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Published: Sunday, 11/8/2009

Walleye's Sawyer nets game-winner

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Evan Rankin has been on these kinds of runs before, but never before as a professional. Jean-Claude Sawyer has been around the block a few times, but even he feels lucky to be playing so well.

Rankin, the rookie forward and Notre Dame product, extended his goal streak to four games, while Sawyer picked up his third game-winning goal of the season in the Walleye's 6-5 win over Cincinnati last night in front of 7,442 at Lucas County Arena.

"From a fan's perspective, it was an exciting game," Toledo coach Nick Vitucci said. "But I think from a coaching perspective, this was one that would probably make both coaches' hair turn gray in a hurry."

Sawyer took a cross-ice backhand pass from Maxime Tanguay and sniped a wrist shot into the top left corner of the net with 7:09 remaining.

The 23-year-old also collected a pair of assists to raise his team-leading point total to 15 - tops in the ECHL for a defenseman.

"I seem to be at the right spot at the right time right now," Sawyer said.

"Obviously players are finding me too in the right spot, and it's fun to play with good players. When they give you the puck in the right spot, all I have to do is lift my head up and shoot it. I'm getting fortunate too, but it's nice to be on a roll like this."

After dropping a 5-2 road contest against the Cyclones (5-4-0-0) on Friday night, Toledo (6-3-0-1) came out with renewed vigor last night.

The Walleye jumped out to a 2-0 early lead and held a 3-2 advantage after the first period.

Although it got off to a slow start, the first period saw a flurry of goals scored. Toledo and Cincinnati lit the lamp four times in a span of less than two minutes.

With Cincinnati's Brett Robinson in the penalty box for cross-checking, Rankin corralled a loose puck between the faceoff circles, wheeled and fired a shot past the outstretched right leg of goalie Jeremy Smith (24 saves) at 10:26 in the first period to give the Walleye a 1-0 advantage.

"Evan plays hard every shift," Vitucci said. "He kind of has a kamikaze style to him. When you have guys like that who are gritty and not afraid to put their nose in those hard-to-play areas like in front of the net when he knows he's going to get wacked and hacked, he's going to reward himself. And he has."

Justin Hodgman scored for Toledo 1:03 later after talking a feed from Brandon Naurato and flipping a backhander top shelf.

The Cyclones didn't take long to answer, though, scoring 35 seconds later on Mark O'Leary's goal on a two-on-one break with Reid Cashman.

The Walleye countered with Mike Hedden's goal after he came from behind the net and stuffed the puck into the right corner past Smith at the 12:33 mark.

After trading a pair of goals to close out the first, the teams traded two more goals a piece in the second.

Toledo captain Ryan Stokes fired the puck through a crowd for his second goal of the season at the 12:41 mark to give the Walleye a 5-4 advantage heading into the second intermission.

Cincinnati's Dustin Sproat would tie it back up, though, 1:03 into the third period with his second goal of the game.

With a two-man advantage, Brett Motherwell took a shot from the point and Sproat deflected it past Walleye goalie Alec Richards (25 saves).

But that only set the table for another round of heroics from Sawyer, a three-year ECHL veteran.

"It's fun to play in front of these crowds," Sawyer said. "And it's fun to play with a team that is so resilient. We seem to always find a way to win."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com.



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