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Walleye’s tough season ends with loss

04/13/2014, 7:40pm EDT
By MARK MONROE BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Toledo finishes with 21-44-7 record

Walleye season ends with loss

Walleye goaltender Hannu Toivonen protects the net against Cincinnati in Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Huntington Center. Toledo closed the season with seven consecuitve losses. Blade/Amy E. Voigt

The Walleye's brutal season came to a familiar and fitting end with yet another loss Sunday.

Toledo finished a miserable year with seven consecutive losses, falling 4-1 to Cincinnati in the finale at home.

Captain Kyle Rogers lifted the spirits of the crowd of 4,599 at the Huntington Center in the second period when he tied the game at 1.

But the Cyclones outshot Toledo 35-22 and scored three unanswered goals.

Interim coach Dan Watson finished with a 5-13-3 record while working with a roster mostly of rookies. He took over for former coach Nick Vitucci, who will continue with the organization in a scouting and advisory position next season, on Feb. 25.

“Obviously it's about wins and losses and I wish we had more wins,” Watson said. “But in terms of changing the culture in the locker room and demanding the work ethic, I thought the guys worked hard every day. Their skill development got better every day.”

DAVE HACKENBERG: Toledo fans deserve a better hockey team

Veteran goalie Hannu Toivonen (12-17-1) finished with 31 saves.

Toledo ended the season with a 21-44-7 record and missed the playoffs for the third time in five seasons. The Walleye had a 11-23-2 record at home where a total of 216,797 attended the 36 games.

“The city supported us through this hard time,” said Rogers, who wrapped up his fourth season with the team. “We wanted to finish strong here. With the young kids we showed we weren't going to give up. Unfortunately it didn't turn out well for us tonight.”

Rogers, who played in a franchise-high 277th game with the Walleye, said he hopes to return next season.

“He's a special person on and off the ice,” Watson said. “He is a true leader. We appreciate everything Kyle has done for us and hopefully it will continue.”

Toledo tied it at one in the second period on Rogers' 15th of the season. A beautiful pass from behind the net from Max Shalunov set Rogers up and made it 1-1 with 10:40 left in the second.

Shalunov, a rookie forward who scored twice on Saturday, finished with a team-high 18 goals.

“He got better as the year went on,” Watson said. “He started to learn the pro game. He has NHL skills. Now mentally he needs to play with passion and heart and desire.”

The Cyclones took the lead for good when Joe Basaraba scored his first of the season by ripping a shot from the top of the right circle over Toivonen's shoulder with 7:48 left in the second.

The Cyclones seized a 3-1 lead on Barry Almeida's one timer on a nice pass from Zach Budish with 14:04 left in the game. Toivonen had no chance to stop the shot after Budish's perfect pass across the top of the crease.

The Cyclones then went up 4-1 with 7:34 left on Taylor Aronson's goal.

Cincinnati took a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Hazen's goal 4:33 into the second period. Toivonen was screened on the shot.

In a scoreless first period, Cincinnati carried the play and outshot Toledo 10-5.

The Walleye were playing their third game in as many nights after a road game in Fort Wayne on Saturday.

“Maybe the energy level wasn't quite what we hoped for,” Watson said. “But Cincinnati did a great job of buckling down defensively and created a lot of turnovers.”

Toivonen, a former NHL goalie who signed with the team in November, will play next season in his home country of Finland.

“He played extremely well,” Watson said. “I just I wish it could have ended differently for him tonight. But overall through the course of the year, he's been a very good goaltender.”

Toivonen, who was in net for 12 of the Walleye's 21 wins, said he appreciated the fan support.

“It's a great help for us on home ice,” Toivonen said. “It gets you up for the game. Toledo is a hard-working town. We're proud the town has supported us.”

FISH TALES: Longtime timekeeper Gary Hoot worked his last game on Sunday. Hoot, who began keeping the game clock during the Toledo Storm's first season in 1991-92, spent 21 seasons as part of the off-ice officials crew.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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