Notes and quotes from the ECHL and other communities, thinking if the Toledo Storm makes the playoffs coming off last season's disaster that Nick Vitucci deserves consideration for coach of the year
Bryan Smolinski came very close to playing for the Storm.
That's according to the locked-out National Hockey Leaguer, a Genoa native and Cardinal Stritch High School graduate.
"[Storm vice president and general manager] Mike [Miller] and I really tried to work it out," Smolinski said. "My first choice would have been to play in Toledo."
Instead, the veteran of 829 NHL contests signed with the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League on Feb. 11. In seven games with the Mechanics - a team that now includes Detroit Red Wings Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher, and Los Angeles King Sean Avery - Smolinski has three goals and four assists.
A major stumbling block to playing in Toledo, according to Smolinski, was insurance. ECHL clubs like the Storm are only allowed to provide coverage as outlined in the league's collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Hockey Players Association, the union that represents ECHL players. Any additional coverage such as disability or career ending insurance must be secured and paid for by the individual player.
"It's sad," Smolinski said. "This may be the only year that players like ourselves are able to come and play in the ECHL."
The UHL is not unionized, but Smolinski said the Mechanics are paying the premium to insure his NHL contract should he be hurt in the minors.
According to published reports in Ottawa, Smolinski, 33, has three years remaining on a contract that he signed in June of 2003.
The value of that contract at signing was a reported $10 million.
"The amount I was legally able to pay Bryan was about 60 percent of what the insurance would have cost," Miller said. "I was also just a little bit nervous about bringing on a player that could only commit himself to a partial portion of our season."
The Motor City's NHL players are playing only home and select road games at their discretion.
There were other factors that came into play, according to Smolinski. Skating with other locked out NHL players was attractive as was the driving distance from his home in Birmingham to the Mechanics' facility in neighboring Fraser.
"Mike was very good at trying to do things with the league to get me there," Smolinski said. "When it came down to it, both of us decided that it wasn't going to work."
What Smolinski really would like to work is an end to the labor standoff that has wiped out the NHL season. There was a glimmer of hope last weekend when it was reported that an agreement had been reached.
Instead, a meeting between the owners and players ended with no settlement.
"Last Saturday, my family and I were making plans to get back to Ottawa," Smolinski said. "We were actually talking to people from the Senators about getting back up there and then it came to an abrupt halt.
"Each side had made their concessions and it looked like a slam dunk. Both sides walked away empty-handed."
Four Toledo-area youngsters were on the Detroit Little Caesars team that won the 64-team Quebec International Pee Wee AA Tournament in Quebec City on Feb. 20.
David Torchia, George Wilkinson and Matt Wurst - all from Sylvania - and Holland's Brock Labelle were key members of the group that came out of the losers' bracket to finish 6-1 and win the title.
Labelle was named the tournament's most valuable player after scoring five goals, including two in the 4-1 championship game over Detroit Compuware that was held in Le Colisee, the former NHL home of the Quebec Nordiques.
Compuware also had a Toledo flavor, with Maumee's Kevin Hoyle and Sylvania's Jake Wawrzyniak on the roster.
The event is considered the most prestigious youth hockey tournament in the world. It features 12-year-olds from some 15 countries including Russia, Switzerland and China.
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