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Published: 10/17/2009

Walleye iced in debut

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

In a night of grand celebration and firsts, the Toledo Walleye's bid to break in its brand new tank with a win hit a snag in its inaugural game.

A standing room-only crowd of 8,000 witnessed the Walleye fall 2-1 to the Florida Everblades at the new Lucas County Arena. It was the largest crowd to ever watch a pro hockey game in Toledo. The previous record was 5,959 during a Goaldiggers game in the 1975 Turner Cup finals.

Rookie Maxime Tanguay scored the first goal in the franchise's history 5:37 into the third period. Tanguay knocked home a rebound, and two lunker-sized walleye were hurled onto the ice from the crowd in celebration. The historic goal sent the crowd into a frenzy and pulled Toledo within one.

But Florida withstood seven Walleye power plays to put a damper on the return of hockey after a two-year absence.

"It was a great feeling," Tanguay said. "The crowd is excited for this team. I just wish we could have won."

Adam Hobson and Brock Wilson got the assists, and a Walleye official scooped up the dead fish and twirled one in the air much like the Red Wings celebrate after octopi are thrown onto the ice in Detroit.

"You couldn't ask for more from the crowd," Toledo coach Nick Vitucci said. "It was loud, and when Maxime scored, the place erupted. We hope we give them a reason to do it more often."

Toledo rookie goalie Alec Richards, a recent Yale graduate, was solid throughout. The 22-year-old gave up a power play goal and finished with 25 saves.

"It was pretty special," Richards said. "It was a great crowd tonight. It was my first pro game and the first game in this beautiful arena. We just came up a bit short."

At the other end of the rink was veteran goalie Mike Morrison, who has played 29 games in the NHL. Morrison made just eight saves over the final two periods and finished with 18.

The perennially strong Everblades, which return about a dozen players from last season, should provide a stiff test all weekend. Florida went 49-17-5 last season to win a conference title before losing in the division finals of the ECHL playoffs.

Florida coach Malcolm Cameron said bad ice conditions

affected his veteran team.

"The ice was terrible. The guys were getting frustrated that they couldn't be creative with the puck," Cameron said. "But their goalie was outstanding. He made some great saves on our power plays."

The Everblades scored on one of five power play attempts. Toledo ended up one of seven with the man advantage.

"Florida had a very aggressive penalty kill. It will take some time," Vitucci said.

The Everblades seized a 2-0 lead on a two-on-one breakaway early in the third. Jacob Micflikier one-timed a pass from Rob Hennigar, and Richards had no chance.

Richards made a spectacular save midway through the third moments after Toledo forwards Dominc Osman and Evan Rankin failed to convert on a breakaway.

Walleye center Justin Hodgman then had a golden opportunity when he created his own solo break. Hodgman skated in but made one too many moves. Morrison made a pad save to keep it 2-1.

Florida defenseman Scott Hotham scored the first goal in the arena's history. Hotham scored just 10 seconds into a power play on a quick slap shot 7:42 into the game.

Each team had plenty of opportunities with the man advantage in the first period. But the Everblades failed on four tries and Toledo was unsuccessful in three.

Richards made a solid save on the first shot of the second

period to keep it a one-goal game. Richards was sharp again minutes later, stopping two shots in close.

Toledo did not get its first shot of the second period until the

12:52 mark when Mike Hedden just missed on a breakaway.

The teams play again tonight at 7 and tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.

"They have a bunch of veterans, and we're getting used to each other," Tanguay said. "I think we made a good effort. They are supposed to have a good team. Hopefully we'll bounce back [tonight]."



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