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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2005

Boosters dialing for Storm dollars

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Pinned to her right ear was a telephone handset. In her left hand was a bottle that Storm fan club member Lindsey Wilson used to feed her 12-week-old niece, Ryleigh Gayer.

With Gayer on her lap, the Toledoan made her pitch yesterday morning to individuals and companies who have attended Storm games in the past, asking them to buy season tickets.

Wilson was one of six booster club members who spent four hours at the Storm's Sports Arena office as part of an organized attempt to salvage the 14-year-old franchise. The team announced March 30 that it had asked the ECHL to suspend operations next season because of mounting financial losses and a declining season ticket base.

That request has been tabled until May 2 by the league's board of governors in the hope that new ownership, investors and/or more season-ticket holders can be found.

"I might get her crying to people if we need to," said Wilson, who attended her first Toledo hockey game in 1982 at the age of two months. "If we get our emotions out, maybe they'll realize what Toledo will lose if they lose a hockey team."

The phone campaign, which continues today when employees of Storm majority owner Tim Gladieux's catering company make calls, is part of a full-court press to increase the number of season subscribers to 1,600.

Toledo had approximately 750 season-ticket holders this season, half of what team officials say is needed to break even. Storm coach Nick Vitucci is working the phones in an attempt to retain and build that base while assistant coach Tony MacAulay is overseeing the volunteers contacting past attendees.

An advertising campaign is also under way and the franchise has extended its hours of operation.

The team's office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller said more than 200 new season passes have been sold since the club announced its future was uncertain.

The threat of hockey's departure engaged one of the team's biggest supporters to help out.

Ralph Mahalak Jr., co-owner of the Monroe Dodge Chrysler Jeep Superstore and a major Storm sponsor, said he sent an e-mail to 100 friends he thinks would be interested in buying season tickets, asking that they consider his request and forward the message to others who might be candidates.

"I hope there are a lot of businesses that get behind the Storm," said Mahalak, the father of two hockey-playing sons. "I know there are a lot of hockey fans in the area and I think we need the ECHL in Toledo."

Miller is hopeful the club will operate next season.

"I get the sense that nobody wants to see hockey leave," Miller said. "They understand this is a part of our community and that we want to bridge the gap until a new arena is built. I think they also understand that it is a lot easier to keep it going than starting from scratch down the road."

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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