The way Toledo center Byron Froese looks at it, the Walleye might just as well be playing a game today rather than practicing.
The Walleye play their annual School Appreciation Day at 10:35 a.m. at the Huntington Center. Froese said he would rather be squaring off with the Fort Wayne Komets than working drills in the team's daily, morning practices.
“We'll be ready because that's when we practice anyway. But this will be the real deal,” Froese said. “It's not the normal routine. But it will be fun to hear all the kids screaming. You have to prepare yourself for the Sponge Bob song.”
Froese, a 21-year-old from Winkler, Manitoba, appears to have been fully prepared for this season. The second-year pro is tied for the team lead with seven points. He has a team-high four assists and also leads in plus-minus rating (plus-seven).
“I haven't thought too much about that,” Froese said. “I just try to help the team win any way I can, whether it's on offense, defense, or even in the face-off circle.”
The Walleye (4-4-1) opened the season with four wins in their first six games, but have now lost three straight. Toledo has slipped to fourth place in the ECHL North Division, two spots behind Fort Wayne (5-2-1).
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The Komets beat Toledo 4-3 last Friday in a renewal of an longstanding rivalry.
Froese had a goal and two assists in three games last week and was named the team's player of the week.
Froese said he believes the team has not put together a complete effort yet.
“We are confident we have a good team,” he said. “We just need to put together a full 60-minute effort. Once we come together, we will be taking off.”
Toledo has an opportunity to right the ship in a hurry. The Walleye have four games in in five days, including home games on Saturday (Wheeling) and Sunday (South Carolina).
The team is coming off a span of three games in three nights in which the Walleye earned only one point out of six that were available.
Froese said the key to making it through such busy stretches is physical preparation. “You have to do the basics,” he said. “You have to take care of your body by stretching and hydrating. You have to give your body every chance you can [to recuperate].”
Froese, a two-way forward, said he hasn't played four games in five nights since his days of playing junior hockey in the Western Hockey League.
“I'm excited to get back on the ice,” he said. “I'd rather play games than practice.”
Froese played in 212 WHL games and had his best year in 2010-11 when he finished ninth in the league with 43 goals.
Froese, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round in the 2009 NHL draft, started his pro career in Rockford last season. He had four goals and six assists in 57 contests with one of Toledo's American Hockey League affiliate.
“It was a great experience, but there was a learning curve,” Froese said. “Pro hockey is a lot different than juniors. It's a whole lifestyle change, both mentally and physically. I had always been one of the top guys. But I was on the third or fourth line and I had to play through that.”
Froese said he is primarily a center but can play wing too. He said he is more of a hard worker than a skill player. “I like to play in the offensive zone and I take pride in the D-zone,” he said. “I'm a smart player with the systems but I also can be creative.”
Froese said he is happy with his increased ice time in Toledo and believes the team has the right chemistry. Froese also was assigned to the Walleye briefly last season and played three games.
“It's been great here,” Froese said. “It's a great facility and great fans. It's a really good organization. I hit the jackpot landing here. It should be a great year.”
FISH TALES: The organization expects 6,000 fans for the morning game. The team also will present a $1,000 check to the winners of a grant from the Walleye Wishing Well. Each school also will receive a hockey-based classroom curriculum guide. … The organization is working with local charitable group ISOH/IMPACT to help those affected by the recent storm along the East Coast. The Walleye are asking fans to bring food and relief supplies to the home games today, Saturday, and Sunday 11 to help fill five-gallon buckets. Donation bins will be set up at the entrance gates at the Huntington Center.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.