Reaction to the stunning suspension of newly acquired defenseman Jamie Doornbosch after his refusal to report to the Walleye on Monday was a swift mix of confusion and anger.
The Toledo Walleye traded leading scorer Erik Bradford to Brampton for Jamie Doornbosch, but the defenseman will not report to the team.
Blade/Kurt Steiss Enlarge
And rightfully so.
The Walleye gave up their leading scorer, forward Erik Bradford, for essentially nothing. Toledo made a big move for the 28-year-old Doornbosch in the trade late last week with Brampton. Doornbosch instead has left the Walleye high and dry. And on the surface, it seems to be a selfish move.
The young man had an opportunity where he was leaving a struggling organization and coming to a team in serious contention for a championship. And it was a team that wanted him badly enough to give up its top point producer.
Doornbosch essentially stuck it to both his old team and new team. He had reportedly told Brampton officials that he would report to Toledo if he was traded.
Doornbosch initially told Walleye officials he needed to wrap up some personal matters, and the Ontario native said he needed to clear up some immigration paperwork. He was not with the Walleye for their three-game series at home last weekend.
He then told the Walleye on Monday that he had “decided to pursue avenues other than hockey.” Toledo immediately suspended him for the season.
Walleye coach Dan Watson was left holding the bag.
“I'm disappointed because he [told Brampton officials] that he would report,” Watson said. “I'm glad he chose to quit now rather than getting to Toledo and quitting. We want players who want to be in Toledo. If you don't want to be here, we don't want you anyways.”
The Walleye have little to no recourse in the matter. The deal cannot be voided under current ECHL rules. Brampton will be required to compensate the Walleye with a player to be named later. However, that will now take place in the summer and does not have to be done until June 13.
Watson brought in Doornbosch for his size (6-foot-2 and 190 pounds). He said he was seeking a left-shot defenseman who was steady and versatile. Apparently, he's not so reliable.
It's hard to go too overboard in the criticism without knowing exactly what the young man may be dealing with. Who knows what's going on with his personal life?
Much of the derision and vitriol from the fervent fan base has been laid at the feet of Watson.
But if a guy gives you his word, you have to believe it. It's a good faith bargain. Of course, Watson does not receive a full pass on this. He should have had a better feel on the wavering attitude of the young man and the possibility of this outcome.
Some also viewed the trade as lopsided in the first place. But it must be pointed out that Bradford had the worst plus-minus rating on the team (minu-6). A top-end player on a club that has the most points in the ECHL should never have a negative plus-minus rating. Bradford, who did have a team-high 45 points with 15 goals and 30 assists in 53 games this season, was a defensive liability at times.
There's a reason Bradford has been traded twice this season and has played for three different teams this year and six different ECHL clubs since 2015-16.
Plus the Walleye already were strong up the middle with quality depth in centers Christian Hilbrich, Mike Borkowski, A.J. Jenks, and the newly acquired Colin Jacobs.
Pushing the panic button is way premature. Watson could acquire a promising D-man by signing a prospect right out of college. Think Spinks. Prior to the end of the 2015-16 season, then-Walleye coach Derek Lalonde brought in the twin forwards and it paid immediate dividends. Lalonde signed Tylor and Tyson Spink right out of Colgate, and the Spinks played in a handful of games at the end of the regular season. Tylor Spink then ranked second on the team in scoring in the playoffs and Tyson Spink was sixth.
Many of the distraught fans point to the questionable trade Watson made for defenseman Justin Agosta at the deadline last year. And that's fair criticism. Watson had to give up a huge commodity in highly productive forward Tyler Sikura to bring in Agosta, and it did not pan out in Toledo's favor. Although I'm sure Watson knew Sikura was headed to bigger and better things the following season and would likely not ever see him again in a Walleye uniform. Indeed, Sikura signed last week with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The right (left-handed) defenseman can be found in the college ranks. Watson, the ECHL coach of the year last season who led Toledo to the conference finals, deserves the benefit of the doubt.
In fact, Doornbosch's decision not to report to his new team seems to follow a disturbing trend. Atlanta also suspended Mathieu Aubin, a 10-year forward and former Cincinnati captain, after he refused to report after being acquired from Allen. Agosta also has been suspended by Worcester for not reporting after being traded from Manchester.
