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Published: Friday, 3/2/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Walleye thrill crowd on Pink in the Rink night

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Walleye's Mike Thomas, left, upends Wheeling's Andrew Hotham. More than 7,000 fans were at the Huntington Center.
The Walleye's Mike Thomas, left, upends Wheeling's Andrew Hotham. More than 7,000 fans were at the Huntington Center.
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A crowd of 7,229 left the Huntington Center tickled pink on Friday night after the Toledo Walleye pulled out a tight win during a special Pink in the Rink event.

The breast cancer awareness game, which was played on ice that was dyed a light pink hue, was tied at 2 after overtime and went to a shootout.

Rookie Joey Martin scored the game-winner, and goalie Thomas McCollum stopped four skaters in the shootout to send the Walleye to a 3-2 victory over Wheeling.

"It's a huge thrill when you make a couple saves to give your guys a chance to win it," McCollum said. "It's always nice to come through for your team when they're leaning on you. The guys came up with a couple big goals for me, and I was able to make it stand."

After giving up a goal to the first shooter, Chris Barton, McCollum came up with a kick save followed by a sliding save on the next Nailer player. On the fourth skater, McCollum made a great stop with his glove while falling to his back. Wheeling's Denver Manderson then shot wide on the final attempt.

Andrej Nestrasil, Toledo's second skater in the shootout, scored with a great hesitation move to tie it at 1. Martin notched the game-winner when he shot the puck between the legs of Wheeling goalie Peter Delmas as the crowd erupted.

"The crowd was really loud and into it," Martin said. "I happened to slide it five hole, and the crowd reaction was great. It was a big win."

McCollum finished with 34 saves, while Delmas had 22 stops in regulation.

Toledo defenseman Bryan Rufenach had a goal and an assist. Harrison Reed also scored a goal, and Todd Griffith had two assists for the Walleye.

Toledo managed to put only 10 shots on goal through two periods but peppered the Nailers' net in the third period.

The game was tied at 2 through two periods. Toledo erupted for 11 shots in the final period and held Wheeling to five. But the game went to overtime after a scoreless period.

In OT, neither team managed to score.

"The storyboard of our season has been [lack of] consistency," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "We seem to let up at certain times and give other teams momentum. When we wander a bit, we pay for it. We have to shoot the puck. Tommy was great for us. He made key saves in the first half of the game to allow us to find that second gear."

Toledo (25-28-4) earned two important points with 15 games left. The team has six contests remaining at home, where it is 14-14-2, including Sunday against Cincinnati. The Walleye play at Chicago at 7:30 on Saturday night.

Toledo, which came into the game having lost four of its last five, is still nine points out of the final playoff spot.

Toledo had six shots in the first period and four in the second. The Walleye's lowest shot total in a single game was 17 on Feb. 10 against the Nailers. They finished with 21 in regulation.

"We weren't able to create a lot of scoring chances early," Martin said. "But we were able to regroup."

Still Toledo held an early 1-0 lead before failing behind 2-1 in the second period. The Walleye rallied to tie it late in the middle period.

McCollum made a great sprawling save with 3:23 left in OT. McCollum was reassigned from Detroit's AHL affiliate, Grand Rapids, on Tuesday.

"I haven't played in about three weeks, but I felt pretty good," said McCollum, the Red Wings' first round draft choice in 2008. "I got in a rhythm, and the guys gave me clean lanes to see the puck. That gave me confidence."

Rufenach tied it at 2 with 6:17 left in the second period as Griffith got his second assist of the night.

Rufenach, 22, is tied for third among ECHL defensemen with 12 goals and tied for third on Toledo with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists).

"He's such an offensive-minded guy. Obviously, he is producing for us," Vitucci said.

Reed got Toledo going with a power-play goal 4:25 into the game. Wheeling tied it on Matt Schepke's goal and took a 2-1 lead on a shorthanded goal on a breakaway by Cody Chupp.

After Sunday's home game, Toledo has six straight road games.

"We are at the point in the season where every game is a must win," Martin said. "The extra point makes a big difference. To start the weekend off with this is big and hopefully we can ride it out."

FISH TALES: A number of cancer survivors were recognized prior to the game during the event, which will be held again on Sunday. The national anthem was sung by Pam Downour, a cancer survivor from Oregon. Breast cancer survivor Kelli Andres dropped the ceremonial first puck. ... McCollum, Martin, and Rogers wore special jerseys for the ECHL's Silver Skaters and Golden Goalie programs. The skaters wore jerseys with a metallic-silver front crest, while McCollum wore a specially designed gold jersey. The jerseys will be auctioned off later this month. "I'm not a huge fan of standing out like that," McCollum said. "But it's a great cause. They're raising money for charity and I'm always behind that."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.



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