The Toledo Blade is examining the “state of sports” in Toledo and Northwest Ohio, and today, the Blade’s Mark Monroe discusses the phenomenon that is the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. The Walleye draw huge crowds, play damn well, and help develop the occasional Red Wings prospect. Monroe notes that the state of the sport–for now, anyway–is very good:
The Walleye organization has enjoyed steady support since its inception, but a recent uptick in success on the ice has led to record-setting attendance.
The team has enjoyed consistent success at the turnstiles in the ECHL — annually ranking near the top in total attendance.
After they failed to make the playoffs in three of their first five seasons, the Walleye bottomed out with a 21-44-7 record in 2013-14. Former coach Derek Lalonde, an unknown commodity when he took charge in 2014-15, led Toledo to the greatest turnaround in ECHL history. Lalonde, who is now an NHL assistant in Tampa Bay, turned the keys over to current coach Dan Watson after leading the Walleye to the Brabham Cup (regular-season title).
Toledo has since earned a playoff berth in five consecutive seasons and has reached the conference finals three times in that span.
Watson earned ECHL coach of the year honors in 2017, and general manager Neil Neukam has been named ECHL executive of the year the past two seasons.
“With the excitement and energy of our brand, the city and region have fallen in love with the organization,” said Neukam, whose franchise hosted the ECHL All-Star Game for the first time in January. “It’s a great game, and you don’t have to be a fan to love it. It’s a very special sport.”
The Walleye set a team attendance record for the fifth consecutive year.
“What has made the Walleye so successful, and the reason why they are one of the few teams in Double-A hockey to turn a profit, is that they sell family entertainment,” Saevig said.