ECHL: History of the Toledo Walleye

Photo via Toledo Walleye

Through many players, roster lineup changes, and banners, Toledo, Ohio, put itself on the map of successful minor league hockey cities. Many memorable moments surround the good times at the Toledo Sports Arena, former home of the Toledo Storm. Although the city had good teams before, the Storm cemented themselves as one of the elite teams in the ECHL. While the playing style has changed, the winning tradition continues with the Toledo Walleye.

Toledo hockey tradition carries success

Where it all began- the IHL days

The hard-working, blue-collar town of Toledo was not a hockey hotbed but was awarded a franchise to be a part of the International Hockey League (IHL). This would be the first city to be granted a franchise outside of the Windsor-Detroit area. The team would be named the Toledo Mercury and existed from 1947 until 1962. They became the first IHL team to win multiple Turner Cups (playoff champion) and won their first cup in their first season, 1947-48. In the 1948-49 season, they would play in both the North and South Divisions and win the J.P. McGuire trophy (team with the most points) as part of the North Division.

During the 1949-50 season, they would play in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League and be known as the Toledo Buckeyes. They returned to the IHL in 1950 as the Mercury and won consecutive Turner Cups in 1950-51 and 1951-52 by defeating the Grand Rapids Rockets in the finals both seasons. The Mercury would fold after the 1961-62 season but returned to Toledo in 1963 as the Toledo Blades.

The Toledo Blades would participate in the IHL from 1963 through 1974. The franchise was first based in Omaha, Nebraska as the Omaha Knights but moved to Toledo four years later and became the Blades, only to change their name to the Toledo Hornets in 1970. The Blades were regular season champions in 1963-64 and were awarded the Huber Trophy for most points in the regular season. The Blades would go on to win the Turner Cup in 1964 and 1967 before leaving Toledo after the 1973-74 season, moving to Lansing, Michigan and becoming the Lansing Lancers. After the Hornets left, the IHL awarded the franchise to Toledo and they would be known as the Goaldiggers.

The Toledo Goaldiggers operated from 1974 through 1986 and continued to play in the IHL. During their 12-year history, the Goaldiggers would qualify for the playoffs ten times, winning the Turner Cup four times (1975, 1978, 1982, and 1983). Toledo would win two Fred A. Huber Memorial Trophies for the regular season champion in 1981-82 and 1982-83. After the 1985-86 season, the franchise suspended operations due to financial difficulties and poor attendance.

Early ECHL days

The next time Toledo would see a professional hockey team would be the Toledo Storm, who would operate from 1991 until the end of the 2007 season, playing in the relatively new ECHL league. They would quickly become an ECHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, with whom their affiliation remains today. The Storm would win six division titles, two Henry Brabham Cups for playoff champions, and two Jack Riley Cups for playoff champion. They were not only the most successful version of a Toledo hockey team but the most talked about and most loved. The franchise suspended operations after the 2006-07 season due to the fact they franchise was sold to Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. The Storm would have the honor of having Erin Whitten on the team as she became the first U.S. born female goaltender to appear in a professional hockey game and record a professional win on October 30, 1993. Toledo would return a few years later, operating as the Toledo Walleye in 2009-10.

Today

The Toledo Walleye, founded in 2009 after a 2-year hiatus to complete the arena, is the latest franchise to play in the Toledo area. As part of their inaugural season, defenseman Ryan Stokes was named the first captain of the new franchise. The organization would also introduce their first mascot in Toledo hockey history, Spike, who made his debut on July 27, 2009.

The Walleye would make history, playing in the first ECHL outdoor game. They would lose the game, 2-1, to the Kalamazoo Wings on December 27, 2014. Toledo would crack 100 points in a season three times (2014-15, 2016-17, and 2017-18), winning the Henry Brabham Cup each time for most points in a season. They would opt out of playing during the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aside from the Storm, the Walleye have been one of the more successful hockey teams in the history of Toledo hockey. They would be North Division champs in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, and Central Division champions in the 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2021-22 seasons. The Walleye also made the Kelly Cup finals in 2018-19 and 2021-22, losing both times.

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