Pat Nagle protects the goal from a shot by Alex Foster as the Toledo Walleye open training camp for the team's ninth season at the Huntington Center on Monday. BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
New Toledo Walleye goaltender Pat Nagle's mask stood out like an orange target during Monday’s first day of training camp.
Nagle, who was acquired from rival Fort Wayne in the offseason, still had to use his old Komets goalie mask because his newly designed one had not arrived yet. That led to plenty of chirping from his new teammates, who joked they had something to aim at during morning practice.
“It's a little surreal,” Nagle said. “I'm just really excited to get the season started. It will be great to have these fans on my side when I come out wearing that hometown uniform.”
IN PICTURES: Toledo Walleye training camp
Nagle was among two goaltenders, 14 forwards, and eight defensemen who took to the ice for the first time at the Huntington Center.
Veteran Kyle Bonis, who played with Nagle in college at Ferris State, was thrilled to be reunited with his former roommate.
“We told him he was the target today,” Bonis said, chuckling. “I basically lived on his couch one year. He showed me the ropes. He showed me how to be a college athlete. It's nice to be able to return the favor. He's a high-level goalie and I've had a lot of success with him on my team. So I'm excited to have him back there again.”
Fellow forward Shane Berschbach, the organization's all-time leading scorer, said Nagle fit in immediately.
“[Bonis] said his mask made a good target to shoot at,” Berschbach said. “He's come in with a great attitude. We're excited to have him.”
Coach Dan Watson beamed with excitement as he discussed the newly formed roster.
“It's exciting to see what we have here,” Watson said. “This roster was built by design. We have some bigger bodies to sustain a full season. They can handle it and dish it out. I hope it all comes to fruition.”
Six players return from last year's team that won the Brabham Cup for the best regular-season record, then reached the Western Conference Final in the Kelly Cup playoffs. Captain Alden Hirschfeld is coming off his most productive season.
“To have the whole team out there for the first skate is a great feeling,” Hirschfeld said. “We’ve been itching to get going. We want to start off on the right foot.”
The returning players were hosts at “the meet and greet” when the team had its first meeting Sunday.
“We talked to the new guys about a little bit of everything — on the ice and off the ice,” Hirschfeld said. “We're getting to know each other. We're learning the basics. There's no time to be wasted.”
Bonis said everyone looked sharp in the first practice.
“It was refreshing to see all the energy for a first skate. The guys were moving around really well,” Bonis said.
Second-year defenseman Simon Denis said it was exciting to see all the new faces.
“We're getting everyone on the same page,” Denis said. “There's a lot of system work. Guys are learning how we forecheck and breakout (with the puck). We're going over the power play and penalty kill. But we've all played enough hockey. It's just learning the little things.”
Newcomer Davis Vandane, a 6-foot-4 and 210-pound defenseman, came to the organization after playing in Elmira.
“It's top-notch,” Vandane said of the facilities and fans. “It's over the top. It's Day 1 and I'm so excited.”
Vandane was among several free agents, who opted to play in Toledo. Nagle, who lives about an hour north of Detroit, saw his season end in Toledo last year playing with Fort Wayne.
“I knew Toledo was a good opportunity,” he said. “It's awesome because it's close to home. I can see family and friends. I also have an opportunity to move up in the system. It was nice to get the summer rust off and get everything going. This is a kick start.”
Although he is not at training camp yet, goaltender Matej Machovsky will be joining the Walleye after Wings goalie Jared Coreau cleared waivers. Machovsky, from the Czech Republic, was signed in the offseason by the Red Wings. Coreau will remain with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins and Machovsky will be assigned to Toledo before the start of the regular season.
“By Game 1, he will be with us,” Watson said.
Temperance native Kent Nusbaum, who attended the Walleye's free agent camp in August, is in Toledo's camp along with Nagle.
Bonis said the veterans are leading drills to make sure the newcomers know what to expect.
“We have a very high standard here with the way we do things,” Bonis said. “So it's on the returnees to set a high standard here. It's on the returners to set and uphold those standards.”
Kent Nusbaum protects the goal from a shot during Walleye practice Monday. BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT