The last game of the preseason was one of the most difficult days for Toledo Walleye coach Nick Vitucci.
The team dropped its final exhibition game 5-2 to the Port Huron Icehawks yesterday before a crowd 362 at Team Toledo Ice House. But weighing heavily on Vitucci's mind wasn't the lopsided loss. It was the players that had to be cut to finalize the opening day roster.
"A lot of these guys will have to be released," Vitucci said. "This was kind of a last look for them."
Right wingers Ryan Smyth and Evan Rankin did the most with their chances as both scored goals, while left winger Mike Hedden had two assists. But yesterday's starting goalies, Dan Tormey (14 shots, 12 saves) and Ian Keserich (14 shots, 11 saves), likely will be let go.
"I have a lot invested in all of these guys emotionally," said Vitucci, who planned to meet with his assistants well into the evening last night to determine the final cuts. "I've gotten to know them personally, so it's very tough."
Toledo lost its second straight game and finished the preseason at 1-3. Vitucci said he believes the product on the ice on opening night this Friday will more closely resemble the team that won 3-2 at Cincinnati last Friday.
"We had way more players in camp this year than I've ever had," Vitucci said. "A lot of these guys have not skated together [in a game]. We have a lot of work to do."
Toledo was outshot 28-21, including 11-4 in the second period, and went 0 of 7 on the power play. Port Huron converted on 4 of 7 opportunities with the man advantage. Mike Kinnie had a hat trick for the IceHawks, who are coached by former Toledo Storm assistant Stan Drulia.
Toledo trailed 1-0 after one period and 4-0 late in the second period. The Walleye finally got going when Smyth one timed a pass from Hedden. Smyth's goal came just as a Port Huron power play expired and made it 4-1 with 53 seconds left in the second.
Hedden later created a breakaway in the third period. His shot was stopped and Rankin knocked in the rebound to pull Toledo within 5-2 with 8:35 left. But Port Huron, of the International Hockey League, prevailed.,
The Walleye controlled play for the first 10 minutes, not allowing a shot until midway through the period. Toledo forward Dominic Osman looked as though he had scored late in the first period, but the referee ruled that the net had come off its moorings.
But the IceHawks carried most of the play in a contest that featured two brief fights.
Vitucci has four days of practice before the season opener at the Lucas County Arena against the Florida Everblades at 7 p.m.
"I'm not concerned one bit about the preseason," Vitucci said. "I think we have a skilled hockey club. We just have to get on the same page now."
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