Kalamazoo’s Matt Firman scores the game-winning goal as he sails the puck over Walleye goaltender Hannu Tolvonen and Joe Gleason 1:12 into overtime. BLADE/JETTA FRASER
The Walleye's season-long struggles have weighed heavily on captain Kyle Rogers.
The organization's all-time leader in games played earned a brief respite from a challenging year when he tied Toledo's game against Kalamazoo late in regulation on Friday.
Playing in his 275th game in a Walleye uniform, Rogers tied the game at 2 with 4:44 in the third period. Yet it was Kalamazoo's Matt Firman that scored the game winner 1:12 into the overtime as the Wings won 3-2.
The Walleye suffered their fifth straight loss and saw their record fall to 21-43-6 before an announced crowd of 5,010 at the Huntington Center.
“We are not going to give up here,” Rogers said. “We have guys that are working their tails off trying to find a job for next year. Obviously it showed today when we battled back to get a goal in the last five minutes.”
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Rogers, who also had an assist, tallied his 14th of the season. The 29-year-old was part of the Walleye team that qualified for the playoffs in 2012-13 and the vet is winding down his fourth straight season with the team.
“I'm happy for him because it's been a long year for him,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “Being a four-year guy, he wants to see this organization succeed. It's kind of a heart-breaking year for him. So to see him get that goal was pure excitement on the bench and for the fans.”
Toledo rookie Max Shalunov tallied his team-high 16th goal of the season to tie it at 1 in the second period. Kalamazoo went up 2-1 just as a power play expired with 3:12 left in the second.
Walleye goalie Hannu Toivonen, who has been in net for 12 of the Walleye's 21 wins, has now started in 14 of the team's last 16 games. Toivonen (12-16-1) finished with 25 saves.
With Toledo on its third power play, Shalunov tied at 1 with 6:28 left in the second period. He had seven points, including five goals, against Kalamazoo this season. Joe Gleason and Rogers had the assists.
“When he is going, he is one of the best players in the league,” Watson said. “He's played great as of late.”
Kalamazoo took a 1-0 lead with 5:35 left in the first period as Ryan Del Monte poked a loose puck in over Toivonen. On the game winner, Del Monte made a great read on a pass at the Walleye blue line and set Firman up for a breakaway.
“It was a roller coaster of a game,” Watson said. “We battled and competed and got that big goal to tie it up. Then anything can happen four-on-four in overtime.”
Toledo defenseman Richard Nedomlel was whistled for five of his team's six penalties, including five in a row.
“He is walking that fine line of trying to play tough and physical and that's what he's all about,” Watson said. “Now he just has to make sure he harnesses that energy and uses it in a disciplined way.”
Toledo (21-43-6) plays its final road game today when the team travels to Fort Wayne. The Walleye host Cincinnati in the season finale Sunday.
Rogers is only behind Storm legends Rick Judson (455) and Robert Thorpe (364) for most games played in a Toledo uniform. The native of Erie, Pa. said he hopes to return next year.
“All I can do is try out there and it's in the staff’s hands,” he said. “I would like to try to retire here because I've been here for so long. I would love to come back.”
SPECIAL CEREMONY: Navy veteran Ryan Bagrowski was honored during a re-enlistment ceremony on the ice before the game. Rogers participated in the ceremony by reading the oath of enlistment.
Rogers instructed Bagrowski at a hockey clinic.
“He taught me quite a bit. I'm a big fan of hockey and I love watching the Walleye,” Bagrowski said.
Bagrowski, who is a Evergreen High School graduate, joined the Navy in 2006. He served on the USS George Washington and was stationed in Japan and Africa.
“It was completely different being on a ship. I run an armory. I teach you how to shoot and I fix guns,” Bagrowski said. “It's a great lifestyle and I wouldn't be where I'm at without the military. I've been able to see the world.”