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Walleye, Chicago Blackhawks reach deal to maintain affiliation


Mark Bernard, the Chicago Blackhawks general manager of minor league affiliations, left, while announcing an affliation agreement with the Toledo Walleye on Aug. 5, 2009. Bernard said the relationship has been mutually beneficial.

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The Toledo Walleye will remain an affiliate of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks after the organizations reached an agreement on Monday afternoon.

The Walleye have served as Chicago's ECHL affiliate since Toledo's inaugural season in 2009.

Over the last three seasons, the Blackhawks have sent 25 players to the Walleye.

Toledo, which competes at the Double A level, exchanges players with Chicago's American Hockey League team, the Rockford IceHogs.

Mark Bernard, the Blackhawks general manager of minor league affiliations, said the relationship has been mutually beneficial.

"There isn't a better place for our young prospects," Bernard said.

Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said Chicago will once again assign contracted players to his team.

"We will work together to bring good hockey players to the Walleye organization to continue their development, help us win games, and ultimately see some of these players elevate themselves to the next level," Vitucci said.

Toledo also has had an affiliation agreement with the Detroit Red Wings over the last three seasons.

An announcement on the status of the Red Wings affiliation is expected to be made next week.

The dual affiliations had a detrimental affect on the Walleye last year as repeated call ups proved to be difficult to overcome.

The Walleye finished last in the ECHL North Division with a 28-38-6 record.

Of the 22 players on the team's opening day roster, 12 were no longer with the team for the final game. That included both promising goalies, Carter Hutton (a Blackhawk prospect) and Thomas McCollum (Red Wings prospect).

But Walleye general manager Joe Napoli said the Blackhawks organization is committed to helping Toledo produce "a strong competitive product on the ice."

"Mark Bernard and his team understand our challenges and promise to work with us to reach our mutual goals," Napoli said.

"I look forward to this upcoming season."

Several Blackhawk prospects have made an impact with Toledo.

Center Peter Leblanc, who was Rockford's second leading scorer last season, started his career in Toledo.

Leblanc, a seventh-round choice of the Blackhawks, had 22 points in 22 games at the start of the 2010-11 season for the Walleye. He has been in the AHL ever since.

Forward Andy Bohmbach set a Walleye record for points (72) in a single year (28 goals and 44 assists) in 2010-11.

Goalie Alec Richards has posted 25 wins over two-plus seasons with Toledo.

Players who split time between Toledo and Rockford last season included: Rob Flick (4G, 6A in 17 games with the Walleye), Christopher DiDomenico (4G, 13A in 17 games), David Gilbert (6G, 12A in 29 games), Paul Zanette (5G, 9A in 26 games), and Simon Danis-Pepin (3G, 6A in 25 games).

Hutton played in 14 games for Toledo and in 43 games for Rockford last year. Hutton went 7-7-0 with a 3.15 goals against average.

Others who have made major contributions for Toledo since 2009 included Adam Hobson (44 points in 39 games), Derek Nesbitt (11 goals, 22 assists in 37 games), Maxime Tanguay (25 goals, 50 assists in 72 games), and JC Sawyer, who was the ECHL defenseman of the year in 2009-10.

The Walleye will open the 2012-13 season on Oct. 13 at home against Kalamazoo.

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

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