Nick Vitucci will return as head coach of the Toledo Storm for the 2004-05 season, according to several sources within the ECHL and minor league hockey.
Contacted throughout the week, neither Vitucci nor Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller would confirm or deny that an agreement had been reached. However, Vitucci has continued to work out of the team s Sports Arena offices since the season ended on April 3.
The team has announced a news conference for 3 p.m. today at the Sports Arena, although it would not disclose the topic.
The sources said that Vitucci has agreed to terms on a new contract. Vitucci is a former Storm goalie who went 14-27-8 as Toledo s head coach after replacing the fired Steve Harrison on Dec. 20.
Vitucci began the 2003-04 campaign as an assistant to Harrison, who replaced Claude Noel last summer when the ECHL s coach of the year advanced to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. The Storm, which won the Brabham Cup in 2002-03 as the ECHL s best regular-season team under Noel, got off to a 9-11-3 start. Harrison was fired by Miller and Vitucci was named interim head coach.
The “interim” tag was lifted at the end of January.
Beset by a poor initial recruiting class and a lack of support from NHL parent clubs Detroit and Nashville, Toledo finished its season with a mark of 23-38-11 and out of the playoffs.
“I m not a big fan of organizations that are forever going through flux and change,” Miller said at the end of the season when asked if Vitucci would return as head coach. “You ve got to create some stability.”
Vitucci got the go-ahead from Miller to start rebuilding for next season in March. With the postseason out of reach, the coach engineered future-consideration trades that saw some of the team s top performers - Morten Ask, Paul Ballantyne, Alexandre Jacques, Nick Parillo and Doug Teskey - shipped to other ECHL clubs with the expectation that the rights to all of those players will revert to Toledo.
Without its top talent, the Storm went 2-11-3 in March and April.
Toledo is counting on the future considerations from Vitucci s deals - expected to be announced in the next few weeks - to help form the nucleus of its 2004-05 squad.
Before rejoining the organization last summer as an assistant coach, Vitucci was assistant coach with Greenville, where the Grrrowl won the Kelly Cup under head coach John Marks in 2002.
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