Dan Watson admitted to having a few nervous moments before his debut as the Toledo Walleye’s interim head coach.
He insisted it was more out of excitement than anxiety, yet finally found some balance during the opening moments of Saturday’s game at the Huntington Center.
“I’d done a lot of the pregame speeches and the preparations before this,” Watson said. “Once I got through those first few shifts of managing the bench, with the forward side versus the ‘D’ side, it felt good.”
However, a pair of former Walleye spoiled Watson’s first game as a head coach, as Scott Arnold and Emerson Clark scored third-period goals to help Greenville to a 3-1 win.
The loss to the Road Warriors was the end of a whirlwind week for the Walleye, as Nick Vitucci stepped down after nearly five seasons as the only head coach in team history.
“It was a bit of a surprise to go through all this,” Toledo goalie Jared Coreau said. “There wasn’t much talk or anything leading up to it. We just came to practice Tuesday and found out, and then there was a press conference. I think we were a little shocked, at first, but we all believe in Dan Watson. There’s no need to panic.
“Nick was a great guy, but I think with a change, sometimes it revitalizes everyone. We’re a lot fresher.”
In front of an announced crowd of 8,200, the Walleye lost their ninth straight game, finished with only seven shots on goal in the third period, and their power play continued to stagger. Toledo finished 0 for 4 on the man-advantage against the Road Warriors, who entered the weekend with the ECHL’s top penalty kill.
“Maybe we just didn’t keep our focus,” said Coreau, whose team is 6 of 32 on the power play in its last nine games. “There’s times we played well, and there’s times that we didn’t, and that happens. But we need to aim for consistency.”
Seconds after Coreau fell on his back to cover a loose puck in front of the goal crease, Josh Nicholls deflected Lindsay Sparks’ shot from the right circle past Coreau (23 saves) to give the Road Warriors a 1-0 lead with 4 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first period.
With less than three minutes left in the second, Kyle Rogers tied the game at 1-1 when he one-timed Maxim Shalunov’s feed from behind the net past Greenville goalie Jason Missiaen (22 saves).
With 13:24 left in the third period, Arnold scored on a penalty shot after he was hooked as he skated in against Coreau and after the Road Warriors killed off a tripping penalty against Andrew Rowe, Clark made it 3-1 with 9:45 left.
“They took care of the neutral zone really well and in the offensive zone, they were cycling,” Watson said of Greenville. “They were keeping the puck below the goal line and forcing us to go 200 feet. That’s a puck-possession team and they did that extremely well.”