Walleye defenseman Russ Sinkewich knows firsthand that even championship-caliber teams must go through rough patches.
Sinkewich, a 28-year old blueliner, was a member of the 2011 Kelly Cup championship team with Alaska. He said the Aces experienced the typical dips before rolling to an ECHL title. So the veteran defenseman said the recent woes for this Walleye team should not be cause for alarm.
“Every year is a process. There has never been an undefeated [hockey] team,” Sinkewich said. “Even the year in Alaska we had streaks and flukes. Every team that has had any success has had to fight through adversity.”
Toledo had lost four straight games before a 6-2 win over Evansville on Saturday. The Walleye (5-6-2) remain in last place in the ECHL North Division. But Sinkewich, a physical shutdown defenseman, said this team has the same high character and skill level as that Alaska team.
“That is what the difference is,” Sinkewich said. “No one is happy with where we are at in the standings. But that is why we play a seven month season.
“I see a lot of similar characteristics here. There are the tangibles and intangibles there in the locker room. We have great balance. We have guys that can bury it and guys that can grind it out. That's why I'm excited moving forward.”
Sinkewich is playing in his sixth pro season after playing at Bowling Green State University. The native of Westlake, Ohio.
“I'm so proud to play for an Ohio team and in front of my friends and family,” Sinkewich said. “It's only an hour and a half away from home. I can't say enough about the community. It's a tremendous atmosphere [at the Huntington Center]. It could not be a better situation.”
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci acquired Sinkewich in a three-team trade.
“He has championship experience under his belt and a lot of games in minor-pro hockey,” Vitucci said. “He is a very solid, good all-around defenseman.”
Sinkewich has played in all 13 games for Toledo and has five assists.
Sinkewich split last season between Gwinnett of the ECHL and Portland of the American Hockey League. He played in 42 games for Alaska during the title season and had two goals and six assists.
“There's no better way to learn something than to actually experience it,” Sinkewich said. “I watch a ton of sports and players always talk about how special championship seasons are. That is the truest statement. I saw the commitment and sacrifice it took from the top to the bottom. I'm fortunate enough to call myself a champion. It's nice because you know what it takes.”
Sinkewich said he sees the same potential in this group and that Saturday's win provided proof. Rookie goalie Jared Coreau earned his first pro win after his team erupted for six goals in the final two periods.
“That was one of those games that an entire season can hinge on,” Sinkewich said. “We were under performing in a lot of different categories. But we tied it all together. It was one of our first 60-minute efforts where everything clicked. I think that can be a springboard.”
At 6-foor-4 and 219 pounds, Sinkewich said he takes pride in “being a rock back there.”
“I hope to take care of my end first and then chip in offensively,” he said.
Prior to turning pro, Sinkewich played in 95 games at BGSU. He collected five assists and 131 penalty minutes for the Falcons.
“I was a huge BG fan growing up,” he said. “I am grateful I had the opportunity to play for them in the CCHA. They have such a rich tradition. My experience there was incredible.”
In high school, Sinkewich played at Lakewood St. Edward and led the Eagles to a record eighth state championship in 2002. Sinkewich now encourages other young prep players to follow his path to the pro ranks. He helped found a program called the Ohio Hockey Project.
“I want to stay involved in the sport one way or another,” he said. “I found my niche and I want to help [high school players] have lofty dreams.”
PROMOTIONS: Wednesday night features the Campbell’s Soup Thanksgiving Food Drive. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items. It also features the annual Turkey Hat Drop.
TRANSACTION: The Walleye signed former NHL goaltender Hannu Toivonen to a contract on Tuesday.
Toivonen, a native of Finland, played in 61 games with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues from 2005-08.
Toivonen was with Toledo's American Hockey League affiliate Rockford in 2010-11. He posted a 21-16-4 record and had a 2.90 goals-against average.
Toivonen played in Finland last season and also appeared in 11 ECHL games with Orlando.
He has not played this season.
Toivonen, 29, was drafted in the first round by Boston in the 2002 NHL draft. In 2005-06 with the Bruins, Toivonen posted a 9-5-4 record with a 2.63 goals-against average. The 6-2, 208-pound goaltender also has skated in 209 AHL games.
Rookie goalie Mac Carruth, who started the season with Toledo, remains called up to Rockford.
The team also released goalie Matt Cooper, a Perrysburg native.
ECHL ADDITION: The league announced that it has approved the expansion membership application of the Indianapolis Fuel for admission next season.
Indianapolis will begin play in October of 2014, giving the ECHL 23 total teams. The Fuel will play at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, a 6,145-seat building located on the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The Coliseum was originally constructed in 1939, and is currently in the midst of a major renovation.