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The pursuit of a Kelly Cup championship will begin on the road on Saturday night for the Toledo Walleye.
The organization opens its fifth season at Fort Wayne at 7:35 p.m. The team's roster has now been together for a full week of training camp under coach Nick Vitucci.
“In practice we've had a lot to cover but everyone seems to be grasping it,” Vitucci said. “Now it's time to audition for real. We're really looking forward to it.”
Nine players are back for a Walleye team that posted a 37-26-9 record last season to finish second in the North Division with 83 points. Toledo scored 3.11 goals per game (11th best in the ECHL) and gave up 2.71 goals per game (seventh best).
The Walleye had the 10th best record overall and earned the seventh seed in the Eastern playoffs.
The team's scoring punch is expected to come from forwards Kyle Rogers, Travis Novak, and Trevor Parkes. All were ranked among the team's top 10 scorers last season.
Rogers, the team's captain for a third season, had 46 points in 72 regular season games with 15 goals and 31 assists. Novak had 34 points (11 G, 23 A) in 65 games. Parkes finished with 30 points (14 G, 16 A) in 19 games.
Aaron Bogosian and Stephon Thorne, also should factor in offensively along with newcomers Alden Hirschfeld, Kevin Lynch, and Scott Arnold.
“We have three really, really good lines that can produce on both sides of the rink,” Vitucci said. “Any one could be the No. 1 line. Then we have another line that is a character line. They can cause turnovers and create energy.”
A pair of big rookie goaltenders will start the season with the Walleye. Jared Coreau was assigned to the team from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. Mac Carruth was sent to Toledo from Rockford of the AHL.
Both are 21 years old. Coreau played three seasons at Northern Michigan University and Carruth played in the Western Hockey League, a major junior league, for four seasons.
Coreau is 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. Carruth is 6-3 and 176 pounds. Carruth posted a shutout in Toledo's 3-0 preseason win over Kalamazoo last Saturday.
“We have two really good young goaltenders,” Vitucci said.
He said he will start Carruth on Saturday night because he's been with the team longer in camp.
“We will rotate them,” he said. “If we see one catch fire, we'll go with him.”
Vitucci said the young netminders have similar styles but different personalities.
“They are big and cover a lot of the net. They move well and are aggressive,” Vitucci said. “Mac is intense. Jared is quiet and laid back.”
The defensive corps will be led by veteran Phil Oreskovic. Other key components along the blueline are Jason Lepine, Russ Sinkewich, and Max Nicastro.
“There's lot of consistency to the lineup,” Vitucci said. “The players are already bonding. Early on we will focus on our team and where we need to improve.”
Nine of the 22 ECHL teams will have a new coaches this season, including Fort Wayne where former assistant coach Gary Graham takes over.
Fort Wayne is a former longtime rival of Toledo teams dating back to the International Hockey League days of the Goaldiggers.
The Komets joined the ECHL for the first time last season. Fort Wayne went 33-35-4 in the North Division but the team's 70 points were not enough to qualify for the playoffs.
Toledo has a second road game Thursday at Cincinnati and the team's home opener is next Saturday against Wheeling.
CUP COMING: The Stanley Cup, and other NHL championship trophies, will be on display at the Huntington Center on Saturday, Nov. 2.
The Stanley Cup will be joined by the Clarence Campbell Bowl, the Presidents' Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the William Jennings Trophy, and the Frank Selke Trophy at the Walleye game.
Fans who purchase tickets to the game can view the Cup. A “Dinner with the Cup” ticket also is available. For more info call 419-725-9255 or go to toledowalleye.com.