Walleye defenseman Joe Sova knows the expectation of a pro athlete is to produce wins, and he believes his struggling Toledo team knows what it must do to meet those obligations.
The Walleye (5-9-2) are mired in a three-game losing streak. Toledo has lost seven of its last eight games and has been shutout in three straight contests.
But Sova, a 25-year-old from Berwyn, Ill., said the team is moving in the right direction and that the results just have not been there yet.
“No aspect of it is fun,” Sova said. “Everyone is looking at you and wondering what is going on. You just have to work harder and keep chipping away. The guys are still upbeat. We’re playing good hockey. We just haven’t been able to find the back of the net.
“We’re still trying to find an identity. Once we mesh together, we can be a dangerous team.”
Toledo started the season with a 2-1-1 record. But the Walleye lost nine of their next 12 games to slip to last place in the ECHL North Division.
Sova, who has played for eight teams during his three-year career, said every season has its highs and lows.
“We are figuring it out,” Sova said. “You put your head down and grind away. The bounces will come. If you play the game the right way, the hockey gods will treat you right. We’re feeling positive. We just need to keep clawing back.”
Sova said the players appreciate the unwavering fan support at the Huntington Center. Toledo is third in the ECHL in attendance, averaging 6,635 per game. The Walleye have had three sellout crowds this season. Last Friday, 7,033 saw Toledo lose 4-0 to South Carolina.
“They are paying to see a performance and see success,” Sova said. “We are entertaining them. There is an obligation there to win, and you feel the pressure. It goes all the way down the line. They’re the seventh man on the ice.
“They’re proud of their hometown team. To see that support continue even though we’ve struggled … it’s a special feeling.”
Toledo surrendered a season-high seven goals last Wednesday. The Walleye, who have been outscored 14-0 during the three-game slump, have been shut out three times in a row for the first time in franchise history. The team has played 190 minutes, 30 seconds since last scoring a goal against Evansville on Nov. 23.
Sova said it’s important to stay on an even keel.
“You just have to keep going,” Sova said. “We’ve scored six goals in one game. So we can score. We’re just snake-bit right now. There's no magic potion that will make it work. It has to come from us. We have to work harder.”
Sova has produced since he was a signed as a free agent on Nov. 6. Sova leads all Walleye defensemen with six points. He has scored two goals and has four assists in nine games.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Sova said he is a patient defenseman who can play in any situation.
“You go hard when your number is called,” he said. “Luckily enough I’ve been able to contribute. I like to think of myself as a little more offensive-minded. I can be an asset on the power play. But as a defenseman, you have to take care of your own end first.”
While Sova has been paired with defenseman Max Nicastro most of his time, the team has experienced the typical roster movement of an ECHL team. Thirty-one players have suited up for Toledo this season. Defenseman Richard Nedomlel was reassigned to the team last week from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.
Sova has had two stints up in the AHL after a three-year college career at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where he played in 115 games (13 goals, 45 assists, 132 penalty minutes).
In 2011-12 played, Sova played for four teams.
He was loaned to the Florida Everblades, where he played seven playoff games in their drive to the Kelly Cup title. Last season, he played for both San Francisco and Reading for a total of 47 games. He recorded six assists and 38 penalty minutes.
“That’s the business side, it’s not personal,” Sova said. “Some of my good buddies are gone the next day simply because it’s a transaction. Guys come and go in pro hockey. The coaches and players have to adapt.
“For me, I’ve bounced around a bit. It’s not easy on the new guys. But it comes with the territory. You’re brought in for a reason. You have to play good, smart pro hockey and contribute. You have to earn your spot, not matter what the situation. That’s the job.”
Toledo has road games on Thursday and Saturday in Evansville. The Walleye and IceMen have split the season series with each team winning at home. Toledo defeated Evansville 6-2 on Nov. 23.
“When you are slumping, it’s just one of those things you have to go through,” Sova said. “It’s how you react and respond to them. We’re digging our way out.
“We’re looking to go into Evansville and compete hard for 60 minutes and come back with some Ws. We want to get on a roll before the Christmas break. We’re at a place where I believe it’s going to happen.”
FISH TALES: Toledo will play Evansville (10-4-3) five times in the next six games, with three of those coming in Evansville. … F Emerson Clark leads all rookies with 79 penalty minutes. … Nedomlel, a native of the Czech Republic, scored his first pro goal on Oct. 30 against Cincinnati during a four-game stint with Toledo. He has a goal and an assist for the Walleye. … D Nick Jensen has been reassigned to Grand Rapids, and D Russ Sinkewich has signed a player tryout agreement with Lake Erie of the AHL. Sinkewich has appeared in 15 games for Toledo (five assists and 21 penalty minutes). Jensen played in last three games for the Walleye and had no points and four shots on goal.