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Published: Friday, 1/18/2013

Off-ice training for Toledo Walleye involves sampling at least plate-full of team symbol

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo Walleye player Kyle Rogers loads up at the event that emphasized team marketing. Toledo Walleye player Kyle Rogers loads up at the event that emphasized team marketing.
BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge

The Toledo Walleye found themselves in a fishy predicament. There were a few raised eyebrows, but plenty of full plates — players from the ECHL team weren’t about to frown upon a catered lunch.

Yet if the Walleye had to devour, well, walleye, they didn’t complain. Wednesday at the Huntington Center, Stephon Thorne didn’t flinch at the prospect of trying something new and different.

“I’m one of the new guys, and I just said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll eat some lunch,’ ” said Mr. Thorne, a left wing from Mississauga, Ont., whom the Walleye picked up last week off waivers from Fort Wayne. “But having walleye, and eating walleye, it’s a new experience for me.”

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According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, walleye are large, predatory freshwater fish that are historically abundant in Lake Erie.

While walleye have become a bit of a regional dining delicacy, it’s not common table fare for local pro hockey players.

“Every week, when we were read­ing the in­ter­views in The Blade, only 50 per­cent of our play­ers have even tried Wall­eye be­fore,” Wall­eye president/gen­eral man­ager Joe Napoli said.

Hockey players Cody Lampl, left, and Ben Woodley, right, help themselves to fried walleye at a luncheon held at the Huntington Center. Some players had never sampled the Lake Erie specialty. Hockey players Cody Lampl, left, and Ben Woodley, right, help themselves to fried walleye at a luncheon held at the Huntington Center. Some players had never sampled the Lake Erie specialty.
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The spread was part of an off-ice training session for Walleye players and coaches, designed to emphasize the holistic aspect of the ECHL organization — where and how players relate to the organization as a whole and the fact they are part of a product the organization is marketing.

“When we run the players through a session like this, it solidifies to them why it’s important to attract fans to the game,” said Mr. Napoli, who said the Walleye have averaged about 6,000 fans a game this season.

“It’s not just how the team performs on the ice. It’s the overall experience,” he added.

Typically, the Walleye aren’t treated to such a postpractice spread.

Trevor Nill, a center, said that an afternoon meal means either going to one of the downtown Toledo eateries or scrounging up something at home.

When Mr. Nill opts for postpractice nourishment, his preferences lean toward chicken, potatoes, rice, salad, and fruit. Mr. Nill’s last encounter with fish came with a rod and reel and not on a plate.

“I went fishing with some friends on Lake Michigan for salmon,” Mr. Nill said. “And I’m not the biggest seafood connoisseur out there. But I like how this was prepared, with some lemon to it. It wasn’t fishy.”

Walleye goalie Jordan Pearce had eaten walleye before, though he admitted he prefers his walleye grilled instead of breaded and fried. Still, Mr. Pearce devoured two plates of food in one sitting, surrounded by several of his teammates.

And while beggars can’t necessarily be choosers, Mr. Pearce was a stickler when it came to one component of the meal.

“Tartar sauce,” Mr. Pearce said, grinning. “There’s sweet pickle in the tartar sauce, and it has to be dill. That really brings out the flavor of it.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com or 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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