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Ohio city has won ECHL titles before as the Storm, but Walleye looking for their first championship
It’s inevitable the Newfoundland Growlers’ run through the ECHL playoffs all the way to the Kelly Cup championship series will draw comparisons to 1992, when the St. John’s Maple Leafs, who like the Growlers were in their inaugural season, made it to the Calder Cup final.
There’s another tie-in. The AHL Leafs’ opponents in 1992 were the Adirondack Red Wings, while the Growlers are taking on another Detroit affiliate, the Toledo Walleye.
Of course, Newfoundland hockey fans are hoping the similarities don’t extend to the result of the series. That’s because 27 years ago, Adirondack defeated St. John’s in a historic matchup that saw all seven games won by the visiting team.
A repeat of that pattern certainly wouldn’t work for the Growlers, who own home-ice advantage against the Walleye, with Game 1 set for 7 p.m. today at Mile One Centre.
Tonight’s contest will be the first-ever meeting between the Eastern Conference champion Growlers and the Walleye, who claimed the Western Conference crown with a win in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Wednesday. In the ECHL, teams play their regular-season schedules almost exclusively within their conferences, with little in the way of crossover games.
And like the Growlers, this is the first trip to the Kelly Cup final for the Walleye, although the Toledo Storm (as the team was formerly known), won a couple of ECHL titles in the 1990s.
The Walleye had been the first-place team in the Central Division the previous four years, but didn’t get farther than a couple of trips to the conference final. This season, they were second in the Central with a 40-23-9 record, but after knocking off the Fort Wayne Komets in a first-round series, they vanquished the Cincinnati Cyclones, owners of the league’s best overall record, in a five-game divisional final.
That put the Walleye up against the Tulsa Oilers, who held home-ice advantage in the conference final, but fell in Wednesday’s deciding Game 7 of the series.
As has been the case with Newfoundland, Toledo’s playoff march has featured a strong defence and solid, reliable goaltending. Both teams have only permitted 37 goals to this point, although the Walleye has played 18 playoff games, one more than the Growlers.
Toledo’s Pat Nagle owns the best goals-against average (1.70) among ECHL playoff goalies and sports a .940 save percentage in front of a defence led by ECHL second-team all-star Matt Register (4-8-12).
Meanwhile, the offence has been spread around. Outside of Jordan Topping, who has dressed for just one playoff game, the 17 other Walleye who have competed in these playoffs have scored at least once.
It’s contributed to a 3.39 goals per game average for Toledo, best in the playoffs (Newfoundland is at 3.12).
Detroit prospect Dylan Sadowy leads in both goals (eight) and points (16) for Toledo, which survived the mid-season loss of former NHLer T.J. Hensick, who was the league’s leading scorer when he was signed by the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda in February.
Greg Wolfe (7-8-15) and Shane Berschbach (5-9-14), a couple of Michiganders who entered the ECHL in 2014, are next on the Walleye’s post-season scoring list.
If you are wondering about the Toledo power play, it’s been good, clicking at 26.4 per cent. And like their overall scoring, the Walleye have spread around the PP goals, with 11 different players getting a man-advantage tally.
It’s not as an extensive what the Growlers have gained as the Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate, but the Walleye have been well-supported by the Red Wings when it comes to roster building.
Sadowy, backup goalie Kaden Fulcher and forward Ryan Pope are all operating under NHL entry-level contracts with Detroit, while Nagle, Topping, Trevor Hamilton and Bryan Moore are signed to deals with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ current AHL farm team.
Pope and fellow forward Zach Gallant, whose father is from Corner Brook, are both Red Wings draft picks,
Gallant, 20, has performed well since joining the Walleye at the conclusion of his season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, putting up five goals and 11 points in his first 18 pro games, but if he isn’t signed to a full-time contract by Detroit before June 1, the Red Wings lose his draft rights.