Walleye out-grind top-ranked Reading in penalty-filled gameWritten by Vincent D. Scebbi | | email@example.com
Following the Toledo Walleye’s 2-1 win over the first-place Reading Royals on Feb. 2, head coach Nick Vitucci said his team just made a statement to the rest of the ECHL.
“We’re for real right now,” he said. “Knocking off a division leader, a conference leader, says a lot right now. That was a big weekend and one we’ve been looking at for a while because it’s an opportunity to play top teams in the league.”
The Walleye have now won five consecutive games and seven of their last eight. The Feb. 2 victory concludes a weekend that saw the Walleye trump the Cincinnati Cyclones, the North Division leader, 2-0 on Jan. 31 and shut down the Elmira Jackals 4-1 on Feb. 1.
“It’s like we’ve found our niche and the D is blocking shots and we’re starting in our own end and working from there and it’s been really good,” said goalie Kent Simpson.
The matchup between Reading and Toledo saw 25 total penalties between the two teams with six different players recording more than 10 penalty minutes.
The aggressive play was relatively clean until a multi-player fight broke out with 9:20 left in the second period.
Reading defenseman Adam Comrie and Toledo forward Randy Rowe started fighting after Walleye defenseman Cody Lampl checked a Royals player in open ice.
“I was tripped going out of the neutral zone and by the time I got up, the other guy on the other team was standing there in front of me and I didn’t know what he was talking about and next thing I knew, he dropped his gloves and then it was all of a sudden I had to go on defense,” Rowe said.
From that melee, Comrie served 17 minutes in the penalty box, two for instigating, five for fighting and 10 for a game misconduct. He finished the contest with 39 penalty minutes.
Royals forward Alex Berry served five minutes for fighting and 10 for a game misconduct.
Reading forward Dustin Stevenson served two minutes for roughing.
Lampl served five minutes for fighting and 10 for a game misconduct. He went straight to the locker room after the incident.
Rowe served five minutes for fighting.
Lampl said the high levels of aggression were to be expected and at times the game felt like a playoff matchup.
“I think that’s just what happens when you have two very good teams that are going really well,” he said. “I thought it was pretty good, clean physical action until Rowe got jumped there and then obviously got chippy then.”
The intensity continued throughout the rest of the game and another fight broke out at the end of regulation.
Walleye defenseman Joey Ryan took exception to Comrie jumping his teammate earlier in the game and when time was winding down, he picked a fight with him.
“The guy that jumped Randy,” Ryan said. “Randy’s a vet on our team and everybody’s got to stick together. I felt like it was necessary to do what I did and he deserved it; he was going to get it one of these times.”
At the end of the game, Royals forward Julien Cayer got 10 minutes for a unsportsmanlike conduct. Comrie was given 10 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and 10 minutes for fighting.
MacDonald received two minutes for roughing and 10 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Ryan was given 10 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and another 10 for fighting.
Vitucci said despite losing Lampl in the second period and Wes O’Neill, who signed a player tryout agreement with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League, he felt the team was able to stick together and continue to play a stout defense.
“The guys play team defense, they play defense first and worry about offense second,” he said. “We lose good players and other people’s embraced that opportunity and made the most of it.”
Simpson continued to play with a hot glove in goal, allowing Reading’s only score with 15 seconds left in regulation.
Starting his third game in as many nights, Simpson said his legs were feeling a bit tired during warm-ups, but was able to keep his concentration throughout the game.
“It’s something you have to battle through the first period,” he said. “Mentally for sure, just staying in the game and staying in the moment has been the biggest thing.”
Despite feeling tired, Simpson finished the night with 30 saves and has allowed just three goals in his last four starts.
He said his confidence between the pipes is fueled by the team’s overall success.
“It goes along with the whole team confidence; everyone is playing well, everyone is doing well,” Simpson said. “It’s nice to get some breaks and it’s good to get wins.”
Rowe scored the game’s first goal with 8:20 left in the opening period. Rowe hit a backhander that skidded just past the glove of a diving Drew MacIntyre. Forwards Pat Knowlton and captain Kyle Rogers picked up assists on the play.
“[Knowlton] got a good shot on net and I luckily on the rebound I ended up with a stick on it,” he said. “You have better opportunities to score and then that one goes in so it’s the name of the game.”
The Walleye made the score 2-0 on a shorthanded goal by Travis Novak with 20 seconds left in the middle period. Novak sent a shot through MacIntyre’s five-hole just 10 seconds after Rogers was called for tripping. Forward Adam Hobson picked up an assist on the play.
Reading lit the lamp with 15 seconds left in regulation when David Vallorani beat Simpson on a shot. Stanislav Galiev and MacDonald assisted the play.
“It always seems to work that way; you battle the whole game and then something like that happens,” Rowe said.
With a Cyclones loss in Fort Wayne on Feb. 2, Toledo inched closer to Cincinnati’s hold of the division, which is now just two points.
The Walleye’s hot streak will present some challenges for the rest of the season.
“I just think it’s going to be a lot of tough games against us. It’s not going to be run-and-gun,” Lampl said.
Toledo will face Reading twice at the end of March, both games in the Huntington Center.
Vitucci said despite the high levels of intensity, he does not suspect any of the emotions will carry over when these two teams face off again.
The Walleye will take their five-game win streak to South Carolina next week when they face off with the Greenville Road Warriors on Feb. 7 and the South Carolina Stingrays on Feb. 9.
The South Division has been a thorn in Toledo’s side as teams from that division have beaten the Walleye seven of the eight matchups this season.
The Road Warriors defeated Toledo both times these two squads met in December.
The puck is scheduled to drop at the BI-LO Center in Greenville, S.C., at 7 p.m. Feb. 7.