Walleye preview: 10 facts you might not know about Toledo hockey history

The Blade
The Blade

As the Toledo Walleye's 12th season gets underway, here are 10 tidbits on the history of professional hockey in Toledo.

■ Toledo is one of the most successful minor-league hockey cities. The 11 championship banners that hang from the rafters at the Huntington Center represent Toledo's rich pro hockey tradition dating back to the 1940s. Cups captured by the Mercurys, Blades, Goaldiggers, and Storm are recognized at the downtown arena. However, the last championship came in 1994 when the Storm won the Turner Cup.

■ There have been 157 sellouts at the Huntington Center with a record-setting 31 capacity crowds in 2018-19. More than 2.4 million people have attended games at the downtown arena.

■ The Walleye are the only ECHL team to ever host an outdoor game. Toledo will host a second Winterfest event from Dec. 16 to Jan. 2 with two games at Fifth Third Field.

■ The Walleye have qualified for the ECHL playoffs five straight seasons. However, the Walleye failed to qualify for the Kelly Cup postseason in three of its first five seasons.

■ Since the founding of pro hockey in Toledo in 1947, there have been only eight years that the sport was not played in the city. The Walleye's forced hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic during the 2020-21 season put a halt to 11 straight seasons of ECHL hockey at the Huntington Center

The city went without hockey for a year after the Mercurys folded in 1962. Toledo endured its longest stretch without hockey from 1986 to 1991 after the Goaldiggers ceased operations. There was then a two-year hiatus bridging the cap between the end of the Storm franchise in 2006-07 and the Walleye's inaugural season in 2009.

■ The city did not have a hockey hall of fame until 2016. There will now be 27 members with the induction of the fifth class (Rick Corriveau, John Gravel, Ian MacPhee, Roger Maisonneuve, Lorne Molleken, Nick Vitucci, and Don Westbrooke) on Dec. 29.

■ U.S. Olympic legend Mike Eruzione started his pro career in Toledo. On Feb. 22, 1980, in Lake Placid, Eruzione scored the game-winning goal in what is regarded as the greatest games in the history of sports — a stunning 4-3 upset of the invincible Russians. Just a few months earlier, the young and charismatic forward was playing for the Toledo Goaldiggers at the old Sports Arena in East Toledo.

“We had so much fun playing out there,” Eruzione told The Blade in 2020. “It grew me as a player. I matured as a person.”

Eruzione earned the International Hockey League's rookie of the year honor in 1978 and was a key cog in the Turner Cup championship team. Eruzione played under legendary Toledo coach Ted Garvin and alongside some of the city's greatest hockey characters.

“I've never played in front of a greater base of fans,” Eruzione said.

■ The Walleye have played in 779 regular-season games and have an all-time record of 429-280-70 for a winning percentage of .596. The Walleye have made the playoffs seven times and have a 46-43 all-time record in the postseason, reaching the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time in 2019. Toledo ECHL teams have a combined playoff record of 105-93 in 20 appearances.

■ Forward Shane Berschbach, who retired after the 2019-20 season, is the Walleye's franchise leader in games played (376), goals scored (116), assists (277), and points (393).

■ The Walleye has sent 17 players on to the NHL. Seven Walleye alumni have worked their way into playing for Toledo's NHL parent club, the Red Wings. Four former Walleye players made NHL rosters this season: Luke Glendening (Dallas), Carter Hutton (Arizona), Nick Jensen (Washington), and Petr Mrazek (Toronto).

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