Toledo Walleye defenseman Phil Rauch prefers that his work goes unnoticed but he was under the spotlight Saturday night when he made his pro debut in front of a throng of family members and friends.
Rauch grew up in Lambertville and has excelled as an unassuming stay-at-home defenseman. A number of close acquaintances were among the sellout crowd of 8,250 at the Huntington Center that saw Toledo drop its season opener 5-1 to Chicago.
"It was a little more nerveracking knowing all my friends and family were there," Rauch said. "I've never had that before. But it was awesome after the game to go up to the club level and see all my friends and family. It was nothing but positive feedback and how proud they are of me. They appreciate all the hard work I put in."
Rauch, a 2005 graduate of St. Francis de Sales High School, had two shots in his ECHL debut. He played four seasons at Canisius College and was named a captain as a senior last year.
"I got to play in big buildings in college against Wisconsin and other schools that I watched growing up," Rauch said. "But this one definitely topped all of that. The Toledo fans are one of a kind. You can't beat them. Coming out during the introductions was unreal. It was absolutely amazing. I'll never forget that opening night."
Rauch, 24, said he found play in the pro game to be faster and smoother than in the NCAA.
"It's a big jump from college," he said. "I'm excited to see the skill level."
But what Rauch [pronounced ROWK] said won't change is his duties along the blue line.
"I like being one of the guys that will block shots, be good on the penalty kill and not necessarily score all the goals," he said. "I feel it's a big part of the game and someone needs to do it. It's a team game. I don't need to be on top of the scoring list."
Rauch had 13 points in his college career while the 6-foot, 190 pound left-handed shooter had 118 penalty minutes.
"I just want to do anything I can to help the team," Rauch said.
ON THE HOOK
What’s your hockey superstition?
There is a long list. I’ll give you a few. I have to put my equipment on from the left side to the right. I have to count the stars on the American Flag during the national anthem. Obviously, I have to have a pre-game nap. I could go on and on.
Your favorite meal:
Steak and mashed potatoes
Your all-time favorite hockey player:
Have you ever eaten Walleye?
I ate it all the time growing up. We used to catch walleye and perch [on Lake Erie] and then cook it up.
Your favorite place to visit:
Colorado Springs. It’s just gorgeous.
Favorite way to spend your time away from the rink:
I like hunting and fishing. I’m a big outdoors guy.
Favorite sport other than hockey:
Favorite type of music:
Favorite TV Show:
Sons of Anarchy
Person you most admire:
If you could meet an athlete, dead or alive, who would it be?
Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
What is something nobody knows about you?
I’m a good clay pigeon shooter.
- Mark Monroe
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci signed Rauch in July upon the recommendation of former Toledo Storm defenseman B.J. Adams, who is an assistant at Canisius.
"He is a safe and simple defenseman who will take care of his own end," Vitucci said.
Rauch said he has been playing since he was 4. He said no one else in his family plays hockey.
"My mom tells a story about when she took me to an open skate for the first time when I was 4 and I just took off," Rauch said. "Someone came up and asked if I'd be interested in playing and it went from there."
Rauch said he played some baseball growing up but stuck with hockey primarily as a forward. At age 14 a local coach, Frank Butler, encouraged him to switch to defense.
"I was a bigger kid and we needed a few defensemen and he thought it would be perfect for me," Rauch said. "I've liked it ever since. I like the hitting and having more responsibility in the defensive end."
Although he attended St. Francis, Rauch did not play for the Knights' hockey team. He played youth travel hockey with a team based in Detroit called the Michigan Ice Dogs.
"I had [former St. Francis coach Mike] Greeder ask me to play and I had a few priests that wanted me to play for the high school," he said. "But the AAA team in Detroit played in a real good league with some really good players. It gave me more exposure, too."
Rauch was recruited to play at several college and chose Canisius, which is a Division I school in Buffalo.
"I made a lot of great friends," he said. "Being a student athlete kept me on my toes and kept me organized. It helped me get through school. The most important thing was getting my degree out of it."
Rauch graduated with a degree in finance. Yet, pro hockey was calling his name.
"Nick saw me play and he signed me this summer," Rauch said.
Rauch said a few Central Hockey League teams also expressed interest.
"But Toledo was where I wanted to be. I was sick of moving around," he said. "My friends and family can finally see me play."
Rauch said he and his teammates were disappointed that they lost the home and season opener.
"There are positives we can pull from it," he said. "We've gone back to work and put it behind us."
Rauch also pointed out that the team went 2-0 in the preseason, outscoring Kalamazoo 8-1.
"We have a lot of potential," Rauch said. "The veterans on the team say they can see we have a great team. We just need to fine tune some things."
Toledo plays at Kalamazoo on Friday and hosts South Carolina at home on Saturday.
GOALIE RETURNS: Carter Hutton was re-assigned to Toledo from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Tuesday.
Hutton served as the backup for former Toledo Walleye goaltender Alec Richards last weekend.
Hutton started 22 games last year with the Worcester Sharks (AHL) and posted a record of 11-7-2 with a 3.01 goals against average. In his lone start this year with Toledo, Hutton posted a shutout in the preseason. He turned aside 39 shots in a 5-0 win at Kalamazoo on Oct. 7.
Hutton is expected to share duties with Thomas McCollum, who gave up five goals on 24 shots on Saturday.
ATTENDANCE FIGURES: The team has established a record with nearly 2,400 season tickets sold so far.
The team has sold 2,378 season tickets which establishes an all-time mark of season ticket holders for any Toledo hockey franchise, dating back to 1947, according to the organization.
The Walleye finished the 2009-10 season with 2,160 season tickets sold and finished last season with 2,335 season tickets sold.
Overall, 120,335 individual tickets have already been sold.
For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the ECHL averaged more than 5,000 fans per game during opening weekend.
A total of 90,760 fans attended the 18 games over the weekend for an average of 5,042 per game, an increase of 5.5 percent over last season when the league averaged 4,764 per game during opening weekend.
Toledo led the way with a standing-room only crowd of 8,250 for its home opener.
Tickets are available now by phone (419) 725-WALL or at toledowalleye.com.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.