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Toledo Walleye forward Willie Coetzee emerged as the winner of an exclusive online poll as more than 22,000 votes were cast to determine the team’s most popular player.
Coetzee was the top vote-getter in The Blade’s “My Favorite Walleye” online poll. Coetzee, a 22-year-old native of South Africa, was honored before Saturday night's game against Reading.
Coetzee received 10,340 votes, or 45.8 percent of the total votes cast. Forward Travis Novak was second with 7,114 votes, followed by defensemen Phil Oreskovic (2,397 votes) and Wes O'Neill (1,307).
There were 22,585 votes cast in a poll that ran from March 6 until Thursday.
Coetzee, a highly skilled offensive forward, has been Toledo's top producer this season. He leads the team in points (62), goals (27), and assists (35). He is averaging more than a point a game.
This is the second year The Blade has run the online poll. Forward Riley Emmerson earned the most votes last season. Emmerson is playing for the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League.
Voters weighed in from all over the United States and Canada. Five votes were cast from Beirut.
Forward Nino Musitelli, who joined the team on Jan. 15, had the most write-in votes with 82. Trainer Brad Frederick also received a write-in vote.
Coetzee had plenty of votes from backers in his home in British Columbia.
One Coetzee voter from British Columbia simply stated, “Hard work game after game.”
Perrysburg resident Sandra Seymour said she voted for Coetzee because he is aggressive and assertive. Seymour’s husband, Dennis, is president of the team’s unofficial fan club.
“He is a wonderful hockey player,” she said. “He is a very personable person. I’ve met him at the games. He is a very nice kid. He is very talented.”
Coetzee also received votes from his native South Africa. Veronica Dique, of South Africa, said Coetzee “is a faster-than-fast player! He reads the game.”
Toledoan Bryan Emerick, a 35-year-old electrician, said he voted for Coetzee because of his amazing puck-handling skills.
“He’s exciting to watch when he brings the puck up the ice,” Emerick said.
Christopher Elliott, a 21-year-old Toledoan, said Coetzee has great skills.
“He is a fun player to watch,” Elliott said. “I like how he moves on the ice.”
St. Francis de Sales graduate Phil Rauch, a defenseman from Lambertville, Mich., received 102 votes.
Micki Hetzel, a teacher at Meadowvale Elementary School in the Washington Local School district, voted for Rauch.
“I try to really involve my students with hockey with math and graphing,” Hetzel said. “They always ask me who No. 20 is because he takes the time to sign their shirt or magazine. He has made a lasting impact on the lives of my students.”
Coetzee’s hard-charging attitude and consistent offensive production endeared him to the fans.
“Willie has been unbelievable,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “He's been a horse for us.”
Coetzee, who is in his third pro season, ranks fourth in the ECHL with 250 shots on goal.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound winger was selected to represent the Walleye organization at the ECHL All-Star game in January.
After being sidelined with a concussion for six games in early February, Coetzee has been on a tear. He has collected 23 points in 16 games. He has scored eight goals to go along with 15 assists to help the Walleye in their push to make the playoffs. He also is tied for the team lead with four game-winning goals.
Coetzee, who lived in Johannesburg until he was 4, moved to Vancouver and signed a free agent contract with the Red Wings in 2009. With the Walleye, Coetzee had nine goals and 11 assists in 36 games.
“It means a lot to me,” Coetzee said. “I thank the fans for that. I appreciate the support. The fans are here for you and it doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s awesome playing here in Toledo. I respect them.”