The last thing the Toledo Walleye wanted was a delayed start to Saturday night’s game against South Carolina at the Huntington Center.
But the opening faceoff was set back by 40 minutes after travel issues involving the game’s officials. The Walleye then suffered a tough 2-1 loss in overtime to the Stingrays in a battle between two of the top teams in the ECHL.
South Carolina's Kris Bindulis scored the game-winner with 28.3 seconds left in overtime before a sellout crowd of 8,200 at the downtown arena.
The Walleye saw their franchise record of consecutive home wins snapped at 13.
Coach Dan Watson called the streak unbelievable.
“Anytime you have a home stretch like that, good things must come to an end,” Watson said. “But at the same time, we took three out of four from a very good team. We have to be proud of that. Now we have to turn the page quickly and get ready to go again.”
Referee Liam Sewell and linesman Michael Fusani were delayed at the U.S./Canada border crossing in Detroit and Windsor en route to the game. Opening faceoff originally was set for 7:15 p.m.
The officials were delayed about two-and-a-half hours when custom officials conducted an investigation after Sewell’s passport had been reported stolen.
The Walleye already faced a tough turnaround, with a game set for 2 p.m. Sunday in Brampton, Ont.
However, the delay did not seem to affect Toledo, as it scored just 6:48 into contest. Shane Berschbach tallied a power-play goal to give Toledo a quick 1-0 lead. Berschbach had the initial shot, then quickly sent his rebound right back at South Carolina goalie Parker Milnar.
South Carolina had a 5-on-3 advantage for 47 seconds after A.J. Jenks was called for cross checking. The Stingrays cashed in on the two-man advantage when Joe Devin beat Walleye goaltender Pat Nagle with a blast to tie it at 1 with 5:23 left in the first.
With 2:53 left in overtime, Walleye defenseman Ryan Obuchowski was pulled down on a breakaway and was awarded penalty shot. But Milner made a pad save.
Each team had three shots in the OT. Toledo finished with a 26-21 edge, including 19-11 in the first two periods.
“We had more grade A chances. We just didn't cash in,” Watson said. “When we play at a high pace, I like our game.”
The Walleye (39-14-5) are now three points in front of Colorado for the lead in the Western Conference and four points up on Fort Wayne for first place in the Central Division.
South Carolina (36-12-7) is in second place in the South Division. Milner (19-4-3), who started for the Stingrays, came in leading the ECHL in goals-against average (1.98).
Toledo snapped South Carolina's 10-game unbeaten streak with a 4-2 win Friday against the Stingrays.
Nagle (28-4-4) stood tall in net, particularly in the third. The veteran said it wasn't tough to overcome the delay given the strength of the opponent.
“It wasn't ideal,” Nagle said. “But they were going through the same thing as us. It's something you have to work through.”
The game initially was delayed by 10 minutes. After the mix-up at the border was cleared up, the officials were further delayed when they were caught up in a traffic jam after an accident near the I-75/I-280 interchange near downtown Toledo.
The teams took regular warm-ups, but the game was put on hold for 25 more minutes.
The team planned to leave right after the game for the almost five-hour trip up to Canada.
The team bus likely will get into Brampton, which is west of Toronto, around 4 or 5 a.m. Sunday. The travel time can be delayed more depending on the length of the border crossing in Detroit/Windsor. The players must then be at the rink at noon.
Brampton faced a similar turnaround. The Beast lost 7-4 at Kalamazoo also Saturday..
Ironically, Sewell and Fusani officiated a game Friday in Brampton. ECHL officials are required to be at a game at least an hour-and-a-half before faceoff.
Watson said he thought the delayed arrival made Sewell inconsistent in his calls and non-calls for both teams.
“Obviously, the referee wasn't ready to go,” he said. “You could see he struggled throughout the entire game. The standards were all over the map. Both teams were frustrated.”
The officials were greeted to loud boos as they took to the ice before player intros. The vast majority of the sellout crowd of 8,200 all were in their seats for the playing of the national anthem.
Nagle, who earned ECHL goalie of the month honors Thursday, entered the game on a personal 10-game winning streak. He leads the ECHL in wins.
“Each game was a really tight game. There were few mistakes. The team that took advantage of the power play had the upper hand,” Nagle said. “They're both great goalies and both made some big saves.”
It was the 22nd capacity crowd of the season, building on the franchise record. The previous record of 21 sellouts — set last season — was broken last Sunday.
During the second game of the Pink in the Rink event, breast cancer survivors were recognized during breaks in the action. The ice also was painted a pink hue as the organization raised awareness for funding and treatment for breast cancer.
The Walleye and Stingrays are the top two defensive teams in the ECHL. South Carolina entered the game leading the league in goals against per game (2.20), while Toledo was second at 2.35 per game.
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