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Walleye’s Lerg has overcome obstacles

02/17/2016, 12:55am EST
By By MARK MONROE BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Toledo goalie uses competitiveness, drive to impress

Walleye’s Lerg has overcome obstacles

Toledo goalie Jeff Lerg’s spectacular save against Fort Wayne’s Garrett Meurs on Sunday earned the No. 1 spot on ESPN’s top plays. BLADE/JETTA FRASER

From overcoming blindness in one eye to battling asthma, Walleye goaltender Jeff Lerg has fought through obstacles his whole life.

At 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds, Lerg’s undersized frame has forced him to constantly struggle against unfounded doubts about his abilities based on preconceived notions. His stellar numbers in a Toledo uniform and his ultra-competitive drive prove otherwise.

“I’m someone who relishes adversity. I’m used to it,” Lerg said. “It motivates me to continue to perform at a high level. When people doubt me, I like to raise my game.”

Lerg, whose acrobatic save on Sunday made national headlines, led Toledo to the best record in the ECHL last season when he finished as the league’s runner up for goalie of the year. Lerg, who led Michigan State to an NCAA title in 2007, went 32-9-3 with a 2.37 goals-against average.

Lerg, a native of Livonia, Mich., is again among the ECHL leaders. Lerg (20-5-7) is tied for second among ECHL goaltenders in wins, he ranks third in goals-against average at 2.05, and his .929 save percentage is second best.

Yet, in his fifth pro season Lerg has played in just one game at the higher level American Hockey League.

“It’s frustrating, but I’m still trying to reach my peak level,” Lerg said. “Some things I can’t control. It’s a numbers game, and I’ve tried to work my way up as an outsider. The only thing I can do is perform.”

Lerg’s unbelievable save on Sunday opened some eyes. Lerg spun to his back, reached out with his glove, and batted away the potential game winner in a 3-2 victory over Fort Wayne. That save earned the No. 1 spot on ESPN’s top plays.

“It’s exciting,” Lerg said. “I had a lot of people check in. I had over 100 people clicking online or via phone. It’s fun to hear from old acquaintances. I’ll take it and run with it.”

Lerg said he didn’t expect the national notoriety.

“I was just trying to win the game,” Lerg said. “I did not expect to be in the national spotlight for a brief moment. It’s been a fun experience.

“I heard from some old teammates joking that they weren’t sure what the big deal was because they’d see me make saves like that all the time in practice.”

Lerg, who had 37 saves, also stopped three skaters in the shootout. Lerg said he learned the move from studying hall of famer Dominik Hasek.

“It’s a combo of will, skill, and a little luck,” Lerg said. “I’ve made that save in roller hockey. We do rebounds and we practice those drills. But it was a special save with the time in the game and the high speed.”

Lerg was the first player coach Derek Lalonde signed when he was hired in 2014.

“He’s one of the best kept secrets in pro hockey,” Lalonde said. “He’s an amazing human, an amazing player.”

Lerg said the highlight reel save was the second time he had made SportsCenter's Top 10 list. He made a similar glove save when he was between the pipes in Michigan State’s national title game against Boston College in 2007.

“That was still the biggest save of my career,” he said. “It was a two on one and it was the biggest due to the magnitude. But this one is close.”

Lerg said one doctor determined that he was legally blind in one eye when he was in the fourth grade. He said he got a second opinion, wore a patch, and the issue was resolved in about a year.

Lerg also undergoes breathing treatments with a nebulizer to combat issues with asthma before games and practices.

“Adversity and obstacles have always helped me perform at a high level,” said Lerg, who was named goalie of the year while playing in a league in France in 2012.

Lerg’s win Sunday pushed Toledo’s home record to 16-5-1. The Walleye (29-13-5) embark on a four-game trek over five days starting tonight at home against Colorado.

Lerg, who has five shutouts in a Walleye uniform, is one shutout shy of the Toledo ECHL record. Lerg was named runner-up for ECHL goalie of the month in October (1.44 GAA), and was goalie of the week Dec. 14-20 after posting a 4-0-0 record with a 1.71 goals-against average.

“I think I’ve built a resume,” Lerg said. “I’m in the headlines on a positive note. I know people at the highest level have seen it. Maybe it’s an attention grabber and they can dig a little deeper.”

Yet, with his 30th birthday approaching, Lerg said he has found a home in Toledo.

“I just want a taste of that championship,” Lerg said. “That was the goal coming back here. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by great coaches and staff here. The fans are second to none. It feels like playing in the NHL to me. I still feel like I have a higher gear I can kick it to. It’s been an awesome time here. The best way to cap it off is to win that Cup.”

On The Hook: Jeff Lerg

Position: Goaltender

Ht./​Wt.: 5-6, 155

Jersey No.: 1

Hometown: Livonia, Mich.

Age: 29

Favorite type of music: Country

Favorite pizza topping: pineapple

Best ECHL arena: Reading

Best ECHL uniform: Quad City

Best NHL rivalry: Boston/​Montreal

Best NHL uniform: Kings

Person you text the most: Wife, Laura

Least favorite chore: Doing the dishes

What is your pet peeve? People who are entitled

What was your first car? 1998 Pontiac Grand Am

If you could have a superpower what would it be? To fly

If you could go back and attend any historic sporting event what would it be? A Muhammad Ali fight

Favorite holiday: Christmas

Favorite store: Banana Republic

Golf foursome? Carrie Underwood, Steve Yzerman, and Will Ferrell

Favorite place you've been to: Zurich, Switzerland

If you were commissioner of hockey for a day what would you do? Add instant replay at all levels

Something nobody knows about you: I like to play Keno.

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

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The aftermath of Jeff Lerg's sprawling save vs. Fort Wayne on Sunday. BLADE/JETTA FRASER

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