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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

Mid-term surprise: Storm needs 3 wins to equal last season

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Mid-term grades for the Storm, thinking this is still a .500 club on paper, but that Toledo's record of 20-14-4 is proving at least one person wrong . . . .

Three.

That's how many more victories the Storm needs this season to equal its win total for all of last season.

At the All-Star break, Toledo's 44 points are good for fourth place in the ECHL North, three points behind division-leading Reading and Atlantic City and only 13 points fewer than the 2003-04 total.

Here's how Storm coach Nick Vitucci and beat writer Dan Saevig assess the second quarter (12-9-1) and the season to date:

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Vitucci: "Nothing, really. We're where I thought we should be. Offensively, we still have to improve in that area, but we're learning how to succeed in close hockey games.''

Saevig: The record. Even when taking into consideration that 11 of the 20 victories have come against Dayton, Johnstown and Peoria - the three clubs in the North with a winning percentage lower than Toledo's .579 - and that the Storm has been involved in too many one-goal games (12-4-4), the bottom line is that this team is winning and has done a 180-degree turn from last season.

Goaltender Scott Fankhouser has been especially impressive this quarter. After taking an early backseat to Logan Koopmans, the former NHLplayer has been Toledo's go-to guy. Since Dec. 19, he's appeared in 15 games and only three times has allowed three or more goals, going 10-3-1.

Others who have impressed include P.J. Martin, Tyler Knight and newcomers Scooter Smith and Todd Jackson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Vitucci: "Our goal production and at times, our power-play. In three weeks we've gone south from the top six on the power-play (to 19th). That's something in the second half of the season that we're going to have to improve.''

Saevig: Andrew Oke, whose bark is apparently worse than his bite.

On the Storm coach's radio show, the defenseman said it was his goal to have 20 fights by Christmas. He hasn't earned a major since Nov. 20 and his three for the season equal the total put up by Noah Whyte, whose heart makes up most of his alleged 185 pounds. Oke leads the team in penalty minutes (87), but 52 of those minutes have been minors, many of the soft variety.

Why is it that Robert Snowball has to carry the fighting load for this team by himself? Snowball doesn't have any problem getting people to go, having fought in seven of the last nine games. Oke would rather talk about it.

To top it off, Oke's wearing the green jacket - his plus-minus of -11 is the worst on the club.

Other disappointments are the defensive zone play of defenseman Jason Jozsa and forward/captain Sam Paolini, and the inability of many of Toledo's forwards to clear the zone.

Another concern is attendance. Toledo's announced figure of 3,338 trails last season's midway average of 3,679. If the Storm continues to win and throws in three or four fights a game - are you reading this, Andrew Oke? - that should change.

RECRUITING/TEAM MAKEUP

Vitucci: "I'm very happy with the personnel that we have. I would like someone to become established as a goal scorer, to score the big goal that we need. We're still missing the services of Sylvain Dufresne (with Rochester of the American Hockey League) on defense.''

Saevig: We'll find out how good this team is very quickly.

Instead of a steady diet of Dayton, Dayton and Dayton, Toledo meets Trenton, Atlantic City and Reading three times each in February and only two of those games are at the Sports Arena.

The team still needs scoring, toughness and help on the backline.

OVERALL GRADE

Quarter/Year

Vitucci: A-/A-. "As expected. I'm not surprised."

Saevig: B/B. It's hard to argue with the results.

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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