ECHL: Central Division Semifinal Game Recap: Toledo Walleye vs Kalamazoo Wings Game 3 | 04/24/2024

Drake Hartlett/InsideTheRink

Toledo Walleyes and Kalamazoo Wings met for game three on Wednesday night of the Central Division Semifinals Playoff in the chase for the Kelly Cup. Toledo comes into this game on a 16-game winning streak, while the Wings come in with a history of bouncing back when on home ice. Heading into the match, the Walleyes want to add one more win to their two, and the Wings are pressing to stay in it and not get swept by game four. 

Wings had a bit of a roster shake-up this past week when their NHL affiliate Vancouver Canucks had to call up their AHL Canucks counterpart to replace injured goaltender Thatcher Demko. With all this movement, the Wings signed rookie goaltender Blake Pietila on an ATO, an Amateur Tryout Contract, and activated him immediately, allowing him to practice with the team and be ready when needed. Blake is the cousin of one of the scratched Walleye players of the game, Jed Pietila, and hopefully, with this strong hockey family background, he will bring what the Wings need to win this game.

The puck dropped, and we saw the only penalty of the first period, at .39 seconds in, when Wings Josh Passolt caught Riley McCourt and was called for Tripping, putting Toledo on the PP. The Wings hold off Toledo on the PP and, at 4:56, get the game’s first goal when Quinn Preston gets one past goaltender John Lethemon. Less than a minute later, Wings Jordan Seyfert slaps one in the net again, taking it to 2-0 in the first six minutes. Twelve seconds later, Toledo answers when Sam Craggs makes it 2-1, then Grant Gabriele ties it up one minute later, making it a 2-2 game. Not even ten minutes in, both teams are hitting harder and taking more chances than they did in the previous two games. In the following 9 minutes, we would see six shots on goal pass when Grant Gabriele sinks one, giving Toledo their first lead of the game. In the first period, Toledo outshot Kalamazoo 15-7, just manhandling the Wings. 

Heading into the Second period, Hunter Vorva wants to improve his concentration and have his defensemen help hold off the Walleyes. Hunter enters the playoffs with a 20-14 record, a 2.51 GAA, and a .920SV%. Toledo’s John Lethemon is looking to keep his steady pace while his teammates dominate SOG. He comes into the playoffs with a 26-7 record, a 2.90 GAA, and a .892SV%. Both teams need to be aware of their penalties and power plays. The Wings are one for five on the power play while and the Walleyes are zero for four. Before the playoffs, Toledo was 25% on the PP compared to Kzoos’ 19%. Both teams were about even on the PK. 

The Wings got the first shot and the first penalty in the second period. This put the Walleye on the PP, where Riley Sawchuk saw a wide-open net and gave the Walleye a two-point lead, making it 4-2. The Walleyes have had no issues getting through the Wings’ defense and putting the shots on goal this period. About halfway through the period, Brandon Hawkins scored another goal in the top right corner of the net, taking Toledo 5-2. The blaring difference in this period was that Toledo just outskated Kalamazoo. It seemed like they were constantly trying to catch up and falling further behind. Toledo has been brilliant about the chances they are taking, making sure not to have any unnecessary penalties called. During the last ten minutes of the period, the Wings procured eight shots on goal, once again being outshot by Toledos ten. Even with minor errors, the Walleyes just owned this period. They saw a hand pass called, a few passes that didn’t connect, and an uncalled high stick finishing with a last-minute sharing of words over shots that Chaz Reddekopp with the Wings took after the play ended. It was a surprise when the Wings rink decided to take things into their own devices and open the side rink door when Toledos Hawkins had a blowout and hit the wall. Fortunately, Hawkins could pop up and skate off without injury. 

The third period kicked off, and Toledo received its first penalty when Jacob Graves was called for holding the stick when he blatantly knocked Josh Passolts’ stick out of his hands in front of the net. The Walleyes held off the Wings during that power play, making it 0/1 for power play opportunities. Vorva is bringing his A game this period, making a massive save when the Wings lost control,  turned over the puck, and saw Riley Sawchuk come at him with the breakaway. Eight minutes in, the Wings are trying to make a comeback, with eight shots of goal compared to Toledo’s three. Kalamazoo gets halfway through the period when they get called for a Highstick by David Keefer, and Toledo goes to their third power play of the night. The Walleyes make it into the power play when all chaos breaks out. Connor Walters meets and checks Sam Craggs at center ice, and Wings Ayden MacDonald comes and joins the fray. While in a separate scrum, Brandon Kruse and Reddekopp start going at it, with Kruse losing his helmet. At the same time, the refs intervene just so Reddekopp and Sawchuk can begin sharing opinions, resulting in Sawchuk getting his helmet flipped off. The only penalty to come from all of that excitement is the original call against Craggs. At 3:44, the Wings pulled goalie Hunter Vorva to have the extra man advantage, and this would result in a goal by Toledos Trenton Bliss 28 seconds later, making it a 6-2 game. The Walleyes would hold off the Wings, closing out the period with a minor scrum in the corner between Jordan Seyfert and Brendan Michaelian

Toledo just dominated this game. They had 31 shots on goal going into the third period; in fact, the third period was the only period in which Kalamazoo outshot them. Kalamazoo did not start seeing double-digit shots until the second period, when they still trailed by four shots, showing at 12 to Toledo’s 16. The teams closed out the game with Toledo 36 SOG and Kalamazoo 31. With the penalties tripping them up, the Wings must evaluate where they are going wrong if they want to return and stop the Walleyes from sweeping the series. 

The teams are headed to game four of the series, which will be held in Kalamazoo on Friday, April 26th. If the Walleyes win the next game, they will sweep the series. If the Wings win, we will head to game five of the series, returning to Toledo. The winner of this series will face the Wheeling Nailers/Indy Fuel Central Division semifinal series winner in the second round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Stephanie DeLaFleur

Beat Writer covering the ECHL Savannah Ghost Pirates, NHL Vegas Golden Knights and AHL Henderson Silver Knights. Follow me on X @StephiDelafleur

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