The few short hours I have been in Toledo, one thing can be said of this city; they are intensely loyal to their sports teams. Today, I found myself being thankful I was coming as a fan rather than foe. With hockey stick-flag poles waiving, yellow towels in the air and voices raised to unearthly decibels, eight thousand Walleye fans packed the Huntington Center. The crowd favorite? None other than their pint-size netminder, Jeff Lerg.
Lerg, standing at a surprising 5’6″ is not much to look at at first; until he takes to the ice that is. Methodical and composed, the Walleye’s golden boy has unmatched speed and precision. Returning to the Walleye in January, Lerg has quickly established himself as the anchor for the team’s playoff run. Coming into tonight’s game two of playoff series two, Lerg has maintained a 2.09 GAA and 0.914 save percentage. The little giant’s style could be categorized as a calm Dominic Hasek. Covering the crease in an instant, Lerg quite literally launches himself wherever the puck is. Despite the 10 shot defect the Walleye battled against throughout the entire game, Lerg remained strong in the net, making critical saves. Despite his size, its fair to say this fun size goaltender will not be easily overlooked.
The Walleye cumulatively, played at a level that is to be expected during the playoffs. Quick to the puck and the net, they managed to post a goal with only 22 seconds played in the first period. Adding a phenomenal breakaway goal late in the second period, the Walleye seemed to have control and possession. The Kometz however, were not going to take this one laying down. In a stunning twist of irony, as the crowd pursued a “Nagle Sucks” chant (unfortunate for the visiting goaltender), the Kometz’s Thomas fired one passed Lerg to tie the game.
The Walleye’s #25, Dane Walters, once more put the Kometz on edge with a goal with 6:17 to play in regulation. To say the crowd was excited would be one of the most understated descriptions of the year. Electrified or explosive would likely be better words. I even saw someone drop their beer in light of the celebration; a worthy sacrifice. With moments to play in the third period, the Kometz pulled Nagle in a desperate attempt to tie the game and force overtime – and their attempts paid off. With a meager 20.6 seconds remaining, the Kometz scored. Having had enough, the Walleye’s Walters sealed the deal in overtime, adding another point to his post-season record and another notch in Toledo’s belt.
With their unpretentious goaltender, strong offense and verging-on-psychotic fan-base, the Walleye have a promising playoff run ahead of them. Showing themselves to be capable competitors, Toledo has talent enough to justify their hometown crowds’ devotion.