Nick Vitucci - who in his first full season behind the bench led the Toledo Storm to a record of 41-26-5, a fourth-place finish in the North Division of the 28-team league and a Kelly Cup playoff spot - will be named ECHL coach of the year today.
"I'm very surprised, " said Vitucci, who was informed yesterday by the league. "I never thought of it.''
Claude Noel, now in the same position with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, is the only other Storm coach to win the award. He did it in 2002-03.
Toledo's 87 points represented a 30-point improvement over last season. Vitucci began the 2003-04 campaign as an assistant to Steve Harrison. He took the head job when Harrison was fired before Christmas.
"I'm a young coach trying to make my way through this game,'' said Vitucci, 37. "Last year was tough for all of us and to be a part of turning this around and getting into the playoffs was more than I could have asked for.''
When it was clear last year's team wouldn't make the postseason, Vitucci made a series of future-consideration trades that established the nucleus of the 2004-05 squad.
"He came to me one night with his plan to help us get better quicker,'' Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller said. "He showed me at that point that he cared. He wanted to coach and knew he had to do something to stay in coaching. Instead of talking about how to make things better, he pulled the trigger.''