Veteran defenseman seeks big break in ToledoWritten by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Every aspiring young, inexperienced hockey team beginning its initial season, aka the Toledo Walleye, needs a dash of savoir faire or, in more hockey-oriented parlance, a few veteran grinders who are good snipers, can find the five hole with a one-timer and can be an enforcer. That might involve occasionally laying the lumber to an opponent for any number of reasons, none of which involve modesty and decorum.
Enter Ryan Stokes who, at 26, is considered a “veteran” by Walleye standards. He doesn’t fall under all of the categories listed above, primarily because he’s what is described as a stay-at-home defenseman.
That doesn’t mean the Walleye are going to have to coax him to play, treat him for bed sores and preach the pitfalls of winter depression called SAD (seasonal affected disorder).
What it does mean is that in the 6’4”, 200 pound Stokes, the Walleye team has a veteran with four consecutive years of American Hockey League (AHL) experience, the AHL just one step away from the National Hockey League’s (NHL) front door.
Stokes, who lives in Sarnia, Ontario, has played for the IceDogs (Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League) and the IceHogs (Rockford of the AHL). If you think he’s going to dog it in Toledo while he waits for a higher calling, you’re doggone wrong.
“This is a new organization and everything is new. It’s great. It’s beautiful,” Stokes said after arriving in Toledo.
His arrival comes after short stints in the training camps of the NHL Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans of the AHL.
“My agent said he thought Toledo would be a good fit, and my wife likes it because it’s close enough that she can come and watch me play,” Stokes said. “So that works out well. It’s just a good fit. It’s close to home, a new team and we’ll see how it goes. I think it will work out very well.
“Every guy wants to get to that top level and be in the NHL. It’s every hockey player’s dream. If I’m here for the duration, whether it’s a long time or a short time, I’m going to contribute and help this team. In the long run if we do well and win here, it will show on my part, too. Eventually, you get seen and called up, so I’ll do my best to help this team as best I can to, hopefully, move up.”
Stokes played for the Providence Bruins of the AHL last year, but a series of injuries might have scared off other AHL teams interested in his services this season.
He missed eight weeks with a broken foot incurred from blocking a shot, then suffered a deep wrist laceration from a skate blade that required surgery, costing him another two months on dry land. He played nine games into the postseason playoffs when he sustained a separated shoulder, ending his season.
“It was an all-around tough year and I would like to work my way back this season,” Stokes said. “I see older guys still making it into the NHL. Late bloomers are getting opportunities.”
Stokes is resigned to the fact that he will have to slightly alter his style of play and become a more offensive-minded defenseman on this young Walleye team that begins its season Oct. 16 against the highly-regarded Florida Everblades at the new arena.
He will also have to accept a more prominent leadership role and, yes long time Toledo hockey fans, he’s physical. Stokes has accumulated more than 150 penalty minutes in three separate seasons.
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci looks at Stokes’ upside from a different perspective, Stokes’ backside.
“I’m looking at Ryan from a goalie’s eyes and he’s solid, makes good decisions and plays hard,” said the former goalie Vitucci. “I’ve got a veteran who wants to move up and will work his butt off. I knew him from junior hockey and I really liked him then. We’re young, we’re new and I would like a few veterans who want to work hard.”
Vitucci started the week of Oct. 4 with 33 players, but will designate his team Oct. 11, trimming his roster to 18 to 20 players. “I want to get down to our team on Sunday so that when we come to work on Monday, we’ll have four days of a good work week in preparation for our first three games,” he said.
You can bet the stay-at-home defenseman Stokes won’t be going anywhere soon if Vitucci has anything to say about it.