The preseason goals for Toledo Walleye coach Dan Watson aren’t necessarily about scoring more goals than the opposition.
The third-year coach said exhibition games aren’t at all about winning or losing.
“It’s about how our guys are handling and taking in the information and using it. I want to see our structure. I want to see their work ethic and compete level,” Watson said.
But that’s not to say Watson wasn’t pleased the Walleye improved to 2-0 in the preseason with a 8-5 victory Saturday against Kalamazoo at the Huntington Center.
In the final tuneup before Friday’s season opener at Greenville, the revamped Walleye scored three goals in the first period, two in the second, and added three more in the third.
“We want to start building an identity,” said Watson, who has just six players back from last year’s division-winning team. “We did a good job this week maintaining and building on our winning culture here. Guys are understanding what it takes to be a Walleye.”
Rookie Tyler Spezia, who played at Bowling Green State University, had two goals and an assist before an active crowd of 6,184.
“It's nuts here with the atmosphere and the fans and the passion,” said Spezia, who also scored in Toledo's 4-2 win Friday at Kalamazoo. “It's been fun trying to learn as much as I can and adjusting to the pro style game. Anytime you can chip in offensively and help your team win it's great.”
Returning defenseman Kevin Tansey and forward Bryan Moore each finished with a goal and an assist, while forward Daniel Leavens had three assists. Defenseman Brenden Kotyk, who had two assists, was on the ice for seven of Toledo’s eight goals.
Walleye goaltender Pat Nagle, who started in the majority of games last season and set a franchise record for wins (37), finished with 32 saves. The veteran made three stops on breakaways.
Appropriately enough, the Walleye’s all-time point leader, Shane Berschbach (267), scored the first home goal. A.J. Jenks and Moore had the assists at the 3 minute, 17 second mark of the first period.
The biggest acquisition of the offseason, defenseman Matt Register, scored on his first shot in a Walleye uniform. Register, who is a three-time ECHL defenseman of the year and has helped lead his past three teams to Kelly Cup titles, gave Toledo a 2-0 lead at 5:02 of the first.
Another newcomer, rookie Jordan Topping, scored his first goal for the Walleye for a 3-1 cushion late in the first.
Tansey and Spezia then combined for goals just 2:26 apart in the second as Toledo seized a 5-1 cushion. Nagle could not stop a fourth odd-man rush when Kalamazoo’s Reid Gardiner made it 5-2 midway through the period.
In further proof it was an exhibition, with two Walleye players in the box, Kalamazoo coach Nick Bootland pulled his goalie Jake Hildebrand with 4:52 to go in the second to get a 6-on-3 advantage, and it paid off. The Wings made it 5-3 on Eric Yitalo’s second of the game. Matt Joyaux then pulled Kalamazoo within a goal late in the second.
Spezia then finished a 2-on-1 breakaway to give Toledo a 6-4 lead 2:37 into the third. Moore scored an unassisted goal as he knocked in his own rebound just 2:14 later for a 7-4 edge.
Hayden Hodgson than tallied a power-play goal with 9:17 to go before Zach Diamantoni scored for the Wings with 7:02 left.
The exhibition game featured plenty of penalties, with 78 total minutes and lasted almost three hours.
“Exhibition games are a chance to work on the power play and [penalty kill] and figure out what line combinations work,” Tansey said. “But it's also a chance for guys to stick up for each other and become one as a unit. We did a good job of that.”
Watson said he has somewhat of a good idea of what his roster will consist of on opening night. The home opener is not until Oct. 27 against Fort Wayne.
“There could be one wild card. I don't think there will be too many surprises,” Watson said. “The guys we brought in have done a really good job. There will be a lot of new favorite players for these fans. It's going to be an exciting season.”
VIDEO: Toledo 8, Kalamazoo 5
FISH TALES: Watson said he decided to start rookie goaltender Kaden Fulcher on the road (23 saves on 25 shots) on Friday for a variety of reasons.
“It's a building he has to get used to. It's a tough place to play. We will be playing them a lot of times,” Watson said. “Now he understands what it's like.”
■ Former captain Alden Hirschfeld, who was named an assistant coach Tuesday, was behind the bench. Watson said Hirschfeld will handle the technical side of the game.
But Watson said he will remain in charge of the forwards and the penalty kill, while assistant coach Andy Delmore still is in charge of the defensemen and power play.
“Hirsch will soak it all in,” he said.
■ Moore mixed it up throughout. He was in the penalty box four times.
■ The biggest cheers during pregame came for Berschbach, who has appeared in 255 games and has scored 76 goals – both rank second in team history - over four years with the Walleye, as well as Register. Nagle also was greeted to loud applause.
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