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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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I was chilling at a Toledo Walleye game, just kicking back in the plush theater-style seating, when I looked towards the Huntington Center's state-of-the-art press row. I mumbled to myself, "Man, it'd sure be cool to call a game from there one day."

The Fish were playing a rather uninspired brand of ice hockey that night, losing 4-1 to the Wheeling Nailers, and in the course of the contest, I gave myself a tour of T-Town's newest arena, the $114-million, 8,000-seat Huntington Center.

Built from 2007-09 and standing at 500 Jefferson Avenue near where the historic Club Bijou used to pump out dance music, the Hunt is Toledo's gem of a multi-purpose entertainment facility. Already in its short 2.5-year lifespan, it's hosted everything from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to the zany puppet comedy of Jeff Dunham.

When it comes to hockey, the Huntington Center is without a doubt a draw.

While the future of Toledo hockey appears to be firmly moored to the western shores of the Maumee River, I couldn't help myself from peering into T-Town's rich, not-too-distant hockey past at the Sports Arena in East Toledo.

For 60-odd years, the Sports Arena was a magical place for things like time-honored "hockey haircuts," a la Barry Melrose's mullet. The arena hosted the Toledo Mercurys (1947-62), Blades (1963-70), the Hornets (1970-74), the Goaldiggers (1974-86), and the Storm (1991-2007).

It was a raw place, where guys like Chuck Wood, Doug Mahood, and Ron Aubrey never hesitated to drop their gloves to come to the aid of a brother. Or players with names like Casselman and Falkenberg on the backs of their sweaters skated to bring their teams back from a deficit.

The now-defunct arena used to sit plunked down at the storied address of One Main Street like a misshapen tooth from longtime Storm enforcer Ken Tasker's mouth. Built in 1947, the TSA, aka "the Riverdome, served as the home for Toledo pucks until it was razed in 2007.

This was minor league hockey in Toledo. It was a more simple time during which the Storm's idea of "best seats in the house" were literally a pair of cozy BarcaLoungers parked in one corner of the rink, right near where the antique, blue Zamboni from the Mike Eruzione and Goaldiggers' era came out.

The six- to seven-month Storm season, with 5,230 strong (on good nights) ensconced in the seats, weren't accosted by the strangely-alluring aroma of popcorn drifting in from the concession stands.

And oh, those seats. Almost always filled during the championship eras of the Goaldiggers and Storm, they put you on top of the action enough that you could feel every bone-rattling Toledo hit and the grimace of pain smeared on the glass.

Plus the logo. For 14 years, from the Storm’s inaugural season in 1991 to about '05, the Storm's classic, but tired unis featured the familiar flat-red lettering and crossed blue lightning bolt and hockey stick were often voted as having the "worst logo" in all of professional sports.

It was the players who wore those “dull” things, and the fan base, which followed Toledo hockey players for nearly two decades like a hoisted Kelly Cup, that made them look good.

There was Shawn Maltby's longevity. Long time captain Rob Thorpe's unabashed leadership. Right winger Jason Norrie's "bring it" grin. Original defenseman Pat "the Saskatoon Stalker" Pylypuik's checking. Pylypuik later became the Storm's general manager.   

There was right winger Bruce MacDonald scampering over the penalty box glass to get a piece of the opposition's mascot during a rowdy road playoff game. There was an explosive Andrew Williamson beating many a frustrated goaltender top-shelf, hometown hero Jeff Jablonski's first goal, hometown favorite Mike Williams between the pipes Mark Deazely's thunderous left hook and Chris Slater's "salt-in-the-wound" demeanor.

You had Storm founder Barry Soskin, who often liked to position himself in the stands among the paying customers.

Or longtime Storm public address announcer Bob Vergiels, who always brought a dash of comedy to the T-Town sports mic, and most certainly original Storm bench boss Chris McSorley. . .who once became so enraged at a call made by a referee  that the salvo he fired onto the ice at the zebra cowering near the dasher boards included, among other items: the team's store of water bottles, every stick and puck in the bench area, the bench itself, his suit coat, and even the shirt off of his back.

McSorley was just like third-year Walleye head coach, former Storm goaltender, and favorite adopted Toledo son, Nick Vitucci is doing right now back at the Huntington Center where the "Fish Faithful" have forgotten about their BlackBerrys and iPhones for a moment or two and are on their feet raising the roof, just like in the old days.

I'm awoken from my East Toledo reverie with a smile and a start to the affirming realization that there are those out there in the local hockey family who also share my musings. While our city should indeed be excited about our posh, new digs, and our equally-terrific new hockey team, we should never lose pride in, or forget where it is that we've been.  

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