Two local hockey players who led their high school teams to state titles were looking to make an impression Saturday at the Walleye free agent camp.
Forty-eight prospects are attending the two-day camp run by Toledo’s ECHL hockey team at the Huntington Center. The group of aspiring pros consisted of 21 forwards, 19 defensemen, and eight goalies.
Northview graduate Tyler DeWitt and St. Francis de Sales graduate Ricky Kwapich were among the group working out in front of Walleye coach Dan Watson and his staff.
DeWitt, a defenseman on the Northview team that won the state title in 2012, played for the Blue team during a scrimmage on Saturday.
“Sitting in the stands here is one thing,” DeWitt said. “But getting to be out there and hearing the puck bounce off the boards is pretty sweet. It’s cool being out there.
“You kind of envision skating out there for warm-ups when it's a packed house with the fans hooting and hollering your name.”
Kwapich, a forward who was part of the Knights’ 2015 state title team, played for the White team.
Kwapich, who will turn 21 in October, has played for the Toledo Cherokee junior team the past two seasons.
“I’m giving it one last shot,” Kwapich said. “I heard about a lot of people who have come to it, so I figured I’d try it out. I hope to turn some heads — maybe with the Walleye, but maybe some other teams, too.”
The players traveled to Toledo from across the country and the world. They came from 12 states — from as far away as California, Florida, and Texas. Nine are from Michigan, and six are from Ohio. Six others came from Canada.
One defenseman, Dinis Sakaev, hails from Prague of the Czech Republic. Russian-born forward Georgy Ostapchuk also attended the camp, while forward Christen Severin came from Switzerland.
The campers paid $375 for the two-day clinic. The annual event includes three ice sessions, a camp jersey, and a pregame meal.
The skill level and ages of the campers varied, with some hoping to be invited back to the Walleye’s main training camp in October.
Goaltender Andrew Gedert, a Woodville native, attended the free agent camp last August.
Gedert was then signed as an emergency back up goalie for a couple of the team’s home games last season.
DeWitt, a 21-year-old who recently wrapped up a four-year college career at the University of Toledo, said the morning practices on Saturday were competitive and informative.
“One aspect is for fun — just to get to play some hockey,” he said. “The other is to just see what happens. If I make it, I make it. If not, it's been fun.”
Another former Northview player, Tyler Pilmore, played in eight games for the Walleye after standing out at the camp.
Goalie Justin Sand made the team’s training-camp roster in 2013, and was later added as an emergency backup. Forward Anthony Perdicaro attended the camp in its first season in 2009-10, and played in 10 games for Toledo in its inaugural season.
DeWitt said he heard about the camp from former Rockets coach Matt Bollinger, who now is a Walleye assistant coach.
“I know [Walleye captain Alden Hirschfeld], and a couple of my buddies talked about coming to this,” he said. “It’s been going good. It’s really competitive. I’m getting to know new guys from Texas and California. It’s been kind of cool to compare yourself to them.”
DeWitt, who graduated from UT in May with a degree in marketing, said he hopes to work for a hockey team. He starts his job with Northwestern Mutual, a life insurance company, in a couple of weeks. DeWitt said he had several family members in attendance at the afternoon scrimmage.
“The morning skate was cool seeing what the Walleye players do,” DeWitt said. “I’m learning and taking some things in stride. You’re always trying to make yourself a better hockey player.”
Kwapich led the Toledo Cherokee in points the past two seasons. The Cherokee play at the Ice House in West Toledo, and compete in the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL), a Tier III junior league.
In 44 games last season, Kwapich had 66 points for the Cherokee. He had 19 and 47 assists. As a senior at St. Francis, Kwapich had 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists).
Kwapich said the workout sessions at the free agent camp were a little faster than at the junior level.
“It’s cool. I’ve always wanted to play [at the Huntington Center],” he said.
The Toledo resident said his mom, dad, and girlfriend attended Saturday’s scrimmage.
“It’s really cool. It gives me a taste of what I could possibly do,” Kwapich said.