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Young Walleye forward Stephon Thorne has a very good track record when it comes to playing with a new team for the first time.
Thorne led Brampton of the Ontario Hockey League to the Memorial Cup finals in his first season of junior hockey. Last year in his first season as a professional, Thorne helped Fort Wayne capture a Central Hockey League championship.
“The teams I've been on always seem to have a very good first year,” he said, chuckling. “I've been in game sevens and I've been in tight games and have come back and won. I'm 22 and I'm only a second-year pro. But I've been in the playoffs. You just have to gel as a team and you will have success.”
Thorne started the season playing for North Division opponent Fort Wayne before he was claimed off of waivers on Jan. 3. Thorne believes this Walleye team has all the ingredients to make a playoff push.
“We do have a very good chance of making a good run,” Thorne said. “We have grit, skill, goal scoring, great goaltending, and a strong defensive core. We just need to keep playing 60 minutes.”
After missing the postseason the last two seasons, the Walleye find themselves in good position after five straight wins. Toledo improved to 26-17-4 overall for 56 points, good enough for fifth place in the ECHL Eastern Conference, and just two points behind Cincinnati for first place in the North Division.
Thorne scored a goal to help the Walleye beat the division leading Cyclones 2-0 on the road on Thursday. They knocked off conference leader Reading 2-1 on Saturday.
“We showed that we are here to play and we can come in and win against the top teams,” he said. “We know that in the dressing room and now the other teams know it. We can get big wins.”
Superb goaltending from rookie Kent Simpson also has played a key role in the recent run. The team has allowed one goal or less in each of the last five wins. The Walleye have outscored their opponents 17-4 during the streak.
Simpson was named the ECHL goaltender of the week on Tuesday. He posted a 3-0-0 record and had a 0.67 goals-against average last week. Simpson, 20, recorded his first professional shutout last Thursday.
“Simmer is a quiet guy and he gets the job done,” Thorne said. “We are confident in Simmer. He will make that huge save. We're thankful he will back us up.”
Coach Nick Vitucci said Simpson's teammates are playing hard for him.
“It's team defense,” Vitucci said.
The Walleye play their next four games on the road starting with a trip to Greenville on Thursday. They hope to match the longest winning streak in franchise history, which is eight, set in December of 2009.
Thorne, who has three goals and three assists in 14 games with Toledo, said the key is to continue getting quick starts.
“We need to play a simple, hard and physical game over the next four games and we have a good chance of winning,” he said.
Thorne was waived by Fort Wayne in early January. He had 32 points (11 G, 21 A) in 64 games last year with the Komets.
He said he was the odd man out in Fort Wayne.
“It was a situation where too many AHL guys got sent down,” Thorne said. “I did not fit anymore. They didn't have room for me there. But it was best for me. It was a life-learning experience.”
Thorne said Vitucci “opened a door full of welcome.”
“The boys have been really good,” Thorne said. “Plus I came into a great building and the fans are unbelievable. Things kind of worked out and I'm happy to be in Toledo.”
Thorne admitted it was an odd feeling when he played with Toledo at Fort Wayne on Jan. 18.
“I had chills,” he said. “I gave my old linemates a smirk. But when it comes to game time, I knew I had to take care of business.”
Thorne said his father Orville grew up in Jamaica and was a semi-pro soccer player in the United States.
“Soccer was my first love,” Thorne said. “But I grew up in Toronto and you can't go very far in soccer there. I was a Canadian boy and hockey just took over.”
Thorne described himself as a “blue collar, defensive forward.”
“I will go into the corners. If I have to fight I will fight. I will stick up for others,” he said. “I work by example.”
SIMPSON HONORED: Simpson has won each of his last four starts, and is 5-1-0 in his last six decisions, improving his record on the season to 12-9-3. He now ranks 10th in the ECHL with a 2.51 GAA.
In three appearances last week, Simpson had a .975 save percentage. He had 29 saves on Friday in a 4-1 victory against Elmira and ended the week with 30 saves against Reading on Saturday.
A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Simpson has appeared in 25 games with Toledo this season.
Simpson has won each of his last four starts, allowing one goal or less in each of those outings. He is 5-1-0 in his last six appearances.
Since the start of January, Simpson has a 5-2-1 record, and a 1.87 GAA.
TRADE: Forward Doug Clarkson was sent to the Trenton Titans in exchange for future considerations on Tuesday.
Clarkson, a first-year forward from Mimico, Ontario appeared in 25 games this season with the Walleye. The 24-year-old had four goals and four assists in those games.
The left wing is the younger brother of New Jersey Devils right wing David Clarkson.
FISH TALES: F Randy Rowe is three games away from playing in his 600th ECHL game. He will be only the sixth player to play in that many games. …. F Andrej Nestrasil leads the the team with 40 points (10 G, 30 A) and a has a plus-18 rating. … F Willie Coetzee, who leads the league with 184 shots, paces the club with 18 goals. … F Joey Martin had three goals, including two game winners last week. … Toledo ranks third in the ECHL in goals-against average (2.64 per game). Only Alaska (2.60) and Gwinnett (2.59) have allowed fewer goals per game. … Toledo has allowed just 11 goals in the last eight games.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.