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Published: Thursday, 9/22/2011

Vitucci's best efforts trip him up

Nurtured, honed Walleye move up

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mike Hedden, left, and Andy Bohmbach. Mike Hedden, left, and Andy Bohmbach.
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Advancing a young hockey player's career along remains a blessing and a curse as well as reality for Toledo Walleye coach Nick Vitucci.

Scouting, finding, and signing players are major parts of Vitucci's dual role as the team's coach and director of player personnel. He acquires and hones talent only to lose many players to call-ups to the next level.

The latest casualties (or success stories) are two of Toledo's leading scorers from last season as well as a longtime fan favorite.

Highly-productive forwards Andy Bohmbach and Mike Hedden have worked their way up from the ECHL to the American Hockey League. Both signed contracts with AHL teams in the off season and won't be back in Toledo.

Enforcer Adam Keefe, whose intense attitude endeared him to local fans, is playing this season overseas. Keefe signed with the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League based in England.

Vitucci said he had already signed Keefe for the upcoming season but let him out of the contract. Keefe started his pro career under Vitucci and the Toledo Storm in 2005-06.

"It's a great move for him," Vitucci said. "He could establish himself there and it's a smart move financially. I admire him for what he did here and wish him the best."

Bohmbach had a breakout rookie campaign for the Walleye last season. He led the team in scoring with 72 points and in assists (44). Hedden, Bohmbach's linemate, found a groove in his second season with Toledo and as a pro, posting 52 points.

Bohmbach has signed with the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms, while Hedden has signed with the AHL's Texas Stars.

"I couldn't be happier for both of them," Vitucci said. "They will get a good opportunity to stay in [the AHL]. That is something we take great pride in."

Vitucci expects to have plenty of candidates to fill those voids when the season kicks off on Oct. 15 with a home opener against Chicago.

Vitucci signed skilled forwards Aaron Lewicki, Harrison Reed, Joey Martin, and Evan Rankin to fill the scoring production left by Bohmbach and Hedden.

"Aaron Lewicki was the CHL rookie of the year," Vitucci said. "We look for Evan Rankin to continue what he has done for us the last two years."

Toughman Kevin Harvey, who spent time in the AHL last year, should fill Keefe's role. Harvey (6-2, 196) accumulated 210 penalty minutes in 46 games last year and has amassed 1,293 penalty minutes since making his professional debut in 2006-07.

"But we will have other guys that can play that way too," Vitucci said. "You look at players like Matt Krug, Mike Pelech, Kyle Rogers, and Scott Fletcher. We will have toughness. Kevin will lead the way but we will have a lot of people following close behind."

Vitucci said he also expects "a good amount of players" to be sent down from Toledo's AHL parent clubs in Rockford and Grand Rapids. The team's No. 1 goaltender will most likely be decided during those teams' training camps which started this week.

"From that point we should be in good shape in all different parts," Vitucci said.

Toledo's training camp opens Sept. 29 and runs through Oct. 14. The Walleye will play their first preseason game on Oct. 7 against Kalamazoo. The two teams play in another exhibition game the following night in Toledo at the Huntington Center.

ATTENDANCE FIGURES: The Walleye has sold 101,785 tickets for the upcoming season's 36 home games.

Nearly 2,200 season tickets have been purchased. The team ranks fourth out of 20 ECHL teams in season tickets sold.

The organization finished its inaugural season in 2009-10 with 2,160 season tickets sold, and last season it sold 2,335.

"The support shown has been tremendous," said assistant general manager Erik Ibsen said. "With only two home games in October, we will continue to sell ticket plans into November."

Single-game tickets are available by calling 419-725-WALL or online at toledowalleye.com. Tickets for opening night are available.

OFFICIALS CAMP: For the second consecutive season, the ECHL is holding its officials' training camp in Toledo at the Huntington Center.

A total of 24 referees will meet in Toledo next Thursday through Saturday.

The camp includes meetings and on-ice sessions.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade



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