Toledo right wing Tyler Knight takes the puck up ice against Wheeling's Alex Rouleau during the first period last night.
Morrison / Blade photo Enlarge
What happened a year ago with the ECHL's Toledo Storm means little or nothing to the players on this year's roster.
Toledo, which failed to make the playoffs last year, opened the season last night at the Sports Arena with plenty of optimism.
A solid defensive effort and a dose of some positive thinking led the Storm to a 1-0 triumph over the Wheeling Nailers before an announced crowd of 5,361.
Ty Hennes, one of 15 newcomers to the Storm roster, produced the lone goal of the night when he slapped in a feed from Nick Parillo at the 6:11 mark of the second period.
"Nick deserves all the credit. He got behind two guys and all I had to do was put my stick on the ice," Hennes said of his first professional goal.
The Storm's defense, led by Scott Fankhouser's 21 saves, took care of the rest to make opening night a pleasant experience for the Storm and coach Nick Vitucci.
"It's a great relief," Vitucci said. "Our team defense was fabulous. That was the makeup of what we were looking for in building this team over the summer."
A year after the Storm won the Brabham Cup for recording the best regular-season record in the ECHL, it fell off in dramatic fashion last season. The slip from 104 points during the 2002-03 season to only 57 last season ranked as one of the worst falloffs in the history of the league.
Vitucci believes what occurred a year ago was an aberration for the ECHL club in its 14th year of existence in the Glass City. With plenty of new additions on the 2004-05 team, Vitucci, who replaced Steve Harrison as coach after the Storm got off to a 9-11-3 start last season, thinks a return to the form of two seasons ago is a possibility.
Particularly when the Storm can play defense like it did last night.
"We really don't have any negative mindsets in this locker room because all of the new players," Vitucci said. "We're building, and this is the first step."
The Storm is now 13-1 in home openers, the only loss being an 8-0 pasting by Trenton on Oct. 13, 2000.
Parillo, one of three players back with the Storm from last season, doesn't expect a replay of a year ago. He said all the new faces inside the Storm locker room will make a difference on the ice this season.
"The guys they brought in have much more experience and they know how to play and they know how to win," said Parillo. "It's only the first game, but, so far, it's good to be a part of this team."
The opening period didn't offer any real indication that this year would play out significantly differently from a year ago. The Storm failed to take advantage of a five-minute power play during the final six minutes of the period after Wheeling's Beny Blais was called for a five-minute major cross-checking penalty and hit with a game misconduct.
But Nailers goalie Joe Exter, who recorded 25 saves, didn't allow anything to get by him and the game remained scoreless.
Based upon how the Storm played during the second period, perhaps this group is made up of players who respond better to playing under adversity.
With Toledo's Tyler Knight watching from the penalty box, the Storm broke through with a short-handed goal after Parillo flicked a short pass to Hennes, who responded with a shot that slipped past Exter into the back of the net.
Hennes' goal brought the home crowd to its feet and an octopus onto the ice.
"I talked in training camp about how some guys could end up as surprises and Ty Hennes was one of them," Vitucci said. "Here he comes through tonight with his first career goal."
The Storm outshot Wheeling 13-6 in the second period.
Fankhouser and the rest of Toledo's defense kept the Nailers scoreless during the third period to insure the victory.
"We just put out and played really hard," Fankhouser said. "We competed."
The Storm resumes action tonight at 7:30 against Dayton at the Sports Arena.
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