A rough start against Gwinnett took some luster off a milestone established by the Toledo Walleye franchise yesterday.
A capacity crowd of 8,200 saw the Walleye dumped 6-4 by the Gladiators. But the sellout set an all-time single season attendance record for a Toledo pro hockey team.
A total of 182,590 fans have attended 30 games at Lucas County Arena, breaking the record of 177,988 set in 1977-78 by the Goaldiggers. It was the eighth sellout of the year.
"What a great fan base," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "We're thrilled that hockey has been supported so well. But we certainly want to perform for them every night."
Instead, Gwinnett scored the first five goals before Toledo tallied four of the next five.
After Gwinnett scored its fourth goal on its 11th shot, Vitucci pulled goalie Jordan Pearce in favor of Alec Richards 39 seconds into the second period.
The Walleye trailed 5-0 early in the second, before goals by Chris Zarb and J.C. Sawyer pulled them within three. Scooter Smith tallied two third-period goals but the Gladiators had built a big enough cushion.
"We played well except for 10 minutes of the first period and it was 5-0 before we knew it," Smith said. "But we didn't give up and we at least made a game of it."
Toledo (29-24-4) is fighting for one of eight playoff spots, but has lost three of four.
The Gladiators struck
8:17 into the game on Tom Zanoski's backhander. Matt Francis then scored on an odd angle for a 2-0 lead just as a Gladiators' power play was expiring.
The Walleye then found themselves down two men for a full two minutes. Adam Keefe was called for a four-minute penalty (tripping and unsportsmanlike conduct) and Malcolm MacMillan was whistled for a slash.
Gwinnett capitalized when Michael Forney tipped in a pass for a 3-0 edge with 1:23 left in the first. The Gladiators scored on their first shot of the second period and then made it 5-0 when Jason Lawrence split two defensemen for a solo breakaway.
Toledo finally got on the board as Zarb scored on a long shot from the right point. Sawyer then slammed home a long rebound to make it 5-2 at 8:39 of the second.
"This first 23 minutes we weren't very good," Vitucci said. "But we fought our way back into the game and battled. But it was too little, too late."
Smith then sent a pass out front and it was deflected in for a power play goal 2:45 into the third period as Toledo closed within two.
"Every home game we know we will have a good crowd," Smith said. "That definitely helps us out in a game like this. We scored that first goal and it was 5-1 but it was like the score was the other way around."
But Forney notched his second of the night on the power play as Gwinnett seized a 6-3 lead. Smith closed the scoring with a long shot that deflected in.
"It's been a whirlwind of players in and out of the lineup," Vitucci said. "We're just trying to get back as a cohesive unit."
Toledo has a three-game homestand next weekend.
"It's been crunch time for awhile now," Smith said.
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