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Published: Wednesday, 3/21/2001

Home ice for playoffs up for grabs on Storm homestand

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Toledo Storm plays host to three pivotal East Coast Hockey League games in the next four days, and will do it with at least one and possibly two new centers.

The Charlotte Checkers are at the Sports Arena at 7 tonight, chasing Toledo for the final home-ice position in the Kelly Cup playoffs. . The Storm (76 points) is fifth overall in the Northern Conference. Charlotte, which plays at Toledo again Friday, was in sixth place (72 points) after last night's loss at Peoria.

Saturday's home opponent, Roanoke (77 points), is in fourth place overall.

The top four teams in the Northern Conference will play host to three of the possible five conference quarterfinal games.

“These games are huge,” Storm coach Dennis Holland said. “Roanoke is 15 games over .500 at home and six games under .500 on the road. Charlotte is 10 over at home, three under on the road.”

Toledo, which has won just once in its past five games, is 19-10-3 at home, 16-13-3 on the road.

“It does need to start at home,” Holland said. “It's going to be a big week for us.”

With at least one and possibly two fresh faces.

Center David Cameron, who is an unsigned third-round 1998 draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins out of Saskatoon in the Western (junior) Hockey League, is expected to play tonight. Cameron, 20, is a 6-2, 178-pound free agent, who had 19 goals and 35 assists in 67 games for Saskatoon.

“He'll complement (right wing) Andrew Williamson,” Storm general manager Pat Pylypuik said. “If he was a third-round draft choice he obviously has the tools. The upside is there with him.”

The Storm is still negotiating with another center from the WHL, J.J. Hunter, 20, who is the leading scorer for the Prince Albert Raiders. Hunter, 6-1, 185 pounds, has 28 goals and 22 assists in 69 games.

Should Toledo beat out the other ECHL clubs for Hunter's services, the earliest he could be in Toledo is Friday.

A roster move would mean a player or two would be released or placed on injured reserve.

“We tried to make deals at the (ECHL) trading deadline, but they were lateral moves,” Pylypuik said. “I think it sends a pretty strong message to a lot of people: We're not happy with the way we're playing.”

Toledo management wants more production and grit from its centers. Sam Katsuras hasn't scored a point since Feb. 11 - 11 games. In that same period, Shawn Maltby has two goals and three assists, all against lower-level clubs Birmingham and Johnstown.

Maltby was a healthy scratch Sunday against Wheeling for what Pylypuik termed lack of aggressive play.

“Nobody's safe,” Pylypuik said. “Successful teams try to get better even when they're winning.”

Toledo has eight games remaining, four home and four away. The Kelly Cup playoffs begin the first week of April.

Should the Storm gain home-ice advantage in the first round, Pylypuik said possible dates for the first two games are April 6 and7. If the team begins on the road, Game 3 will likely be held early in the week of April 8 at the Sports Arena.



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