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Published: Thursday, 4/14/2005

Storm's concern is Reading's trap

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Storm's Pierre-Luc Sleigher says there's a way to beat Reading's trap defense, but it will take every shift on the ice. The Storm's Pierre-Luc Sleigher says there's a way to beat Reading's trap defense, but it will take every shift on the ice.
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It's a trap the Storm has fallen victim to on more than one occasion this season.

It's also the trap Toledo will have to solve if it hopes to advance past the first round of the ECHL's Kelly Cup playoffs.

Tonight in Reading, Pa., the Storm will meet the defensive-minded Royals in Game No. 1 of their best-of-five North Division semifinal series. Reading - which used an effective trap to permit a league-low 161 goals all season -- earned home ice advantage in the set by finishing first in the North.

Toledo finished fourth, six points behind the Royals.

Traps are defensive formations designed to keep teams in their end by clogging normal passing lanes with a flood of bodies in the neutral zone and forcing the play to the boards.

Largely because of its ability to take away the neutral zone and limit Toledo's speed up the middle through the use of a trap, the Royals were 6-2-1 against the Storm this season.

Four of those starts were decided by one goal and three by two goals.

"When we've had problems with their trap is when we try to be too creative,'' Toledo coach Nick Vitucci said. "When we take the approach that center ice is our end zone and then get pucks deep, we're pretty successful with our forecheck. Then we're able to create offense.

"But our problem at times with them has been that we get too pretty in the neutral zone and try to make too many pretty passes that result in turnovers and a line rush against.''

Reading outscored Toledo 28-17 this season with many of its chances coming off of trap-related turnovers.

"The biggest mistake you can make is to try to do it all by yourself,'' Storm forward Pierre-Luc Sleigher said. "You really need all five guys on the ice to break a trap like that. That's the key to this series, the guys need to play as a team.''

Mismatches are critical to busting a trap. Toledo must quickly switch from its zone and focus on forcing defenders to overcommit while reversing passes or chipping the puck off the wall and then getting it deep.

"I'd rank their trap right up at the top,'' Storm defenseman P.J. Martin said. "We haven't had as much trouble with other team's traps as we have with Reading's. They are very patient and wait for you to make a mistake. It's going to be important for us not to get frustrated and keep our focus.''

In part because of Reading's style of play, a low-scoring series is a strong possibility. That puts even more emphasis on the Storm power play which out-produced the Royals this season head-to-head, converting six of 32 chances to Reading's seven of 40.

It's one of the few statistical categories in which Toledo held an advantage during the regular season.

"I don't mind the underdog tag going into the series,'' Vitucci said. "These are two teams that are pretty evenly matched. I could see this going the distance.''

Game No. 2 is in Reading on Saturday night. The series returns to Toledo on Sunday at 6:05 p.m. for Game No. 3 at the Sports Arena. Should it be necessary, Game No. 4 will be held in Toledo on Tuesday beginning at 7:05 p.m.

If the set does go the distance, the finale is back in Reading on Wednesday.

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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