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Walleye Weigh-In: Toledo is Ferris State South?

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    Toledo Walleye forward Kyle Bonis is one of four Ferris State University alumni on the team with the signing of Mike Embach.

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    Walleye goalie Pat Nagle is one of four former Ferris State players now on the team.

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Perhaps the Toledo Walleye should be called Ferris State South.

With the signing of proven point producer Mike Embach last week, the number of Ferris State University alumni on the Walleye roster jumped to four.

The college located about 230 miles north of the Huntington Center has provided a prime pipeline of players to Toledo's ECHL franchise.

The school, which is located in the central Michigan city of Big Rapids, has a well-supported and successful hockey program.

Embach reunited with former college teammates forward Kyle Bonis and goalie Pat Nagle. Defenseman Simon Denis also is a former Bulldogs player.

Bonis, Denis, and Czarnowczan were members of the 2011-12 Bulldogs team that reached the national championship game.

Bonis and Denis are Walleye assistant captains, while Nagle was a key acquisition in the offseason. Nagle leads the ECHL in wins with 20.

On their official Twitter account, Ferris State hockey officials said: “Add Embach with two guys with letters, an ace goaltender, I mean clearly it’s working.”

Former Walleye coach Derek Lalonde, who led Toledo's resurgence when he took over as head coach of the Walleye franchise in 2014, also has ties to Ferris State. Lalonde was an assistant coach there for three seasons (2003-06).

While at Ferris State, Lalonde coached future Walleye player Derek Nesbitt.

Lalonde also discovered his future goaltender when he was at Ferris. Lalonde was so impressed with Jeff Lerg, who played against Ferris when he was at Michigan State University, that the diminutive netminder was the first player he signed.

Two other former Bulldogs, Aaron Lewicki and Chris Zarb, also have suited up for the Fish.

Nagle and Embach were roommates when they played together at Ferris from 2007-11.

Embach said he used to live on Nagle's couch. That connection lasted. Embach was Nagle's best man. Nagle spoke glowingly of the Walleye organization in the pair's frequent phone conversations.

“He and I talk every day,” said Embach, who had been playing overseas in Scotland. “So I'm super familiar with the organization.”

Embach, who played with Nagle for rival Fort Wayne last season, had a solid debut for the Walleye. In a 4-2 win at Indy on Saturday night, Embach tallied the game-winning goal. He also added an assist and collected three minor penalties.

THROWING SILLY SHADE: In this day of social media saturation, ECHL teams have taken to trading insults on Twitter. And it can be quite entertaining.

The Walleye account frequently spars with rival Fort Wayne. It seems the Komets may never live down the moment last year when they inadvertently raised a retired jersey to the rafters upside down during a pregame ceremony.

The back-and-forth regarding the hilarious snafu adds a bit more spice to the on-ice battles.

MAKING HAY AT HOME: The Walleye continue to take advantage of their home ice advantage.

Toledo has a 17-4-0 record at the friendly confines of the Huntington Center. The Walleye have made bank at the “Bank Tank,” earning 34 points out of an available 42.

The place continues to be packed with 15 sellouts this year. The team ranks second in the ECHL in average attendance (7,470 per game). The downtown arena seats 7,431 for hockey games. Overall the franchise has had 113 sellouts in the regular season, plus six more in the playoffs for a total of 119.

So how does that support translate to success on the ice? First-year defenseman Kevin Gibson said the energetic atmosphere is contagious.

“The place is electric,” Gibson said. “There's no other way to describe it. It gives us a huge advantage. Our home record speaks for itself. The fans contribute. They are invested in this team.”

SLATE SHIFT: After playing just one game last week, the team will play four over the next seven days. The team bus is off to West Virginia for a 7:05 p.m. faceoff on Tuesday against the Nailers. Toledo returns home for a three-game weekend slate. Kansas City is in town on Friday and Saturday. The Walleye then host Wichita on Sunday.

ALL 80s NIGHT: The organization is paying its dues to the decade of decadence with an “I love the 80’s night” on Friday.

Looking forward to hearing the unmistakeable music heavy on crafty keyboards and sizzling synthesizers.

TV and movie clips also will be played on the video board. So many possibilities. Should be fun.

PASSING OF A LEGEND: Many have expressed their dismay over the passing of the great writer Dave Woolford. My former colleague here at The Blade was an incredible talent.

Dave came to be well known and highly regarded in the hockey community for his chronicling of the gritty glory days of the Goaldiggers in the 70s and then the berth of the town's first ECHL team, the blue-collar Storm franchise. He earned respect for his work over at the old Sports Arena from management, coaches, players and fans alike.

He also covered Michigan/Ohio State football, and most notably auto racing. He was a tremendous journalist and a gifted storyteller.

Dave played a role in my decision to get into sports journalism. Growing up in Maumee, Dave and his family went to my church. He was like a celebrity to this young, impressionable sports fan. It was cool to see the guy from the newspaper in the same pew. And man, you could make a living writing about sports? Cool!

Later on, I was lucky enough to work with him for a few years. More than anything Dave was a really good guy and a devoted family man. He was always gracious, funny, and friendly.

It was an honor to know him.

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