In the heat of the moment, Nick Vitucci hit Tony MacAulay with his best shot.
The topic was music of the 1980s and on the way to the Detroit Red Wings' rookie camp in Traverse City, Mich., last September, the Storm coach wondered whether his new assistant knew if Asia was a band or a continent that doesn't produce many professional hockey players.
"He told me he knew 80s music like the back of his hand," Vitucci said.
Perhaps, but not well enough to know that They Might Be Giants spent that decade encouraging listeners to put their hand inside the puppet head.
It may have been cold- hearted, but Vitucci wanted to see if Mac
Aulay would make like Billy Ocean when the going got tough, so he turned up the radio.
Within 10 minutes, Vitucci was encouraging his new bench partner to take those old records off the shelf and start listening to them by himself.
MacAulay may know the difference between the Eurythmics and Wang Chung but when he couldn't identify two songs, Vitucci was convinced that like Cyndi Lauper, his new officemate had shown his true colors.
"It was just ironic that the next couple of songs I didn't know," MacAulay said with a laugh. "Here I am telling him that I am a music trivia buff and he's like, 'Then how come you don't know any of this stuff?'●"
One thing that is known these days is that aided by the addition of MacAulay - head coach of the ECHL's Roanoke Express until they folded on July 20 - even the nights are better for Vitucci and the Storm in the rarefied Air Supply of the ECHL.
Heading into tonight's 7:35 faceoff with Peoria at the Sports Arena, the 40-25-5 Storm needs one point in its last two games to qualify for Kelly Cup play that begins next week. It's quite an improvement over last season's mark of 23-38-11.
"I don't feel like an assistant coach," MacAulay, 33, said. "This is a very unique situation because we work off each other. Whatever the team needs, we have two minds attacking the situation and I think that makes our team better."
When Roanoke folded, Mac
Aulay knew that somewhere out there was something for him.
"The day we folded, people around the league called and wanted to know about my players,"" MacAulay said. "Nick was the first to say, 'I want to know about your players but I want to know about you first.'●"
"I've never been one to look over my shoulder," Vitucci said. "I was the one who told [Storm vice president and general manager] Mike [Miller], 'That's the guy I want.' We think alike. Ego doesn't matter. From the beginning, I've looked at it as two guys trying to get this team turned in the right direction."
MacAulay's responsibilities include the mundane like travel and meal money.
After each game he breaks down tape shot from up high while he was busy handling the defensemen on the bench.
Together, he and Vitucci plan practice, set lines and strategy and recruit. It was MacAulay who advocated the trade last month that landed high-scoring forwards Carl Mallette and Kevin Bergin from Greenville.
He coached both players last year in Roanoke.
"My biggest role is to be a chess player," MacAulay said. "I have to think three or four moves ahead to see what the options might be on and off the ice for Nick. I think that's why we work well together, we share ideas and possible solutions.
"When the season is over, I'll look back - and I think Nick will too - and say that we were enriched because of the per
sonal and professional relationship that we've shared."
Yet Vitucci knows that it will take some "Abracadabra" for the partnership to continue making music together. The future of the Storm is in doubt following last week's announcement that the team is seeking to suspend operations next season because of financial losses.
Given that scenario, the 80s music aficionados would probably like nothing better than to turn on the radio after they've sipped from the Kelly Cup and hear Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker sing, "Up Where We Belong."
At that moment, the music would speak louder than words.
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