TOLEDO, Ohio — Dust off those cowbells, grab those rally towels, ready your best jerseys and prepare yourself for the return of free chili.
Opening night at the Huntington Center for the Toledo Walleye will be November 6, 2021.
The fish are coming back to the pond for the first time since March 11, 2020.
That game against Cincinnati was played without fans in the stands, still during the early days of the pandemic.
The Walleye then opted to suspend play for 2020-21 season under an ECHL provision due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The opening night opponent will be division rival Kalamazoo Wings.
“It will have been one year, eight months and five days (March 1, 2020) since the Walleye team has heard our incredible fans cheer them on,” said head coach Dan Watson in a press release from the Walleye sent Thursday. “We can’t wait to take the ice and give the fans what they have been waiting for— an exciting game of hockey against a strong rival.”
The Walleye will skate through that long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel - literally - for opening night. It remains to be seen if it will be at full strength with the exact same roster that Watson built for 2020-21, but the future looks hopeful.
In February, the ECHL Board of Governors and Professional Hockey Players' Association ruled in favor of a change that would revert the rights of any players who had been signed prior to the suspension of play back to their original team, Walleye included, had they signed with one of the other active 2020-21 teams.
Those players would be added to the team's Protected List and would be eligible to be signed by the Walleye again.
A player who was issued a qualifying offer but did not sign will become a free agent for 2021-22.
Even before the rule change, many players expressed interest in returning after becoming free agents for the current season. Watson helped several find active teams to ensure they had a place to play for the season. Popular goaltender Billy "Goose" Christopoulos joined the Indy Fuel.
The roster Watson built was strong, and included some local players hoping to turn pro with their hometown team, like Gordi Myer. Myer is currently playing for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
BGSU grad and Michigan native Tyler Spezia is playing for the AHL affiliate of Toledo, one step below their NHL affiliate the Detroit Red Wings. Spezia is having a solid season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, with an impressive two-goal game recently against the Rockford Icehogs.
Other players, like longtime Walleye Kyle Bonis, retired when play was suspended. Brendan Kotyk joined the South Carolina Stingrays as an assistant coach.
On-sale dates for Opening Night and single game tickets will be announced at a later date. Fans can be notified of ticket availability by signing up for email alerts or texting FISH to 1-833-565-1113.
The ECHL regular season officially begins Friday, October 22, 2021 and runs through Saturday, April 17, 2022.
The schedule has yet to be finalized.
And the Mud Hens? Mark your calendars for May 4.