The ECHL’s Toledo Walleye chose to not participate in the 2020-2021 season due to the pandemic, but the Walleye are back for this year’s campaign, and Toledo Blade correspondent Mark Monroe spoke with Walleye coach Dan Watson regarding the state of his team:
With the retirement of mainstay forwards Shane Berschbach (the team’s all-time leader in nearly every category) and Kyle Bonis and the departure of 2019 ECHL MVP Josh Kestner, there are offensive holes to fill.
But Watson has instilled a culture of success that has created lofty expectations every season. His teams have featured an up-tempo style balanced with tight checking and dependable goaltending.
“I think we have a little bit of everything again,” Watson said. “No. 1, we have a real good group of guys. We have some skill. We have some guys that can push the pace with their skating and the way they move pucks. We have some toughness. We have really good goaltending, as well. We will have a very competitive team that the fans will be proud of once we get playing.”
The team’s Kelly Cup aspirations begin in net with the goaltending tandem of Billy Christopoulos and Kaden Fulcher. Christopoulos is a proven winner at the ECHL level, and Fulcher also has a track record of success in junior hockey.
The team’s offense received a huge offensive boost when captain T.J. Hensick, a 35-year-old former NHL forward, opted to put retirement off for at least one more year. Hensick has played in 104 career regular-season games for Toledo, racking up 114 points with 33 goals and 81 assists. He played in his 900th career game the last time the Walleye were on the ice, at the Huntington Center on March 11, 2020.
Watson believes Hensick is in better shape than he was in 2020 and looks energized.
“I really wanted him back, and he knows that,” Watson said. “He has dedicated himself to being ready for the season, and it’s showing.”