Walleye clinch playoff spot despite 2-0 loss to ReadingWritten by Vincent D. Scebbi | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The largest cheer from the 7,071 in attendance at March 24’s Toledo Walleye hockey game came during veteran PA announcer Bobb Vergiels’ final “boo” prior to the opening faceoff.
The second came in the third period during a media timeout, when Vergiels announced that the Kalamazoo Wings lost in a shootout, clinching a playoff spot for the Walleye (35-26-9) for the second time in team history.
Despite gaining a point from the shootout loss, the Wings can at best tie Toledo in total points, but the Walleye have the advantage in the tiebreaker.
According to the ECHL website, the first tiebreaker is total wins excluding shootout victories.
If the Wings were to win their final three games, they would have 31 wins. Toledo already has 35 and no shootout wins.
Despite losing 2-0 to the Reading Royals (46-18-6), the ECHL Eastern Conference champions, Toledo head coach Nick Vitucci described the game as “bittersweet.”
“Bitter that you lose,” he said. “[But] I was excited our effort was night and day compared to last night and that’s a top team in the conference and we ran right with them; thrilled about our last 70 minutes of hockey against this hockey club here.”
Vitucci said he knew after the second period about Kalamazoo’s loss to the Wheeling Nailers, but waited until trainer Brad Fredrick could confirm it on his cell phone.
Vitucci then told his captain Kyle Rogers and alternate captain Randy Rowe. Later in the period, Vergiels announced the news and the fans gave the team a standing ovation.
Word spread around the bench, but some players, such as defenseman Wes O’Neill, did not know until the media timeout.
The Walleye, who were outworked by Reading and also lost 3-1 to the team the night before, came out of the gate strong, outshooting and outhustling the conference champs for most of the game.
“Last night was a wake-up call; they play a different style of game compared to the rest of the guys we’ve been playing,” Rogers said. “We got beat pretty good last night. Like I said, we adjusted our game, had a couple of plays that we wanted to try against these guys and for the most part it paid off tonight.”
Reading eventually got past netminder Jordan Pearce on a power play goal with 7:41 left in the second period when Stanislav Galiev fired a one-timer from the left faceoff circle.
Toledo currently sits as the eighth seed in the conference and if the season ended today, the two teams would face each other in a best-of-seven series.
“I think what we’ve learned is we have to compete against them,” Vitucci said. “When we do, we can certainly run with them.”
The Walleye still have two games remaining this season – both against eliminated teams – one in Fort Wayne, Ind. against the Komets on March 27, then in Wheeling, W.Va., on March 29. The most points Toledo can finish with is 83 points, potentially tying the Walleye with fourth-place Elmira Jackals.
Despite the pressure of making the postseason being lifted, Rogers said there is still some work to be done before the playoffs start April 3.
“It’s a great feeling. Maybe loosen up the hands a little bit and maybe the guys will play a little better,” he said. “We can’t sit back; we have to go hard and practice and go harder actually to get better and to improve so we don’t get four-and-out in the first round.”
For some players, such as 32-year-old Rowe, this could be one of the last postseason trips.
“Might be my last year, might not; I don’t have too many more years left at all,” he said. “It’s really important, especially with the group of guys we have here because I respect all these guys and it’s a good group of guys and if there’s a team to do it, I think we’ve got a good bunch of guys to do it.”
Rogers said he would “want to try to do everything I can for him to get into the playoffs this year.”
The attendance at the March 24 game also set the single-season attendance record in franchise history at 226,743. The record was set in the 2009-10 season when the Toledo hockey came back.
In addition, Vergiels, who has been the PA announcer for Toledo hockey for the past 20 years, called his last regular-season game.
Vergiels received a custom Walleye jersey, dropped the ceremonial first puck and various clips about Vergiels played during media timeouts, including one from Vitucci. Mini-megaphones that said “Bob’s last boo” were handed out to fans.
Toledo returns to the ice March 27 when the team travels to Fort Wayne, Ind., to face the Komets, who are eliminated from the playoffs. Opening faceoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
Tags: Toledo Walleye