Toledo Walleye forward Aaron Lewicki had something to prove when he embarked on a pro hockey career last year and his resolve produced an award winning season.
After a four-year college career at Ferris State University, Lewicki was invited to a prospects camp held by the NHL's New Jersey Devils last fall. But the native of Livonia, Mich., did not catch on with the organization.
Lewicki then tried out for an American Hockey League team in Houston. He then had two more tryouts with two ECHL clubs, Elmira and Wheeling.
But the 24-year-old did not hook on with any of those teams and settled in at the lower level Central Hockey League with a team based in Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
"I was kind of surprised I ended up in Rio Grande," Lewicki said. "As a rookie it is kind of tough because some ECHL teams have two [NHL] affiliations. I wasn't a proven rookie and they just didn't have room for me."
Instead of moping, the left winger went out and scored 23 goals and dished out 29 assists. Lewicki earned the CHL rookie of the year award. His 52 points in 62 games also grabbed the attention of Walleye coach Nick Vitucci.
"I think I went down there with the right attitude," Lewicki said. "I just tried to make the most of it. I wanted to hone my game the best I could because I wanted to take a step up the next season. I wanted to make myself known."
Lewicki said he didn't realize he was in the running for rookie of the year until his teammates gave him a hard time about it as last season wound down.
"It was a huge honor," he said. "I'd never won a major award like that before."
ON THE HOOK
Position: Left Wing
Jersey number: 12
Born: July 30, 1987Ht./Wt: 6-0, 200
Favorite way to spend time away from the rink: Golf. I have about an eight handicap.
Hockey player you admired growing up: Steve Yzerman. I liked the way he handled himself. He was loyal to the city of Detroit. He played his whole career there. He played good defense and scored points. He wasn’t too fancy or a showboat like some of the guys today.
Favorite type of music: I like a little bit of everything, but mostly Rock.Favorite sport to watch other than hockey: College football. I like both Michigan and Michigan State. It’s hard to be a diehard of either because I played against them in college.
Favorite food: Cereal. Just about any kind but Cinnamon Toast Crunch is my favorite.
Favorite beverage: Iced tea
Best fast food: Quiznos
Favorite Movie: Miracle
Favorite TV Show: The Office
Person you most admire: My mother, Sue. She passed away in 2007.
If you could meet an athlete, dead or alive, who would it be? Steve Yzerman
Favorite place you’ve been to? Niagara Falls
Top sports moment: My senior year [at Ferris State] we went to the final four [of the CCHA tournament] at Joe Louis in front of 10,000 people.
What’s your hockey superstition? I have to dress left to right.
Have you ever eaten Walleye? No I haven’t. But I do like to eat fish.
Something nobody knows about you: Whenever I set my alarm it has to end in a three or a seven. So it has to be 7:03 or 6:57. It can’t end in an even number. I don’t know where it comes from but I wouldn’t risk it.
Fresh off receiving the trophy, Vitucci signed Lewicki to a contract this summer.
"He is an all-around player with a flair for offense," Vitucci said.
Now Lewicki's family and friends can make the one-hour trek from Livonia to see him play for the Walleye at the Huntington Center.
"It's an easy trip for my friends and family," he said. "I've had my grandparents and my dad down for a game. I think playing close to home is always nice."
In his first game at the downtown arena, Lewicki assisted on Toledo's only goal. The Walleye lost that home opener 5-1 to Chicago on Oct. 15 before a sellout crowd of 8,250.
Lewicki said his only knowledge of Toledo came about 15 years ago when he played a youth game at the old Sports Arena.
"All I'd seen of Toledo was the old rink," he said. "So it was kind of a shock to me to see [the Huntington Center]. I had no idea the support Toledo had for their hockey team. It was incredible to see it sold out [on opening night] and everybody going crazy. It was pretty intense."
The Walleye have stumbled out of the gate and are off to a 1-3-0 start this season. But Lewicki insists there is no panic.
"Our record doesn't show the talent we have yet," Lewicki said. "We know it will come soon."
