Gritty forward Heard quickly gaining popularity with Walleye fans
Call it the Bullwinkle. Or maybe the Hulk Hogan.
Walleye forward Mitchell Heard has a celebratory gesture that has created a sensation at the Huntington Center.
A physical forward known for his gritty style with flashes of offensive prowess, Heard has quickly become a popular personality in Toledo. With his gloved hands clasped to each ear — splayed out as if attempting to hear something in the distance — Heard urges on the crowd to get into the moment.
“As much as they love it, I love it even more,” Heard said. “It gets me going, and it gives me legs when I don't have them. It gives the team some wind when we need it.”
Not one afraid to drop the gloves, Heard has gotten into several fights that have sparked his Walleye team on to victory.
“That's what I pride my game on, playing that two-way, edgy style of game. I play kind of a sandpaper game — rough around the edges,” Heard said. “But I like to have a soft touch when I'm in tight [for a scoring chance].”
Heard, a 6-foot-1 and 180-pound forward was brought in by Walleye coach Dan Watson in mid-December. The native of Newcastle, Ontario, is a 10-year veteran who has played in 447 pro games, but has not lost any enthusiasm for the game.
“He's a gritty player. That's what we need,” Watson said. “We need him to do it at the right times and in a smart way. He's going to have tons and tons of success here.”
Heard may have the career penalty minutes (704) for one to assume he is a slow-footed enforcer. However, he also has produced 241 points with 90 goals and 151 assists playing in the American Hockey League, ECHL, and the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), a pro league in Germany.
“With his assists, he's a playmaker,” Watson said. “I think when Heardy plays the right way, and handles his emotions the right way, he's a really effective player.”
Heard, who had been playing this season in Germany, has been a point-per-game player in the ECHL. He returned to North America and signed with the Walleye on Dec. 9.
“You have to bring your work boots and the right mentality,” Heard said.
The 29-year-old has produced 11 points in 16 games since joining the Walleye. He has two goals and nine assists to go along with 28 penalty minutes.
Heard lit up the bundled crowd at Toledo's outdoor Winterfest game against Indy on New Year's Eve at Fifth Third Field. In the penalty box, Heard urged on the crowd with his arms frantically pumping up and down on the video board.
“Heardy is unbelievable,” teammate Brandon Hawkins said. “Every chance he gets to get into a battle, I always expect him to win it. He's hard on pucks. He has such a battle mentality. It's just not in his mind to lose. That's just the way he is.”
Heard, who also sports a handlebar mustache, is active on social media. Heard uses the hashtags “Heard That” and “Fear the Stache” in many of his Twitter posts and replies.
“The boys and the coaches have been really supportive of me and how I play,” Heard said. “I just try to bring some intangibles every night and see what happens.”
Watson credited Heard for igniting the team in a 3-2 shootout win over rival Fort Wayne on Jan. 9 when he handily won a fight with Chays Ruddy. The combatants then had a rematch Sunday with Heard landing more big blows. The Walleye went on to rally for a memorable 6-5 comeback win over the Komets.
Fellow Toledo tough guy Cole Fraser, who leads the Walleye with 59 penalty minutes, scored the game-winner with less than a second remaining in regulation.
“Heard got the crowd going with that fight,” Fraser said. “I couldn't be more proud of him.”
Heard, a second-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche, had played the last four seasons in the DEL and has posted 63 total points (21 G, 42 A) in 113 games played.
Heard also has played in 199 games in the AHL. Before turning professional, he played four years of high-level junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. Heard also totaled 216 penalty minutes in his OHL days where he first crossed paths with Hawkins.
“I got to go to OHL camp with Heardy years ago, and his energy level has not changed in over 10 years,” Hawkins said.
The Walleye (24-8-2) lead the ECHL Central Division by eight points and lead the league in goals scored per game (3.82).
Despite being hit hard by roster turnover due to call ups and coronavirus protocols, they are 11-3-2 since signing Heard, including 5-0-1 at home.
“I like to do all the little things, winning all the battles,” Heard said. “I want to be aggressive at the right time and know when to do it and when not to. I have to keep my temper under control and good things will happen. All the boys have my back.”