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Published: Wednesday, 10/6/2004

35-year-old Judson back with Storm

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Storm's all-time leader in points, assists and games played is coming back for more.

When Toledo takes to the Sports Arena ice Saturday afternoon for the start of training camp, 35-year-old Rick Judson will be there, having agreed to terms for the 2004-05 season.

It will be his 13th campaign as a professional and ninth in his hometown.

"I want to play one more year because I like to play and I believe I still can," Judson said. "Once it's over, you can't go back. When [Storm coach] Nick [Vitucci] called me last year I was managing an ice rink in the Detroit area. When you're younger you take the game for granted. I realize how much I missed it. I really enjoyed myself last year, despite how bad we were."

Retired since the end of 2001-02, Judson made a comeback one month into last season. He never had time to get into shape and finished with 11 goals and 16 assists in 70 games for a Storm team that failed to make the playoffs.

"It's a challenge to him to keep up with the younger players," Vitucci said. "It's a challenge to him to be a top player in the league again. With that in mind, he basically looked at Father Time this summer and spit in his face."

Whether conditioning will translate into output remains to be seen, but Judson said he has dropped 20 pounds since the end of last season.

"I don't think I've been in the shape I'm in now since the first couple of years out of college," Judson said. "I made a point this summer to make time to hopefully be the player I was a few years ago.

"I'd never been on a losing team here. To have what happened last year. . . . I wanted to put myself into shape to prevent that from happening again."

A member of the Storm's Riley Cup championship teams in 1993 and '94, Judson has 181 goals, 232 assists, and 413 points in 388 games for Toledo. The Lambertville native can play all three forward positions.

"Right now I'm leaning toward putting him in the center spot because of how reliable he is defensively," Vitucci said. "Knowing the shape he is in, I think we can get the best of him contributing at both ends of the rink."

DUFRESNE ADDED: The Storm has gone to the United Hockey League in an attempt to bolster production from its backline, signing Sylvain Dufresne, 26, a 6-2, 205-pounder who spent the past three seasons with the Flint Generals.

"He's pretty good," said ex-Storm head coach Greg Puhalski, who now holds the same position with Fort Wayne of the UHL. "He's a steady defenseman who moves the puck pretty well. He's good on the power-play too."

Dufresne had 17 goals and 39 assists in 76 games for Flint last season. The year before he totaled 50 points on 16 goals and 34 assists. In 2002-03, the Quebec native also spent time with Hamilton of the American Hockey League, posting two assists in seven games.

Before joining the Generals, Dufresne spent two seasons in the ECHL with Baton Rouge, where in 138 games he recorded 13 goals and 34 assists.

He's currently in camp with the Rochester Americans of the AHL.

"I was on the glass in Rochester with the [parent] Buffalo [Sabres'] brass sitting behind me," Vitucci said. "He made a couple of nice breakout passes and stopped an odd-man rush. They started talking about him: 'Who's that kid? How'd he get here?'

"He's an older guy who has a dream to get to a higher level, and he saw that it was not realistic from the United Hockey League anymore."

Dufresne joins Judson and the previously announced Reggie Savage as three of Toledo's four ECHL-permitted veterans with more than 288 games of North American pro experience.

Vitucci said the last spot will remain open in hopes of landing a locked-out National Hockey Leaguer.

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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