The timing of a lengthy road trip early in the season is giving the Toledo Walleye players the perfect chance to become better acquainted.
With nearly an entirely new roster and a short training camp, Toledo has still started the season with a 2-1-0 record.
After beginning with two straight home games, the Walleye play five straight on the road. The trip kicked off with a 4-2 loss at Kalamazoo last Saturday.
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said the road trip will allow his team to bond and to focus on hockey.
“We welcome this right now,” Vitucci said. “We'll get on the road, and we're on a bus together, and we're watching movies and eating together. We're in the hotel together. It's a chance to get to know each other. We don't have to worry about who we are leaving tickets for and who has to get their oil changed. The only worry we have is hanging out together and winning hockey games.”
Toledo has a three-game road trip this weekend. The Walleye travel to Trenton for games on Friday and Saturday night against the Titans. Toledo then plays at Reading at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Toledo won its season opener Oct. 13 at the Huntington Center — a 4-1 victory over Kalamazoo — and followed that up with a 3-2 triumph in overtime against Cincinnati last Friday.
Center Max Campbell, who is in his second season of pro hockey and his first with the Walleye, scored two goals and had an assist in the season opener. Campbell scored the first goal of the season for the Walleye 3 minutes, 36 seconds into game.
“It's always good to get off to a good start,” Campbell said.
The 23-year-old forward credited new his linemates, Travis Novak and Andrej Nestrasil, for his quick start.
“I got lucky to play with Novak and Nestrasil,” he said. “We clicked that first game. If you look at our lineup, we have four solid lines and you can only really play three. So you know you will be playing with two other players that are just as skilled. It makes it more fun to play.”
Campbell is tied with forward Terry Broadhurst for the team lead in points with four (2 goals, 2 assists). Nestrasil has a goal and two assists, while Novak has two assists.
Campbell said the trio had not practiced together before the opener. He said he is looking forward to getting to know his linemates and other teammates better on the road trip.
“It helps the team mesh together,” he said. “You literally are around each other probably 16 hours out of the day. You get to know people on a different level. It's always fun to see what guys are about.”
Campbell has been on many bus trips going back to his youth hockey days in Strathroy, Ontario. He played Junior B for his hometown team and admitted he was a late bloomer.
“My dad [Norm] coached me and I was just having fun playing hockey,” Campbell said. “I didn't really know what I'd do with hockey. But I had a good year in Junior B and all of the sudden some [colleges] were talking to me.”
He visited Bowling Green State University but committed to Western Michigan.
The young forward also was drafted by the New York Rangers in the fifth round (138th overall) of the 2007 draft.
“I really didn't think I would get drafted,” he said. “I was at a loss for words. I kind of realized hockey was for real, and I could make something out of it coming from a small town.”
As a senior at Western Michigan in 2010-11, Campbell became an assistant captain and led the team in points (35) and goals (18), which were all career-highs.
He also scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Ferris State to send Western Michigan to the CCHA semifinals for the first time since 1993.
He finished his college career with 107 points in 154 games, including 46 goals.
“The first three years we struggled but I got a lot of opportunity to play,” Campbell said. “My senior year we got a new coach [current Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill]. We had a breakout year and made the CCHA finals. That was the highlight.”
Campbell started his pro career last season with Greenville of the ECHL. He was traded last January to Stockton.
He finished with 29 points in 50 games.
“I dislocated my knee and was out for two months,” he said. “Then I got traded to Stockton and it was a clean start. I got an opportunity and I ran with it.”
Campbell collected 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in eight playoff games with the Thunder. Campbell was invited to the American Hockey League training camp this season in Grand Rapids by his former college coach before starting the season in Toledo.
“I did not know a thing about the Walleye before I committed,” he said. “But I've been surprised in a great way about the fan support and the facility we play in. It's first class. I'm glad I got this chance and I'm glad we're off to a good start.”