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Published: Sunday, 10/7/2012

Familiar faces on both teams as Kalamazoo defeats Walleye

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

It would have been understandable if Kyle Page and Wes O'Neill accidentally headed to the wrong locker rooms at the Huntington Center prior to Saturday night's preseason game between Toledo and Kalamazoo.

Both defensemen were wearing the jerseys of their former rivals. Page now plays for Kalamazoo after spending his first three pro seasons in a Walleye uniform. O'Neill, who was Kalamazoo's captain last season, now patrols the blue line for Toledo.

O'Neill had an assist in Kalamazoo's 3-2 win in the exhibition game before an announced crowd of 5,084.

Both players said they left with no ill will.

“It's not a matter of jumping ship,” O'Neill said earlier in the week. “There was not bad will in Kalamazoo. But this organization has that 'We want to win mentality.' This facility is top notch.”

Goalie Petr Mrazek started in net for the Walleye. Mrazek, a rookie who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL draft by Detroit, finished with 19 saves.

Defenseman Cody Lampl and center Nikita Poliakov scored for the Walleye, who played their last preseason game. They open the regular season Saturday against Kalamazoo once again at the Huntington Center at 7:05 p.m.

Kalamazoo scored first when Justin Taylor beat Mrazek 5:32 into the game. The Wings then made it 2-0 on Derek Graham's power play goal late in the first period and 3-0 on John Armstrong's unassisted goal in the second.

Lampl then scored a power play goal on assists from Josh Turnbull and O'Neill. Poliakov, who has earned a tryout after attending the team's free agent camp in August, scored two minutes into the third period.

Kalamazoo goalie Joel Martin had 28 saves.

O'Neill said Toledo's proximity to his hometown of Windsor, Ontario factored into his decision to play for the Walleye.

“Six years into my pro career it's close to home and it's about setting myself up for the best opportunity,” O'Neill said.

Page, who also played at Bowling Green State University, said he understood it was a business decision when the trade was made in September.

“You see it all of the time. But to experience it first hand is something new,” said Page, who had one shot. “But I accept it. There are no hard feelings.”

O'Neill said he fully expected to be jeered when the teams first squared off on Friday night in Kalamazoo. Toledo rallied to take a 5-4 win in overtime.

“It's weird,” O'Neill said. “Every guy on the team knows you and the fans know you. It will be tough because we see them three times in a row and like 15 more times during the season. We see a lot of each other. But that is good.”

A contest featuring two American Hockey League teams preceded the Walleye contest. The Lake Erie Monsters defeated the Grand Rapids Griffins 3-1.

The game capped a day full of hockey at the downtown arena, which featured a Walleye morning practice followed by four consecutive youth hockey games from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We got a lot done today with what we needed to do as far as preparation,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “And we got to show off our beautiful facility to a lot of different people today and everybody was really impressed.”

Vitucci said the team's roster will much different when it is set on Tuesday. He said he is expecting eight players to be sent down from the American Hockey League on Monday.

“We have work to do but we knew we did,” Vitucci said. “There are a lot of facets we haven't touch on yet just because of the personnel we're waiting on coming down. But we got to see the competition level and skill sets of some of the players.”

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



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