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Published: Wednesday, 3/30/2005

Hershey calls up Storm's Mallette

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The sword that cuts both ways in the ECHL is hanging perilously close to the Storm.

Franchise success and coaches' jobs ride on the ability to attract the best talent and ice a competitive team.

The flip side is that if the players are too good, it may not be long before they're snatched up by the higher-caliber American Hockey League.

Such is the case for Toledo and star center Carl Mallette who earned a call-up to Hershey last week after totaling six goals and six assists for the Storm in six games after being acquired from Greenville in a seven-player deal on March 8.

Mallette - whose 77 points tie him with Alaska's Scott Gomez, a locked-out NHLer, for the ECHL scoring lead - won't play for the Storm tonight when Toledo plays host to Dayton in a key 7:05 contest at the Sports Arena.

He likely won't be at One Main Street on Friday when Johnstown comes to town, nor is he expected to make the trip to Wheeling on Saturday.

Toledo is tied with Peoria for the fourth and final playoff spot in the ECHL's North Division, but may have to qualify without its sniper who in four games with the Bears has two assists while centering the second line for the top affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

On Sunday, Hershey officials told Mallette to contact his roommate in Toledo, Kevin Bergin, and ask him to ship Mallette's clothes to Choco-latetown.

"I came here with the idea that I would get a decent opportunity and that's what they've given me,'' Mallette said.

"I've been working for this chance all of my life.

"I know I can play in this league on a regular basis and right now I'm getting that opportunity.''

With three weeks left in the AHL's regular season, Hershey is six points out of a playoff spot.

The length of Mallette's stay depends on his play and the Calder Cup chase.

"I have never stopped a player from going up and I never will,'' Storm coach Nick Vitucci said.

"It's one of my biggest recruiting tools for a player coming to Toledo.

"I don't have a new 8,000 to 10,000-seat arena. I don't have a beach to offer them. I don't have an ocean and I don't have year-round golf.

"What I have is an opportunity to advance to the next level.''

Vitucci pointed to defenseman Sylvain Dufresne, who has spent half the season in Toledo and the other half with Rochester of the AHL, as an example of how a loss can become a gain.

"His agent has called me already on three players that he represents coming out of college and junior because he's so happy with how we've handled Sly this year,'' Vitucci said.

"If you deny a player an opportunity to move to the next level, hockey is a small world and you may not be able to recruit a good player to your organization again.

"I hope Carl's agent realizes the situation - loaning one of our best players at a crucial time of the year. Hopefully he'll remember this in the future.''

Mallette said he feels badly about leaving Toledo at such a critical juncture, but at the age of 23 this is the first legitimate shot at the AHL he's been given.

"I know a lot of guys who wouldn't even care about their ECHL team, but I do,'' Mallette said.

"I know that Toledo made a big trade to get my rights. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity that Hershey is offering right now, but I feel a little guilty about not being part of Toledo's run for the playoffs.

"I wish I could do both, but it's impossible."

BREAKING TIES: Given that just seven points separate sixth-place Wheeling from division-leading Atlantic City in the ECHL North, it's possible that tie-breaking procedures will come into play to determine who's in and who's out and where they're seeded in the Kelly Cup playoffs.

If the postseason began tonight, Toledo would qualify by virtue of having won one more regular-season game (37) than Peoria (36), even though each has 79 points.

After wins are taken into consideration, the ECHL's next tie-breaker is points head-to-head, which would again favor the Storm, 12-9.

In the next two decision-

making categories, head-to-

head wins and goal differential, Toledo also comes out ahead.

When all of those avenues are exhausted, the ECHL looks at winning percentage within the division and then the conference, and goals for and goals against during the regular season.

If a tie still exists, a coin toss will determine seeding.

A similar procedure is in place should three or more teams end in a deadlock.

Contact Dan Saevig at: dsaevig@theblade.com.



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