Perhaps these players tire of being treated like a commodity. But that's their chosen profession. It's part of the business.
Doornbosch had a right to pursue a new career path. Hockey players deserve the ultimate respect for putting life and limb on the line every time they take the ice. If a player feels he can’t be 100 percent in, it's time to go. It's not a half-go sport.
Furthermore, ECHL players aren't exactly raking in the money. At most, players are making $525 a week. Over a 25-week regular season, that equates to an annual salary of just $13,125. The minimum is $460 per week. Perhaps it's just not worth the risk of injury or moving to a new country. Maybe his new 9-to-5 job is more lucrative, secure, and safer.
But to leave a team who badly wanted your services in an extremely tough and embarrassing predicament must have been a difficult choice. It's a decision I have to imagine Doornbosch did not make lightly and is still struggling with its ramifications.
In the end, perhaps this solidifies the Walleye locker room even more. Players are no longer walking on eggshells with the trade deadline now behind them.
One final thought. The ECHL should have some rule in place that prevents this type of scenario from playing out so frequently. Perhaps deals should not be finalized until all players report to their new teams.
TOUGH AS NAILS: Two cringe-worthy incidents on Saturday night once again showed the resolve and courage that all hockey players possess.
Former Walleye player Dominic Zombo, who now plays for Cincinnati, took a puck directly to back of the neck at Fort Wayne when he was struck with a slap shot by teammate Alexander Taulien.
Zombo laid on the ice without any movement for several minutes. He was then taken off the ice on a stretcher and was able to give a thumbs-up to the concerned onlookers. After being taken to the hospital, he had feeling in all extremities and was released in good spirits.
On Sunday Zombo issued the following statement: “I’d like to thank everyone involved in the @FWKomets & @CincyCyclones organizations for the best treatment and care tonight as well as everyone else who has reached out for their concern and support!”
That same night Walleye forward Shane Berschbach took a high stick to his jawline in a game against Quad City at the Huntington Center. A bloodied Berschbach left the ice on his own accord. For at least the second time this season, Berschbach suffered a chipped tooth. Only his mouth guard prevented perhaps a shattered jaw.
In the end, Berschbach felt well enough to play the next day. But he was held out of the lineup and is now on injured reserve.
Hockey players lay it all on the line every night.
Former Walleye forward Michael Leone made one of the most selfless acts and impactful sacrifices in the 2015 postseason. With no hesitation or thought of self-preservation, Leone threw himself onto the ice in front of a speeding puck to block a potential playoff-altering goal in Game 5 of the division semis at Wheeling.
The frozen, vulcanized rubber smashed into Leone's face, instantly breaking his nose. It proved to be a tipping point in the series against Wheeling and the catalyst for a deep playoff run.
“It's part of the job,” Leone later said. “You don't want to let up a quality scoring chance there. I know my job is to get down and block that shot. It broke my nose. It was unfortunate. But I would never hesitate to do it again. I've always tried to be a team guy. It's all about winning.”
Leone's sacrifice sparked an energy on the bench and turned the game around as A.J. Jenks scored the game-winner that enabled the Walleye to take a 3-2 lead in a series the team would eventually take.
OFFICIATING WOES: Speaking of the Berschbach injury, it was one of the most egregious missed calls I've seen a while.
Berschbach was right in the middle of the play when he took the high stick to his face. It appeared ref Sean Fernandez was in good position to catch what should have been a five-minute major penalty for high sticking on Saturday. But no call was made even as Berschbach folded to the ice and had blood streaming from his mouth.
There were more of the same missed calls and questionable calls in Sunday's game. And Watson did not hold back in his criticism.
“It's Game 62 and the excuses — like, ‘Oops, I missed it,” or, “My bad” – those are starting to get old,” he said.
All referees have thankless jobs. ECHL officials have some of the toughest duty in all of sport. One person cannot be expected to be at all the right places at all the right times and make instantaneous, correct calls. These young officials are in a developmental league for a reason as well. They're learning on the fly.
It's time to help them out. It's time for the two-referee system to be standard in the league.
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