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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2008

Mixed reviews: Not everyone in Toledo has taste for Walleye

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The fishing puns set loose by naming Toledo's pro hockey team the Walleye were already out in full force yesterday.

If you're ahem, looking for one to nibble on, here's how Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak began her remarks at yesterday's news conference to officially introduce the Toledo Walleye mascot and logo:

"What else can we say besides, 'We're hooked,'•" she said.

The commissioners, Toledo Mud Hens officials and employees, and Walleye coach Nick Vitucci are truly hooked on the hockey team's new moniker, or at least they said as much yesterday. And, according to Mud Hens sales' officials, new Walleye merchandise is in demand.

But there are at least some local residents who are put off by the idea of a walleye representing a hockey team: Virtually all of the people approached by The Blade at Fricker's at the Field in downtown Toledo voiced their opposition.

Joe Napoli, general manager of the Mud Hens and Toledo Arena Sports Inc., the not-for-profit organization created by the Hens to own Toledo's future hockey and arena football teams, was ready for division over the Walleye announcement.

"I can't really say I'm surprised," Mr. Napoli said. "Over the last two months I've done numerous speaking engagements, and the team names always come up. When I ask the group to vote on Toledo Mud Hens, I never get a single hand raised. Yet, Mud Hens is the most popular logo in all of minor-league baseball.

"You have to take the logo, word mark, and mascot, and tie it all together. No matter what name we introduced there would be some naysayers."

Indeed.

"I think Walleyes is corny," said Rickie Middaugh, 25, of Toledo.

"It's a little goofy," Tom Samson, 52, of Rossford, said.

"The name doesn't have anything to do with hockey," said Jeff Williams, 45, a long-time Toledo hockey fan who now lives in Adrian.

Many Walleye detractors at Fricker's shared Mr. Williams' belief that the name didn't fit the rough nature of hockey.

Mr. Williams even conceded he approved of the Walleye logo, but the name? "It's embarrassing, really," he said.

County Commissioner Pete Gerken tried to draw connections between walleye and hockey players, saying that walleye are "tough," "hard to hit," "fights back," and "will bite you in corners."

"People are really going to have fun with this," Mr. Gerken said at the logo unveiling ceremony, held at the Roost at Fifth Third Field. "I can see fish sandwiches flying off the shelves" during Walleye games at the county's new downtown arena."

Fans have plenty of time to chew on the Walleye brand before the puck drops, as the team will not open play until the fall of 2009.

Omar Burciaga, 37, of Toledo, said he will go to Walleye games, but he won't necessarily be wearing team gear.

"I'm going to go to the games because I like hockey, regardless of what the team name is," Mr. Burciaga said. "I just don't want to wear [a hat with the Walleye logo on it]."

The limited amount of Walleye merchandise available at the Swamp Shop - the Hens' souvenir shop - is already a hot seller, according the Hens assistant manager of merchandise, Heidi Srock.

Miss Srock said the store sold 20 Walleye items in its first 20 minutes yesterday, and nearly half of all Walleye merchandise in stock was gone shortly before close of business.

The Swamp Shop is currently selling Walleye hats, T-shirts, and sweatshirts, and Miss Srock said more items will be available during the Hens' season.

After purchasing one of those T-shirts late yesterday afternoon, Kevin Sullivan, 25, of Toledo, said the Walleye logo was better than he first thought it would be.

"When I first heard about it, I thought it was dumb," Mr. Sullivan said. "But the logo is cool lookin'. It's a different kind of logo."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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