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Published: Sunday, 4/1/2012

Season ends for Walleye in defeat

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Walleye's Derek Brochu (42) steals the puck from Kalamazoo's Jonathan Harty (4) during an ECHL game Saturday at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. Walleye's Derek Brochu (42) steals the puck from Kalamazoo's Jonathan Harty (4) during an ECHL game Saturday at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.
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The Walleye's dreadful season came to a fitting end on Saturday night as Toledo lost its seventh straight game.

Kalamazoo pinned a tough 3-2 loss on Toledo before a capacity crowd of 7,471 at the Huntington Center.

PHOTOS: Season finale: Toledo vs. Kalamazoo

Rookie Steve Miller tallied his first goal as a professional to give the Walleye a 1-0 lead 3:57 into the second period. The K-Wings responded with two unanswered goals.

Toledo defenseman Brian Rufenach tied it with a power play goal with 4:55 left in the game.

Wings' defenseman Joe Charlebois, a former Walleye player, tallied the game winner with 1:51 left.

Toledo, which was eliminated from playoff contention last week, wrapped up its third season with a 28-38-6 record.

"I can't say I'm upset the season is over," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "It was very frustrating and disappointing. There was constant juggling and shuffling of the lineup. And we had inconsistent play all season long."

Kalamazoo (38-26-8), which could neither hurt nor improve its position in the playoffs, also did not have much at stake. The Wings finished with a 32-24 advantage in shots on goal.

Toledo was winless in its last six games at the Huntington Center. The team finished with a 14-19-3 record on home ice and had the identical record on the road.

Captain Kyle Rogers, who played in all 72 games, said the late-season swoon was physically and mentally draining.

"It's frustrating how the season turned out," Rogers said. "We had ups and downs. But we stuck together and tried to battle it out. Unfortunately we came up short."

Yet it was the ninth sellout of the year and a total of 225,060 fans attended the 36 home games.

"That's not shocking," Vitucci said. "We have a great fan base."

Rufenach, who finished the season with 33 points, scored his 13th goal of the season to tie the game. A tenacious effort allowed Rufenach to set up his power play goal to square the game with 4:55 left.

David Gilbert and Mike Thomas, who had two quality chances moments early in the same power play, assisted on the tying marker.

Charlebois, who played in 85 games for Toledo in its first two seasons, stuck the dagger with a goal on a long shot.

Toledo goalie Dustin Carlson, who finished with 29 saves, did not see the puck on the decisive goal.

Vitucci pulled Carlson with 32 seconds left but Toledo could not find the equalizer.

Miller's goal that gave Toledo the initial lead was first awarded to Derek Brochu. He and fellow rookie Kris Belan earned assists on the goal that got the Walleye on the board 3:57 into the second.

The game also featured three fights.

Toledo's Nick Oslund got into a crowd-pleasing battle with Joe Tolles. Oslund landed several big rights at the end of the scuffle. Even the team's leading scorer, rookie Joey Martin, got into a brief fight with Nick Sirota in the second.

Riley Emmerson and Matt Krug also got the crowd riled up with big checks early in the second as the team played with urgency and energy.

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



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