Winterfest: New coach off to strong start, leads Walleye at long-awaited outdoor hockey eventWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been more than three years in the making, but Toledo Walleye Winterfest has finally slid into Fifth Third Field.
“There is a tremendous amount of excitement,” said Mike Keedy, manager of special events for the Walleye. “To finally see the rink on the field and all of our plans and projects coming to fruition — it’s a rewarding feeling. Our entire staff has worked extremely hard and we are ready!”
Winterfest, presented by ProMedica, kicks off Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 4. Its biggest events are the outdoor Walleye hockey games Dec. 27 and Jan. 3. The outdoor rink will also host more than 150 free youth, high school and adult recreational teams.
Also planned 6-10 p.m. Jan. 2 is the Walleye Winter Brewfest, featuring more than 250 beers from more than 50 breweries.
The baseball stadium underwent an extreme makeover to prepare for the inaugural winter event.
The outdoor rink was constructed by Rink Specialists, a North Carolina-based company that has set up NHL-sized rinks at venues such as Fenway Park in Boston and Comerica Park in Detroit.
Since Dec. 8, the company has been setting up the rink, dropping a huge generator into the outfield via crane to power its equipment, testing 13 miles of plastic tubing that goes underneath the rink and putting ice where the infield normally sits.
At 5:30 p.m. Dec. 27, the Walleye will host the Kalamazoo Wings in the first outdoor hockey game in ECHL history. The Walleye will also host the Fort Wayne Komets at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 3. Prior to that game, there will be a 4:30 p.m. showdown featuring alumni teams from Toledo and Fort Wayne.
“This is going to be a first-class experience for the fans and the participating teams,” Keedy said. “People will want to be in the ballpark early to not miss a thing.”
Open skate sessions will be offered Dec. 28-29 and 31. The Stanley Cup will be on display Dec. 29.
There is also a game at 4 p.m. Dec. 31 featuring Adrian College vs. the U.S. National Under-18 team. At noon Jan. 3, the Bowling Green State University Falcons will play its first outdoor game vs. Robert Morris.
The Walleye are off to a 19-4 start this seasion under new head coach Derek Lalonde. He took over the head coaching spot vacated by Nick Vitucci in February.
“I’m ecstatic,” LaLonde said. “If you told us we were going to be on record pace, 19-4 at this time, I would have said not a chance. With that said, we did concentrate on bringing in the right kid that was going to buy in to the culture we wanted: team-first culture.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Find a Winterfest photo album on our Facebook page
Part of what attracted LaLonde to Toledo was the city’s enthusiastic fanbase, which has been showing up in strong numbers even with last year’s poor results on the ice.
“Now that we’re winning, the response has been extremely great,” he said.
Winterfest marks LaLonde’s first time being involved in an outdoor hockey game. The buzz around the games in undeniable, he said.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I tip my hat to how hard everyone has worked here. My job has been easy when you relate it to what people have done to get ready for this event. My job is to put the best team on the ice I can.”
For a full schedule, visit www.toledowalleye.com/winterfest.