incredible, and the effect should never be taken lightly. Special mention must be given to the fans that made the trip out to Alaska and those who took the bus trip down to Cincinnati. Early in the season the Walleye had a 6 game road trip split between Utah and Alaska, and a few dedicated fans made the trip with them to show their support! I can’t imagine there are many teams in the ECHL that can say they had fans go to Alaska to watch a road game. The Cincinnati bus trip was another monumental success when a large group of Walleye fans tried to take over the Cyclones arena. A walleye even found it’s way out onto the ice down in Cincy, and it very well may have inspired the famed catfish tosser in Pittsburgh! All of this points to us being the best fans in the league, it’s not just baseless talk. Coupled with the amount of money raised for charity during auctions and raffles, the fans and the Walleye continue to contribute to a better city and a thriving hockey culture.
So take this along with you as the offseason sets in. Yes, we got eliminated in the Conference Finals again. Yes, we all feel like we came up short. Don’t dwell on the result though, look at the journey that got us there. So many fantastic memories were made in the stands, on the ice, or just in the downtown area. Memories that will last a lifetime, or at least keep us reminiscing long enough to make October sneak up on us. We’ll get that Kelly Cup soon Toledo, but at the end of the day the experience is just as important as the hardware at the end. I hope that you all were able to create those positive memories this season, and can’t wait to see you all back for the start of the 2017-18 season. Maybe we will get to add a Kelly Cup presentation to our memories next June! Let’s Go Walleye!
Pictures are my own.