Culbreath: Walleye, Blackhawks part waysWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | email@example.com
Earlier this week, the Toledo Walleye announced their partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks was coming to a close. The Hawks are ending their affiliation with the Fightin’ Fish to instead align themselves with the brand new Indianapolis Fuel.
(Man, and noted Blackhawks fan Rob Wiercinski just started there.)
It looks, on the surface, like it’s bad news. The Walleye and Hawks have been partners since the last year of the Storm. The partnership with Chicago has afforded many opportunities for Toledo, the greatest of them being a couple of visits by the Stanley Cup to the Huntington Center. Indeed, one of my favorite pictures (aside from things like wedding photos, the kid’s first minutes and the printed picture of Robert Downey Jr. as a Russian general that hangs in my office) is the selfie I have with Lord Stanley.
In my defense, the word “selfie” hadn’t been invented yet.
There is a silver lining to the Blackhawks’ departure from the Walleye family tree: the less chaos, the better. It’s no secret that this year was a brutal one for the Dubs. At this moment, they’re sitting in last place in the Eastern conference. And it’s not entirely their fault either: 52 players have donned the Powder Blue and Gold this year, which means 30 of those men aren’t there anymore. I’m not a hockey coach, nor a player, so I could be talking out of turn here, but it seems to me like building anything that slightly resembles team chemistry would be near impossible under those standards.
I do understand that watching players come and go is a part of the game when it comes to being a minor league team. That’s why the Mud Hens don’t sell many jerseys with names and numbers on the back. Except Mike Hessman. That dude belongs on Mount Hensmore. And double affiliation is nothing new either: seven other teams in the ECHL have two NHL affiliations. On top of that, with the Detroit Red Wings being absolutely decimated by injuries this year, they’ve been particularly nasty with shaking the roster up. (The Blackhawks, meanwhile, don’t even have a player on the Walleye roster right now).
To the city’s credit, this year’s poor record hasn’t seemed to put a dent in attendance. The Walleye rank fourth in the ECHL in average attendance, drawing fans through the turnstiles night in and night out. Toledo’s hockey heritage still shines through cloudy skies. Still, when even non-hockey fans come up to me and say “Man, Walleye have had a tough year this go around, huh?,” you know it’s an issue.
In a league where consistency is simply not obtainable, the best you can do is limit the chaos. Taking one team out of the mix for the Fins will give new head coach Dan Watson a chance to make his mark with the team. Get them ready for that big outdoor game coming next season.
And if you really, truly want to go back to two programs — well, you know what other team I’d suggest. In-state, with great prospects, currently affiliated with Evansville. (No, my quest to get the Columbus Blue Jackets on Toledo television will not stop.)
Now, for you Wings fans: It’s now on your team to bring the Stanley Cup to town. So, you know, no pressure.
“Shaggy” Matt Culbreath is sports director for 1370 WSPD.