Wall-to-Wall Walleye

Rogers, other Walleye veterans deal with the business of sports, player promotions

Kyle Rogers, of the Toledo Walleye, says veterans on the team like himself help ease the transition of losing so many teammates to promotions.
Kyle Rogers, of the Toledo Walleye, says veterans on the team like himself help ease the transition of losing so many teammates to promotions.

Walleye captain Kyle Rogers knows losing players to promotions is just part of the game at the ECHL level but the forward thinks he and three other veterans can soften the roster turmoil.

The resolution of the NHL lockout continues to wreak havoc on the Walleye roster. The team lost both starting goaltenders, rookie Kent Simpson and veteran Jordan Pearce, to call ups to the American Hockey League on Sunday.

Toledo is now without five of its top nine scorers due to promotions to the AHL.

“It's a business. We knew it would happen,” Rogers said. “It's a nice thing that we signed four vets. With all these call ups, we still have the vets here. The younger guys respect you and know you'll be there.”

Rogers, a 28-year-old who is in his second season as the team's captain, said fellow veterans Randy Rowe along with defensemen Wes O'Neill and Phil Oreskovic have provided an edge.

“You get new guys in the system and it's just a matter of getting everyone on the same page,” said Rogers, who ranks second on the team with 24 points. “These guys we've brought in are smart and know the game. Everyone seems to fit in and the chemistry is clicking.”

Rogers, who has scored seven goals and dished out 17 assists, said he believes the roster instability will remain hectic for the next few weeks.

“But we have a four great vets that will keep guys on the right page. There's not much panic,” he said.

Despite the uncertainty, Toledo ended a five-game winless skid on Friday night with a 5-2 victory in Fort Wayne. The Walleye (21-16-4) capped a five-game road trip with two straight wins and are tied for second in the ECHL North Division.

Coach Nick Vitucci said he expects to get at least one of his netminders back by Thursday. Both were called up due to injuries at the higher levels. Forward Joey Martin returned from an AHL call up on Tuesday.

By Vitucci's count, he has lost 12 players in a span of a week.

“It's extreme,” he said. “It's tough because we're minus-12 in a very short period of time.”

But he said team officials at the ECHL level knew the NHL lockout would end and would cause massive roster voids.

“It needed to end for the sake of the game. But we dreaded the day at this level because we all knew we would be scrambling,” he said.

Rogers said the team went through similar frequent roster alterations last season.

“It happened all season last year,” he said. “So this year it was nice to have a steady roster for half a year and we took advantage and got way up there in standings.”

Pearce and Simpson have both played in 20 games for Toledo. Vitucci said he has “some irons in the fire” to find potential free agent goalies.

“We're playing it by ear,” he said.

A four-day break in the schedule due to the ECHL all star break has softened the latest blow. Toledo's all star representatives, defenseman Ben Youds and Luke Glendening, both are up in the AHL and will not play in tonight's game in Colorado. Instead forward Willie Coetzee, who leads the team with 35 points (16 goals and 19 assists) will play.

The Walleye have not played at home since Jan. 6. They host Kalamazoo at 7:05 p.m. at the Huntington Center. Only two other teams in the ECHL, Florida (17) and Orlando (17), have played fewer home games to this point than the Walleye (18).

“It's a huge advantage for us, especially with the all star break,” Roger said. “We don't have to go on the road right after and we get to play in front of a great crowd.”

FISH TALES: Forward Adam Hobson, who will be the subject of next week's feature, could not be reached due to the all star break. Hobson's power play goal in the second period on Saturday snapped an 0 for 24 streak for Toledo with the man advantage. The Walleye have struggled on the power play lately, falling to 20th out of 23 teams. The team is scoring on only 14.8 percent of its chances.

In other Walleye news:

* Forward Nino Musitelli, who signed just last Tuesday, was named the team's player of the week. Musitelli scored two goals and had two assists for four points in two games last week. Musitelli assisted on the tying goal in Evansville and then scored the game-winner in the third period.

* The organization is asking fans to bring non-perishable food items or toiletry items to any of the home games this weekend. Anyone who donates will receive a raffle ticket for prizes, including autographed memorabilia, Zamboni rides and family memberships to Wildwood Athletic Club.

Donation bins will be set up at the entrance gates at Huntington Center. All items collected will be donated locally to the Toledo Seagate Food Bank, Cherry Street Mission and Fellowship Matters.

* Former Walleye goalies Petr Mrazek and Carter Hutton squared off in a fight on Saturday. Although they never were with Toledo at the same time, they participated in a wild, bench clearing brawl in an AHL game between Rockford and Grand Rapids.

* On Saturday night, the Walleye host the Bakersfield Condors. This will be the only meeting of the season between the teams. On Sunday, Toledo hosts Evansville, a North Division foe. Toledo is 2-3-0 against the IceMen.

* On Friday a post-game party with the players will be held. Saturday features a Boy Scout Sleepover. Sunday is Family Fun Day and the first 1,500 fans will take home a CatTrick coin nank. An post-game open skate will follow.

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