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Published: Friday, 3/14/2003

Toledo upgraded as Devellano promised

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Notes and quotes from the East Coast Hockey League and other communities, wondering if there will still be snow on the ground when the Kelly Cup playoffs start in three weeks.

When he brought the Stanley Cup to Toledo last summer, Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano promised a bystander that the National Hockey League organization would improve the caliber of Detroit contract professionals in Storm sweaters this season.

If the current standings and statistics sheet are any indication, Devellano's comment has proven true.

Heading into 7:30 p.m. games tomorrow and Saturday against Peoria at the Sports Arena, just two points separate the Storm (40-14-9) and the Rivermen (43-14-5) from first place overall in the ECHL.

The Detroit assignees - forwards Darryl Bootland, Matt Ellis, Nathan Robinson and Tim Verbeek and defenseman Paul Ballantyne - have played key roles in the Storm's resurgence to elite status in the league.

Combined, they have 52 goals, 83 assists and 613 penalty minutes in 233 games. They are a +34 in the plus/minus category.

Bootland and Robinson were recalled to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League this week, but both are expected to return to Toledo.

“I'm glad we've kept our word,” Devellano said this week when reminded of the comment. “Last year was a particularly painful year for Toledo. I wanted to make sure they bounced back this season.”

Verbeek is the lone Red Wings' holdover from a Storm team that went 28-34-10 last season and failed to qualify for the playoffs. In 2001-02, Toledo also received forward Magnus Nilsson and defenseman Ryan Gaucher. The trio totaled 25 goals, 36 assists and 173 penalty minutes in 118 starts.

Aside from Verbeek, Detroit's players this season are rookies out of the Ontario (junior) Hockey League. Ballantyne is the sole Wings' draft pick (No. 196 overall in 2000). The rest are free agent signings.

All except Ellis and Verbeek have spent time in the AHL with Grand Rapids, Detroit's top farm club.

“All of those kids are probably capable of playing in the AHL,” Devellano said. “We've had a terrific season in Grand Rapids [40-17-8-2] and we haven't had to do a lot of recalling. We've been able to keep those kids in Toledo for the most part, and they've given the hockey team a lot of stability from the get go.”

The veteran talent scout, who over the years has drafted the likes of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Mike Bossy, is closely watching two members of Toledo's Motor City contingent.

“Ellis and Bootland I signed personally,” said Devellano, who's a close friend of Storm and Sports Arena majority owner Tim Gladieux. “I thought they could go into Toledo and become top-notch players. I think we're going to wind up with a couple of kids who can move up a couple of years from now.”

Already, they've helped the Storm move up in the standings.

wAlthough it's close, it's not true that Peoria Journal Star hockey writer Dave Eminian is as wide as Rivermen coach Jason “Smurf” Christie is tall. When both converge on the Sports Arena this weekend, though, one will note their resemblance to Laurel and Hardy, with the height reversed.

Now in his third season behind the Peoria bench, the 5-8 Christie is a favorite target of Storm assistant equipment manager Walt Madanski.

To help raise the status of one of his favorite coaches, Madanski once rounded up two phone books, taped them together and placed the bundle behind the bench for Christie to stand on.

Said Madanski: “I wanted to make sure that he could see over his team.”



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