Lewicki said it was a long bus trip back to Toledo after a 2-0 loss to Chicago last Saturday.
"We had a long talk," he said. "We all know we can do it. We're not hitting the panic button. The talent is there. The toughness is there. There are no bad attitudes. Everything is coming together."
The Walleye played just four games in October.
"That makes it a long month. We have to get in game situations more. We still have to find chemistry in games with linemates and systems," Lewicki said.
The team will next embark on about a 12-hour bus ride for a three-game road trip down south. Toledo plays Greenville on Thursday, South Carolina on Saturday, and Gwinnett on Sunday. The next home game is next Wednesday.
"This will give us a chance to get even more familiar with each other," Lewicki said.
Lewicki said he has already developed some chemistry with his new linemates, rookie Joey Martin and veteran captain Kyle Rogers.
"Amongst us we've had about 25 to 30 good scoring chances. We're just hitting posts and crossbars," Lewicki said. "We're playing good defensively and getting scoring chances. We keep saying it's going to come. We just have to keep doing what we're doing as a line and as a team."
ROSTER MOVES: Goaltender Carter Hutton was assigned to Toledo from Rockford on Monday.
Hutton is 0-1-0 this season with Toledo. At Rockford, Hutton served as backup to former Walleye goaltender Alec Richards on Saturday. He entered the game against Peoria and turned aside all eight shots he faced over the final 18:44 of a 5-2 loss.
Forward Adam Estoclet was assigned from Grand Rapids Tuesday. Estoclet is in his first professional season after a four-year stint at Dartmouth. He has appeared in four games this season with the Griffins without collecting a point. As a senior at Dartmouth, Estoclet finished second in scoring with 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists).
SPECIAL EVENT: The organization will announce plans Wednesday for a Holiday Hockey Fest event at the Huntington Center to be held Dec. 26.
The day-long event will feature six hockey games starting at 10 a.m. and lasting until 8 p.m.
A portion of the ticket proceeds will be donated to former local high school player Kyle Cannon and his family. Cannon played at Clay High School before he was paralyzed during a game in 2008.
Cannon will be recognized prior to the Walleye game on Dec. 11.
This is the third year that the organization has showcased high school hockey at the Huntington Center to benefit Cannon.
"This year we have taken another step forward to build on the momentum of the first two years and we can't wait," said Michael Keedy, the team's manager of special events.
The games involving the high school teams are Ottawa Hills vs. Lake, Springfield vs. Eastwood, Maumee vs. Anthony Wayne, and Perrysburg vs. Clay.
Tickets are $15 each and include admission to all games. The tickets also may be redeemed at the box office for any Walleye regular-season home game.For more info go to toledowalleye.com/hockeyfest or call 419-725-WALL.
ECHL ROUNDUP: Through the first three weeks of the season, Wheeling is the lone unblemished team (5-0-0).
The Nailers opened last weekend with a 3-2 overtime win against Gwinnett. Former Walleye forward Zack Torquato notched the game-winning goal with just 42 seconds remaining in the extra session.
The Nailers lead the league in goals per game (4.40).
Through 62 ECHL games, there has been an average of 6.11 goals per game. Eleven of the league's 20 teams are averaging at least three goals per game, while Wheeling (4.40) and Kalamazoo (4.00) are scoring at least four goals per contest.
Toledo however has bucked that trend. The Walleye are averaging 1.75 goals per game, which is last in the ECHL. They've scored just seven goals in four games.
FISH TALES: Toledo was shut out for the first time this season Saturday. G Thomas McCollum stopped 21 of 23 shots. McCollum has appeared in all four games with three starts and has a record of 1-2-0 record and 3.03 goals against average. ...The Walleye have held a shot advantage in three of the four games played this season. ...F Evan Rankin paced Toledo in October with four points (3 goals, 1 assist). F Mike Pelech was the team leader in assists with three. F David Gilbert (1 G, 1 A) and D Gleason Fournier (0 G, 2 A) were the top scoring rookies with two points each.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade