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Published: Saturday, 4/2/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Walleye treat fans to a win in final home game

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo's Nick Duff (8) beats down Elmira's Brian Lebler (23) during a Walleye game at the Huntington Center. Toledo's Nick Duff (8) beats down Elmira's Brian Lebler (23) during a Walleye game at the Huntington Center.
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The Toledo Walleye pleased their loyal supporters with a 6-2 win on fan appreciation night at the Huntington Center Friday night.

In the last home game of the season, the team's top line of Mike Hedden, Andy Bohmbach, and Evan Rankin clicked again. All three forwards scored goals in the victory over Elmira before a crowd of 7,041. The trio combined to post seven points.

With nothing on the line after the Walleye were eliminated from the playoffs on Thursday, a near sellout crowd still showed up.

"I didn't know what to expect coming into my first pro season," Bohmbach said. "But these fans have been unbelievable. It was good to see them come out even though we're not in the playoffs anymore. It was nice to get a win for them."

Fan favorite Scooter Smith, playing in his last season as a pro, added a third-period goal. Defenseman Jason Lepine capped a stellar season with a goal, while Tyler Doig scored his 19th of the season.

There have been nine sellouts this season and a total of 21 over the team's first two years of existence. A total of 214,311 fans went through the turnstiles this year.

"We wanted to play hard for our fans," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "We have great fan support. At times they didn't get the hockey they deserved. A small percentage of them hold our team accountable and that's fine. We need that. We recognized that, and we wanted to go out on a high note. It was loud, boisterous."

Fish and squid were tossed on the ice after Toledo's goals by the fans who now must wait six months until hockey is played again at the downtown arena.

Smith, who also played three seasons for the Toledo Storm, turned 30 in November. He said he knew he would retire after this season.

"I really wanted to go out of Toledo a winner," Smith said. "The fans have been unbelievable to me. They hold us accountable for sure, but they've got our backs 100 percent of the time. They are very loyal. Tonight there were 7,000 fans for a game that really didn't mean anything."

Smith, who played in 27 games due to injuries, scored to make it 6-2 in the third.

"It was something I wanted to do. The guys were really trying to get one for me," Smith said. "It was a good feeling to get one. But more importantly we came away with a win."

Forward Nick Duff then sent the fans into a frenzy during a fight with Brian Lebler. The two exchange big blows before Duff (6-foot) landed a solid left that sent Lebler (6-3) backwards onto the ice. Duff's punch landed squarely on Lebler's jaw.

"That was my first KO," Duff said. "I've never knocked anyone out. It felt good. I wanted to do something tonight. I wanted to leave a last impression and to get the fans going. That really excites them and gets them on their feet."

Goalie Joe Palmer finished with 39 saves. Palmer (10-12-1) made two outstanding saves on solo breakaways in the final minute.

The Walleye (33-32-6) wrap up their season Saturday night in Wheeling. Elmira (32-29-10) had clinched a playoff spot via Toledo's 5-4 loss in Wheeling on Thursday.

"It was important for us to finish the year strong," Vitucci said. "I'm proud of them. Obviously it was a disappointing bus ride home [on Thursday]. I told them first impressions are important, but so are last ones."

One bright spot has been the line of Hedden, Bohmbach, and Rankin. Hedden had a goal and two assists, while Bohmbach and Rankin each had a goal and an assist.

Bohmbach got the Walleye going with his team-high 70th point of the season 3:46 into the game. Bohmbach was named to the ECHL all-rookie team and leads all first-year players with 71 points.

"They're a special line," Vitucci said. "The last few months they've been fantastic. They complement each other. They have size and strength. They created a lot of offense."

Another positive was the consistent play of Lepine. He gave Toledo a 3-2 edge with an unassisted goal in the second. Lepine leads all ECHL defensemen with 46 points.

Hedden and Rankin converted on a two on one breakaway when Rankin tapped in Hedden's pass with a one timer for a 4-2 cushion with 13:47 left in the middle period. Hedden then sent a perfectly placed shot up over Jared DeMichiel's shoulder for a with 56 seconds left in the period.

FISH TALES: Goalie Nick Eno, who recently wrapped up his collegiate career at Bowling Green State University, served as Toledo's backup Friday. Eno was drafted by Buffalo in the seventh round of the NHL draft in 2007. He went 4-10-1 with a 3.12 goals against average for the Falcons this past season. …Toledo was outshot 41-30. The Walleye went 0 of 4 on the power play. … Doig put Toledo up 2-0 just over five minutes into the contest. Elmira evened it at 2 on two goals just 16 seconds apart early in the second period before Lepine scored the game winner. …The Walleye finished with a 16-17-3 record on home ice

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



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