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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Western trip takes on new meaning for Storm

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

It was all the buzz.

The week before Sam Paolini and his Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies teammates made a road trip to Las Vegas last season, the talk in the dressing room was all about The City That Never Sleeps.

Now with the 2-0 Storm, Paolini said he is resting easy because he doesn't see that happening this season.

Toledo hosts 1-0 Peoria tonight at the Sports Arena at 7:30, before beginning a seven-game road trip tomorrow in Wheeling. The 20-day sojurn - the Storm isn't back at One Main Street until Peoria returns Nov. 19 - includes one game in Fresno, two in Bakersfield, and three in the gambling capital of the world.

"Our minds are on the Peoria and Wheeling games, which is surprising," Paolini said. "We're talking about the Vegas trip because it's going to be a good time.

"When I was in Atlantic City, they were kind of looking ahead to the Vegas trip a little too much. That doesn't seem to be the case this year."

The Bullies got off to a fast start last season - in large part because of the extended working "vacation" - when it met teams from the former West Coast Hockey League.

The WCHL went out of business at the end of the 2002-03 season, with the surviving franchises joining the ECHL.

Against the West, Atlantic City, which finished 47-19-6, went 7-2. Toledo, which did not travel to the left coast, hosted Idaho for two games. It lost both match-ups to the eventual Kelly Cup titlists. The Storm finished 23-38-11.

"Last year, the Kelly Cup champion was from the West, so you can't say it's a weak division," Paolini said. "But I think our area is a little better, top to bottom. Because of geographic location, we attract younger prospects because there's more exposure [to National and American Hockey League scouts]."

Storm coach Nick Vitucci doesn't want his club looking past tonight's match-up with Peoria.

He also downplays what happened last year as a barometer this time around.

"I don't think a trip out West is going to be as beneficial as it was in the past," Vitucci said. "The teams that went out West [last season] did pretty well, because I don't think they [WCHL holdovers] knew what to expect. Everybody's caught up where it might not be the easy points like it was for some teams last year."

That being said, Vitucci is very happy about hitting the road after tonight.

"We like this group we have here and the start we've had," Vitucci said. "It's important for us to spend the time together; get to know each other and to bond.

"With the time we're going to spend after Peoria, we're going to have that opportunity."

Storm rookie forward Ty Hennes, who scored a shorthanded marker in last Friday's season-opening 1-0 shutout of Wheeling, said he's looking forward to the long trip too. Although he's from Seattle, he's never been to Fresno, Bakersfield, or Las Vegas.

"I enjoy road trips at the beginning of the year," Hennes said.

"You get to spend a lot of time with new teammates getting to know guys in a more intimate setting. You're with the guys 24-hours a day - at the rink, on the bus, at the hotel.

"But right now, I think it's more important to worry about the one game against Peoria. I think it's important for us to take care of business at home first."

NOTES: Tonight could be one of Peoria's final trips to Toledo. The Peoria-Journal Star reported Wednesday that the franchise will be moving up to the Triple-A caliber AHL next season, likely as the top farm club of the St. Louis Blues. Peoria operated as the Blues' primary development home for 11 seasons before leaving the now-defunct International Hockey League for the Double-A caliber ECHL in 1996-97. Rivermen ownership attempted to land an NHL-AHL deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in the spring, but were unsuccessful. The Blues are reportedly seeking to place their farm team, currently in Worcester, Mass., closer to home.

Contact Dan Saevig at: dsaevig@theblade.com.



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