For the fourth consecutive season, the Toledo Walleye have not only made the Kelly Cup Playoffs but have done so by also claiming the regular season division title. The last two years have been the Central Division, while previously it had been the North Division. With a second straight Western Conference to secure home ice until the Kelly Cup Finals Toledo is poised for a deep run. In order to reach the finals, a few players are going to have to play important roles moving forward.
Goaltending has been a strength all season, led by the veteran netminder Pat Nagle. Nagle played in 50 games this season for Toledo and won 37 of those contests. That puts him at the top of the list for most wins in a single regular season, surpassing former Storm goaltender and Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci. Many games have been won due to his magnificent stops, and the confidence that he gives his teammates while on the ice is immeasurable. Now that Matěj Machovský has been confirmed to not be returning to Toledo for the playoffs, Angus Redmond will serve as the backup. With all respect to the young netminder, Pat Nagle must shoulder the responsibility of the crease and continue to lead his team to victory this postseason. In five separate playoff runs the Bloomfield native has never had an overall save percentage less than 0.906% and has averaged a goals allowed average of 2.38, with his lowest being 1.42 with the Florida Everblades of the 2012 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Should those numbers continue, Toledo will have a solid chance at their first Kelly Cup finals appearance.
Toledo’s offense has become much more balanced this season, as scoring responsibilities don’t fall onto a select few but rather all the forwards as a whole. A great benefit to the team, though it does make it particularly difficult to pick out the man who may make the largest impact this postseason. I believe it to be Kyle Bonis, someone who I had on the hot seat at the start of the season. Bonis’ skills were never in question, but rather I was worried about the amount of time he would spend in Toledo due to the allure of call-ups. Last season he spent 52 games in the AHL while only skating in nine regular season games for the Walleye before returning for the playoffs. Obviously, I want to see players make it as high as they can go, but this year Bonis brought on an additional condition to his signing. Since he now takes up a veteran spot, his presence would be critical to the team, and a trip to the AHL would put Toledo in a tough spot. After an initial call-up early this season Bonis returned and quickly established himself ahead of the pack. By season’s end, he had scored the most goals for Toledo (27) and was only beat out by Tyler Barnes for most points. Add to that how Bonis was a machine as the season concluded, and you have a forward that is hot at the right time and ready to propel Toledo into the playoffs.
Grit has been something lacking from Toledo once Lampl and Nightingale left town. That void has finally been filled by Kevin Tansey and Connor Crisp. Both men will be critical to keep other teams in check, while also being able to contribute well in their own zones. Tansey’s hits have been bringing Toledo fans to their feet throughout the season. Crisp has been the go-to guy when the gloves needed to come off, even though Tansey has his own rights to that claim. Prior to his injury in the Kansas City-Toledo Brawl, Crisp had also been lighting up the stat sheet. He finished with 30 points in 44 games along with 95 penalties in minutes on the season. Also at the heart of that brawl was Tansey, both of whom were sticking up for A.J. Jenks. That kind of camaraderie has galvanized this team and will keep them going if/when their backs are up against the wall. When Game 1 rolls around, I would fully expect Tansey and Crisp to be right in the thick of the physical play. Toledo needs them to do just that if a deep playoff run is to occur.
Toledo wants one thing out of this playoff run: a Kelly Cup. Division titles, conference titles, Brabham Cups are all amazing accolades to be sure. None of those compare to winning it all though. Will this be the year the Walleye join past Toledo hockey franchises as champions? Toledo will have to earn every goal, every stop, and every win if they are to make it happen. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold. See you at the Huntington Center Friday night when Toledo kicks things off against Indy!
Featured photo credit goes to Michael Scott