Veteran defenseman Matt Register has been a part of five ECHL training camps, and his first practice with the Toledo Walleye stood out for its swift pace and high level of execution.
Register is the headline blueliner coach Dan Watson acquired this offseason. The 29-year-old is a three-time ECHL defenseman of the year and has been part of three consecutive Kelly Cup championship teams.
Register put on a Walleye jersey for the first time Monday as the organization opened its 10th training camp. The Calgary native was one of six defensemen who Watson put through their paces at the Huntington Center, along with 14 forwards and three goaltenders.
“The first day today, I was impressed,” Register said. “There was speed. There was good execution. They have a great track record here. It's a winning culture.”
Five players in the Walleye's training camp were assigned to the team from its NHL parent club in Detroit.
Forwards Jordan Topping, Dylan Sadowy, and Bryan Moore as well as goaltenders Pat Nagle and Kaden Fulcher all were in preseason camp with the Red Wings.
WATCH: Walleye begin training camp
Fulcher, 20, led the Hamilton Bulldogs to an Ontario Hockey League title last season. The first-year pro appeared in 55 regular-season games for the major junior hockey team last regular season.
“First off, [Toledo is] a pretty unbelievable place to play,” Fulcher said after practice. “I've heard from the guys just how special it is here and how good the fan support is. It's first class. It's well run. Everyone is on the same page. I'm really excited to be here.”
Sadowy and Nagle played most of last season with a Walleye team that posted a 50-17-5 record, finished first in the Central Division, and reached the second round of the playoffs.
Mainstay forwards Shane Berschbach and A.J. Jenks are back for Watson, who enters his third season at the helm.
“We have a good mix,” Jenks said. “It's great to have the familiarity with some of the guys in the room. We have some fresh faces as well. We're excited to have [Register] along with all the other new additions.”
Watson said he was looking forward to working on line combinations and defenseman pairings.
“We wanted a little bit of everything,” he said. “We brought in guys who have won championships. We have guys that are young and hungry.”
Watson, who earned ECHL coach of the year honors in his first season in 2016-17, said he revamped the roster with an eye on making a deep playoff push.
“On Day 1, I like what I see,” Watson said. “We're looking at guys' compete level and see how they battle. We had a nice team meeting [Sunday] and we talked about our culture. We started something here four years ago and — with only six full-time returnees — we don't want to lose that.”
Only four players that appeared in 50 or more games with the team last season are back.
Berschbach is the organization's all-time leading scorer (267 points) and ranks first in assists (191) and is second in games played (255). Jenks ranks in the top five in games played, goals, assists, and penalty minutes.
The productive duo returns along defenseman Ryan Obuchowski, who led all Toledo blueliners with 35 points in 72 games.
Also back is forward Charlie O'Connor (12 points in 41 games), and defensemen Kevin Tansey (77 penalty minutes in 67 games) and Kevin Lohan (three points in six games).
The goaltending duties will be shared by veteran Nagle and a Fulcher, a highly-touted rookie.
Nagle had played for rival Fort Wayne before coming to Toledo last season, when he represented the Walleye at the ECHL all-star game and set a franchise record for wins (37). Fulcher posted a 32-17-2 record with a 2.86 goals-against average last season in the OHL.
“We're excited to have both of them,” Watson said. “We know what Pat can do. Pat will be a great teacher for Fulcher. We expect big things from [Fulcher]. He's very poised for a young kid.”
The other forwards in camp are Tyler Spezia, Hayden Hodgson, Luke Nogard, John Siemer, Ben Storm, Luke Kirwin, Daniel Leavens, and Greg Wolfe.
The other defensemen are Brenden Kotyk, Olivier Schingh-Gomez, and Jake Faiella. Goaltender Mason Pulde also is in camp.
Last season, Register posted 65 points with 17 goals and a career-high 48 assists in 72 contests with the Colorado Eagles. He helped Colorado knock the Walleye out of the playoffs in the Western Conference Final in 2016-17.
“It's going to be fun to learn from Watty and Delly [assistant coach Andy Delmore],” Register said. “It's a first-class organization here. It was an easy move for me — an easy transition. We'll be ready to go opening night.”
The Walleye open the preseason Friday in Kalamazoo. Toledo then hosts the K-Wings at 7:15 p.m. Saturday. General admission tickets are $5 with proceeds to benefit the Walleye Wishing Well charity fund.
The regular season opener is Oct. 12 at Greenville. Toledo's home opener is Oct. 27 against rival Fort Wayne.
CAPTAIN SIGHTING: Veteran forward Alden Hirschfeld, the team's captain the past two seasons, was at the first practice. But Hirschfeld, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, was there as an evaluator. The Sylvania native and Northview graduate said he is awaiting medical clearance, but the team announced that Watson will discuss Hirschfeld's future at a press conference on Tuesday.
SIGNING: The team has signed forward Hunter Smith, who was in camp with the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League.
The native of Windsor, Ontario, spent last season with Kansas City of the ECHL where in 35 games he scored nine goals with eight assists. Smith spent the previous two years with Stockton of the AHL where the 23-year-old skated in 88 contests and tallied five goals with 14 assists.
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