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Walleye Weigh-In: Brabham Cup within reach

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    Toledo Walleye players, coaches and staff watch as two banners are unveiled for their North Division and Brabham Cup championships before they play the Adirondack Thunder at the Huntington Center, Saturday, November 7, 2015.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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    Toledo's Simon Denis (9) shoots against South Carolina's goalie Jeff Jakaitis (32).

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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    Toledo's forward Joey Martin passes the puck during during a 2015 home game against Reading.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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Apparently, this group of Walleye are very serious about grabbin' the Brabham.

The team went unscathed through another taxing road trip, earning eight out of eight points.

With the four-game win streak, Toledo kept the pressure on several teams chasing them for the lead in the ECHL overall standings.

The trophy for finishing with the most points in the league is called the Brabham (pronounced Brab-UM) Cup. Toledo has become very familiar with the regular-season championship, taking the Brabham last season and in 2015.

With a 4-1 win at Cincinnati on Sunday, Toledo swept a four-game road trip. The successful stretch also came during a travel-filled journey of four games in five days. The final two victories also came over desperate teams (Indy and Cincinnati) that are still looking to lock up a spot in the Kelly Cup playoffs.

The highlight win came on Saturday when the team rallied from a 3-0 deficit at Indy midway through the first period to swipe two points away from the Fuel with a 4-3 OT win courtesy of two clutch goals from Kyle Bonis.

The Walleye now have a nine-point lead over Fort Wayne in the Central Division. The archrival Komets, who were idle on Sunday, do have three games in hand on Toledo.

The Walleye also have a seized five-point lead over Florida for first place in the overall ECHL standings. The Everblades, who were idle on Sunday, have four games in hand on Toledo.

The team also was able to put points in the bank while dealing with a near constant roster revolution. There were no fewer than seven different transactions made with call-ups, signings — and even a distracting player suspension for failure to report — during that same time frame.

Credit the veteran leadership core, including injured captain Alden Hirschfeld, for keeping the group on task.

It hasn't all been roses, however. Toledo gave up seven goals to the Fuel in a 7-4 home loss on March 11. And they then surrendered three more goals over the first half of the first period to Indy on Saturday. They also gave up 44 shots at Quad City last Wednesday.

Faulty puck management and poor execution can sometimes be a bugaboo for this group. If the club maintains focus, limits turnovers, and just plays consistently smart, it's a tough nut to crack. Essentially this team must make sure it's not beating itself.

PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Toledo has just six games left in the regular season with four at home and two on the road.

The Walleye will most likely face one of three teams in the first round: Kalamazoo, Kansas City, or Indy. The Walleye are a combined 15-3-0 against those Central Division foes. That trio is battling it out for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division.

The Walleye are 7-1-0 against Indy, 4-1-0 versus K-Zoo, and 4-2-0 against KC. 

Toledo has already earned home-ice advantage in the first round.

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Toledo's Simon Denis (9) shoots against South Carolina's goalie Jeff Jakaitis (32).

The Blade/Katie Rausch
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DENIS DEBUT: Defenseman Simon Denis finally got his shot in the American Hockey League and made the most it.

The Hartford Wolf Pack took a flier on Toledo's young D-man and he rewarded them with an assist in each of his three appearances last weekend. And all three were wins.

Denis had an assist on the game-winning goal in his AHL debut, a 4-3 win over Lehigh Valley.

The amiable 26-year-old from far Western Canada followed that with an assist on the first goal in a win on Saturday and added another helper in a Hartford victory on Sunday.

The well-liked young man here said he was extremely excited and happy to have earned the promotion.

Fortunately for the Walleye, Hartford has all but been eliminated from the AHL postseason. The importance of Denis' return to the Walleye lineup obviously in time for the playoffs is hard to understate. He is the team's top-scoring defenseman and an assistant captain.

Just ask those in the room. Kent Nusbaum, Toledo's emergency back-up goaltender, said he was very happy to hear Denis had earned the call-up.

“I sat next to him in the room. He's such a great guy,” Nusbaum said. “Everyone knows his personality, but he has a great work ethic. He never takes a shift off during practice. Against me, he was always going full throttle.”

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Toledo's forward Joey Martin passes the puck during during a 2015 home game against Reading.

The Blade/Katie Rausch
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WHAT IF? Former center Joey Martin surely would have felt right at home the last few seasons here with the retooled and rejuvenated Walleye.

I always thought Martin's style would have fit in perfectly with the uptempo approach implemented by Walleye coach Derek Lalonde in his first season here. A good distributor of the puck, Martin also was fast with a creative flash and could finish.

Martin and Gleason Fournier, who were teammates on Toledo's 2011-12 team, recently helped lead the Cardiff Devils to the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) regular-season championship.

Martin, a 29-year-old from Ontario, had two very productive seasons with the Walleye in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Martin started his pro career Toledo and led the team in scoring with 49 points (22 goals, 27 assists) in 63 games. Martin scored a goal in the clinching win on Friday.

The EIHL is a pro league based in United Kingdom that was formed in 2003 with 12 teams in all four nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). Cardiff is a team based in Wales.

Fournier, a former third-round pick by the Red Wings in 2009, played parts of two seasons with the Walleye.

Martin has led the Cardiff Devils in scoring for four straight seasons. This season Martin had 25 goals and 68 points in 53 games. Martin ranked third on the Walleye's all-time scoring list with 94 points when he was traded prior to the 2013-14 season. He scored 38 goals and added 56 assists in 123 games over those last two seasons. Martin played one more season in the ECHL and had a couple of chances in the American League but never caught on in North America.

The money is apparently a bit better for “imports” in the EIHL versus the ECHL.

Martin could easily slip onto a line with Bonis and Barnes or Berschbach and Jenks. Could Martin have been that one piece that pushed the Walleye over the top in recent seasons?

Contact Mark Monroe at mmonroe@theblade.com419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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