We love the Walleye more than ever
Last season’s campaign for the Walleye saw a record for wins and finished with a memorable postseason run. It ended just one win shy of competing for the Patrick J. Kelly Cup, which is awarded to the ECHL league champion.
You, the fan, set a different record. The Toledo crowd exceeded the Walleye’s total number of attendees, with 226,743 fans making their way to the Huntington Center throughout the season.
This season’s Walleye are currently atop the standings in the North division of the ECHL, with an average attendance of 7,309, which is good enough for second most in the entire league. That figure is nearly 1,000 more than last season’s record mark for the Toledo crowd.
In a physical sport where the players are held up by two thin blades gliding across the slickest of surfaces, a majority of the excitement is waiting for the next collision. Hockey is not golf, where “spectators” are held to country club etiquette. Instead, the crowd at a hockey game is expected, and pretty much encouraged, to slap the Plexiglas and heckle the visiting goalie.
This may sound downright angry, after all players literally drop gloves to throw fists throughout the game. However, the arena during a Walleye game is a family friendly environment. The team has gained national recognition for Batman themed jersey, painting the ice pink to support breast cancer and playing outdoor games at Fifth Third Field. Also, there’s just something about watching a hockey player crash into the glass that makes your kid want to throw up a fist and say something to the effect of, “YEAAAH!”
When I asked the second year Walleye coach, Derek Lalonde, if this season’s edition of the Walleye will approach the game in a way to excite the crowd he responded, “No doubt.”
This season, there’s a whole slew of promotions lined up. During the home opener, there was a banner raised to commemorate the franchise wins record.
There’s a whole month of interactive events downtown during Winterfest, starting on December 20. In past years, the Walleye have played a game at Fifth Third Field, but this year the ice will be hosting a slew of local youth games along with other social events at the Mud Hens stadium.
“I expect our home opener to be exciting and I expect our guys to get some energy from it,” says ECHL Coach of the Year, Derek Lalonde.
The crowd’s energy was, in part, fueled by some interesting new food choices. The Huntington Center recently unveiled a new menu which goes beyond your typical aisle-way popcorn and cotton candy.
Most of the new choices are spin-offs of classic favorites. There will be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich… deep-fried! Queso dip with chorizo on top of French fries; and cinnamon-seasoned pretzel bites inside of a sundae. You’re probably puzzled right now, but I’m sure it’s an excited confusion.
By the time of the team came slid onto the Huntington Center ice, the team had played eight games on the road. It’s unfortunate that the schedule forced Toledo, who had the third highest attendance number in the ECHL last season, to wait a whole month to cheer on their home team. But, the team worked out some kinks by then. Well, at least the defense had, allowing only one goal. However, that was one more than the Walleye’s offensive attack was able to produce, as they dropped a hotly contested game against the Adirondack Thunder, in front of a record crowd of 8,317 fans.
Among those anticipating the return home was Lalonde. He acknowledges that the early schedule is nearly unprecedented but noted, “I’m confident we are going to have success at home because of the crowd.”
While the Huntington Center was rather neglected in the initial four weeks of the season, the latter part of the season will see a ton of home stretches to hopefully push the Walleye into another post-season run. During January, the Walleye play a ridiculous 10 games at home.
Wednesday, December 9 at 7:15pm vs Evansville Icemen
Friday, December 11 at 7:15pm vs Wheeling Nailers
Wednesday, December 16 at 10:35am vs Indy Fuel
Saturday, December 19 at 7:15pm vs Manchester Monarchs
Saturday, December 26 at 7:15pm vs Wheeling Nailers
Wednesday, December 30 at 8:00pm vs Elmira Jackals
Saturday, January 2 at 7:15pm vs Fort Wayne Komets
Sunday, January 3 at 5:15 pm vs Elmira Jackals
Friday, January 15 at 7:15pm vs Evansville Icemen
Saturday, January 16 at 7:15pm vs Wheeling Nailers
Friday, January 22 at 7:15pm vs. Utah Grizzlies
Saturday, January 23 at 7:15pm vs Utah Grizzlies
Sunday, January 24 at 5:15pm vs Utah Grizzlies
Friday, January 29 at 7:15pm vs Brampton Beast
Saturday, January 30 at 7:15pm vs Fort Wayne Komets
Sunday, January 31 at 5:15pm vs Quad City Mallards
Saturday, February 13 at 7:15pm vs Brampton Beast
Sunday, February 14 at 5:15pm vs Fort Wayne Komets
Wednesday, February 17 at 7:15pm vs Colorado Eagles
Saturday, February 20 at 7:15pm vs Fort Wayne Komets
Sunday, February 21 at 5:15pm vs Kalamazoo Wings
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