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Published: Wednesday, 3/16/2005

Miller takes action to support Snowball

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Notes and quotes from the ECHL and other communities, predicting the Toledo Storm's six-on-six line brawl against Peoria last Saturday at the Sports Arena will bond the team for the rest of the season . . .

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Robert Snowball can pack a punch with the best of them.

The Storm's policeman, Snowball is one of the ECHL's top fighters, filling a role that most can't or don't want.

As it turns out, Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller can throw a knockout punch, too.

When watching Webcasts of Toledo's games from Peoria on March 4 and 5, Miller heard Peoria broadcaster David Rak refer to Snowball as a "cement head."

"On Friday, it irritated me," Miller said. "Then he came back with it on Saturday."

Miller, who has called more than 1,700 pro hockey broadcasts over 22 seasons - including nine NHL campaigns with the New Jersey Devils - then made another call. This one went directly to Rak, the Rivermen media relations director and sales executive who was soloing the transmissions while popular veteran announcer Norm Ulrich was under the weather.

Rak was told by Miller that he was barred from the Sports Arena for the games last Friday and Saturday. Ulrich, who recently suffered a stroke, was able to make the trip to Toledo.

"It's nothing personal against Dave," Miller said. "I just don't want guys in here calling our players names."

Rak's comments not only infuriated Miller, but they upset members of the Rivermen organization. Notably miffed was Peoria enforcer David Kaczowka, who missed last weekend's series in Toledo with a concussion.

"What I'd like to know is, if Snowball is a cement head, what does Rak think of me?" Kaczowka told the Peoria Journal Star.

Snowball, who has 152 penalty minutes in 53 games, said he appreciates what Miller did and the reaction from others in both organizations.

"I'm sure everyone in the league knows I'm not a 50-goal scorer," said Snowball, who has two goals and five assists. "But if [Rak] doesn't call a good game, I'm not going to call him a

"cement head."

"I'm just really happy with the way the Storm organization took care of the problem and the way the Peoria players handled it. I lined up with [Rivermen captain Trevor] Baker [for a faceoff in Toledo] and he said, 'A lot of guys on our team are upset with what [Rak] said.'

"It just shows that when it comes down to the game, the players know that guys have a job to do and there's a certain respect there."

Rak issued an apology for his remarks, and Miller said he's willing to lift the ban should Rak wish to broadcast from One Main Street when Peoria makes its final trip of the regular

season on April 8.

"Let's let bygones be bygones," Miller said. "Hopefully, he's learned a lesson from this."

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The hottest commodity in minor pro hockey today is the American-born player.

Because the United States is no longer issuing H-2B temporary work visas - the limit of 66,000 annually for all types of employment was reached in January - ECHL and other minor league clubs have all but given up on attempting to sign Canadian-born players. Gone are the pre-9/11 days where a team could find the missing piece to the playoff puzzle at the conclusion of the major junior regular season, which comes this weekend.

"We're not desperately looking for players right now," Storm coach Nick Vitucci said. "But about a month ago, I sent out 476 recruiting letters with a questionnaire to every senior college hockey player in the U.S. and overage players in junior. We got about 70 back. The first thing I look at is where they were born and can they help us in the stretch drive?"

Vitucci said he would like to bring in one forward and one defenseman before this season ends.

"You want to be able to tap that market, thinking for next year," Vitucci said. "I wish I had a 10-point cushion where I could give guys a night off, but we don't have that luxury in our division."

The Storm is one of six teams in the North Division battling for four playoff spots.

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While watching Storm forward Rick Judson coach a mite hockey team at Tam O'Shanter recently, one bystander couldn't help but point out a noticeable difference between Judson and his young players.

"Hey," said a laughing Judson, who sports a bald, Telly Savalas look. "I had that much hair when I was little, too!"

Contact Dan Saevig at: dsaevig@theblade.com.



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