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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2011

Walleye claw back to .500

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Walleye have strung together five straight wins to reach the .500 mark for the first time since Halloween.

Toledo scored two goals in the first period and cruised to a 4-2 victory over Cincinnati Sunday before an announced crowd of 4,129 at the Huntington Center.

Defenseman Jason Lepine scored twice — with both goals coming in the first period.

Walleye goalie Jimmy Spratt finished with 36 saves. Spratt, a former Bowling Green State University netminder, was strong throughout and improved to 2-0-0.

The Walleye (18-18-3) have started a six-game homestand with three straight wins.

Overall, the team is in the midst of a season-high five-game winning streak.

Toledo moved its record to the .500 mark for the first time since Oct. 30. The team has only been above .500 once, when it opened the season with a win. They fell to 1-1-0 the next day and have been below .500 since Nov. 3.

"It's 85 days since we've been at .500," Vitucci said. "It's been a great job clawing our way back into this and getting back into the race. But at the end of the day, .500 is average. I expect more out of this hockey club. But it's a starting point."

Toledo was outshot 38-23, but Spratt held the Cyclones (17-17-7) in check.

"I felt good," he said. "Our team eliminated their really solid chances in the first period, and I settled in."

Toledo posted its third straight win at home, where it moved to 10-9-1.

Forwards Randy Rowe and Zach Torquato each had three assists, while fellow forward Tyler Doig had a goal and an assist.

Lepine scored on a long shot from the point to get Toledo going with a power-play goal 8:54 into the game. Lepine scored again 2:41 later to give the Walleye a 2-0 lead.

"That was a big deal," Lepine said. "We're fighting for a playoff spot, and we needed this. This is a huge boost, and we have a lot of confidence."

Lepine, who was acquired in a trade from Bakersfield on Dec. 12, is averaging almost a point a game for Toledo. Lepine, who is in his fifth pro season, scored on each of his first two shots Sunday.

"We've been more consistent," Lepine said. "The guys know their roles. Everyone is coming together and contributing."

A brutal fight broke out between Toledo tough guy Adam Keefe and Benn Olson in the second period.

Keefe landed several big punches, including a couple of uppercuts. Keefe (5-foot-10) bloodied Olson (6-4), who went directly to the locker room for treatment. Keefe returned to Toledo yesterday from a call-up to Grand Rapids.

The Cyclones got on the scoreboard with Chase Watson's rebound goal with 3:48 left in the second period.

Toledo went up 3-1 on defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin's long shot from the point. Cyclone goalie Chet Pickard (19 saves) was screened on the shot.

Doig scored on Toledo's first shot of the third period to increase the lead to 4-1. Cincinnati tallied the last goal with 40 seconds left for the final margin.

Spratt, who came off the bench to relieve Joe Palmer in Saturday night's wild 8-7 Walleye win over Elmira, has played for four teams in his two-year pro career.

"I've been kind of a journeyman the last two years," Spratt said. "It's nice to come in and show them your best stuff and contribute. I hope I can stick here. I saw the Storm play a couple games in the old Sports Arena. Northwest Ohio is a good hockey area. Toledo has knowledgeable fans."

Vitucci said he knew Spratt, who signed with Toledo on Jan. 11, was a solid goaltender. Spratt made 11 saves in the first, 13 in the second, and 12 in the third.

"I saw him play enough at Bowling Green," Vitucci said. "He's an NHL draft pick. I knew we would need a good goalie to complement Joe Palmer and to push him as well."

Despite earning a six-point weekend, the Walleye (18-18-2) remain in last place in the North Division. However, they are just two points out of second place.

"To be honest, we haven't played our best hockey in the last five games, but we'll take the results," Vitucci said. "We needed something like this. It's a streaky league. It feels good to win three straight games at home."

Toledo hosts three more games next weekend, beginning Friday against Trenton. The ECHL all-star game will be held on Wednesday in Bakersfield, Calif. Andy Bohmbach will represent Toledo.

"We need to come back focused after the all-star break," Vitucci said.

FISH TALES: Doig and Rowe kept scoring streaks alive. Rowe now has a seven-game point streak, while Doig is on a five-game goal scoring streak. … Keefe returned to the team from Grand Rapids along with Mike Hedden Sunday. … On Saturday, Toledo gave up three goals over the first 6:55 of the game and four over the first 7:29. The Walleye yielded five goals on the first nine shots and trailed 5-0 just 9:58 into the game. Elmira tallied three shorthanded goals. It was the first time since February, 2009, that three shorthanded goals had been scored by one team in an ECHL game. But Toledo rallied to win 8-7.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.



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