The Red Wings’ other developmental affiliate, the Toledo Walleye, will be taking on the Fort Wayne Komets in the second round of the ECHL playoffs, and the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe suggests that the ECHL’s best rivalry will take center stage Saturday at the Huntington Center:
Like clockwork, two storied and successful franchises with extremely loyal fan bases will lock horns when Toledo once again squares off against Fort Wayne in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
The Walleye and Komets are meeting in an ECHL divisional final for the third time in the past four postseasons. The blue-collar cities have pro hockey teams steeped in tradition, dating to the middle of the 20th century.
The rivalry resumes at 7:35 p.m. Saturday in Game 1 of the Central Division final series at the Huntington Center.
Toledo forward Kyle Bonis, who has been part of the past two playoff series against Fort Wayne, said the familiarity between the teams adds more intensity to the do-or-die nature of postseason hockey.
“It’s special,” Bonis said. “We’ve had some history and some great tests and great battles with Fort Wayne. So that leads to a lot of excitement.”
In what has developed into the best rivalry in the ECHL, many fans from each side make the hour-and-a-half trek to invade the opposition’s home rink. The franchises are the closest teams in the league, with just 106 miles separating the Walleye’s downtown arena from Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum.
“Two cities within close proximity where both fan bases can travel to cheer on their team makes for an intense rivalry,” Toledo coach Dan Watson said. “I think the rivalry has escalated recently due to the recent playoff series and the fact that each team continues to battle for division titles each season. If you had drawn it up at the start of the year, both of the fan bases would have wanted this to happen.”