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Andre Payette now has as many goals as broken hands this season.
The tough, hard-luck Storm winger made just his sixth appearance - and first since breaking his hand in a fight at Peoria on Jan. 31 - in a Toledo uniform last night.
His second goal of the campaign snapped a 1-1 third period tie and held up to be the winner in a 3-1 final versus the Reading Royals.
From the slot, Payette shoveled a rebound past Brandon Snee at 10:37. Both of his markers this season have been game-winners and both have come while he's fought for position in front of the net.
“I'm not going to score the pretty ones,” Payette said with a grin. “I'll leave that to Brownie [Storm forward Jim Brown].
“I was more concerned with helping the team win. That would be awful, come back first game and lose a game at home when we've only lost two all year.”
With the victory, Toledo ties a franchise record set earlier this season with its 11th consecutive win at the Sports Arena. The Storm also moves back into a first-place deadlock with Peoria for the top spot in the East Coast Hockey League.
Thanks in part to Payette, each club now has 95 points.
“Andre brought some energy, was physical and excited,” Storm coach Claude Noel said. “He gave a heck of an effort and you noticed him when he was out on the ice.”
That he's even on the ice is noteworthy. After being signed as a free agent by Toledo one month into the season, Payette broke his thumb in a fight on Nov. 24. After sitting out more than a month, he was immediately called up to Manitoba of the American Hockey League.
He had five fights in eight games with the Moose before returning to the Storm. In his first game back, just 18 seconds in, he broke a bone in his right hand on the head of ex-Storm backliner Anthony Belza.
Nearly two months later, he was back to his old tricks, finishing checks and agitating the Royals, especially defense- man Remi Royer who cross-checked Payette behind the play a shift or two before he scored the winner.
“He's a clown,” Payette said. “I played him in the AHL a lot. He's never fought me once, so I'm not going to be too worried about him.”
Toledo's biggest concern was a letdown after two huge wins over Peoria last weekend at One Main Street that put the team two points ahead of the Rivermen. Peoria has won twice on the road since the weekend, and the Storm needed a victory to keep pace.
“[A letdown] was something that was discussed prior to the game,” said Toledo's Matt Ellis, who scored the final goal of the contest. “But how can there be a letdown when we see the standings and see that Peoria is up two points on us and we had to make up the ground?”
NOTES: Ellis finished with seven shots on goal. ... Storm goalie Doug Teskey was backed up on an emergency basis by Toledo IceDiggers netminder Rick Sissen. Regular Brian Finley has been placed on the seven-day injured-reserve list with a sore groin. ... Popular ex-Storm tough guy [1998-2000] Ken Tasker was at the contest. He's playing in the Quebec Senior Hockey League and has had over 30 fights this season.