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Published: Monday, 4/25/2005

Toledo passed, but was this the final exam?

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Vitucci Vitucci
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Final marks for the Storm, expecting professional hockey to return to Toledo in October

Just in case you don't have a copy of last year's final grade card handy, the Storm earned a big "F" from the beat writer and a "C-" from head coach Nick Vitucci.

Team staff let it be known it wasn't happy with the "F." Fair is fair. The writer wasn't impressed by the Storm's failure, either.

One year later, it's a different story.

Given a full season to prove himself as a bench boss, Vitucci not only orchestrated a 30-point improvement over the 2003-04 mark of 23-38-11, but earned ECHL coach of the year honors as well. Toledo's record of 41-26-5 was good for 87 points and fourth overall - six points out of first - in the difficult North Division.

Not surprising, this season's grades are much better. Here's how Vitucci and the beat writer assess 2004-05:

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Saevig: At the beginning of the season, it was written that this was a .500 team. Compared to the coaches - who slotted the Storm seventh out of eight clubs in the North in the pre-season poll - it was more accurate, but still off the mark.

The surprise isn't so much that Toledo finished 15 games over .500. What's impressive is the successful tinkering that Vitucci and assistant coach Tony MacAulay did as the season progressed, moving disappointments like Reggie Savage and Andrew Oke, and then pulling off the seven-player blockbuster with Greenville that brought Carl Mallette, Kevin Bergin and Joey Martin to Toledo. The staff was not afraid to make changes to make things better even when things were going well.

Another surprise is the quickness with which the Storm exited post-season play; winning just once in the Kelly Cup's best-of-five opening round. Toledo outplayed and outchanced Reading, but scored only three times in the series.

Vitucci: "The playoffs would be the biggest surprise; how consistently well we played for four games and didn't win. I felt like we started every game very strong and did it for 60 minutes for four straight games, probably the most consistent four-game stretch we played all year."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Saevig: After 14 seasons the Storm is on life-support. The organization, which once captivated the city and was among the league-leaders in attendance, has asked the ECHL for permission to suspend operations for 2005-06 because of a dwindling season-ticket base and mounting financial setbacks.

The request has been delayed until May 2 as the club explores its options.

An even bigger disappointment for those who follow the sport will occur should a team not take to the Sports Arena ice in the fall.

Vitucci: "Not being involved in Game 1 of the North Division finals. I feel we're good enough to still be playing."

TEAM MAKEUP/CHEMISTRY

Saevig: This team was good on and off the ice. It played with passion and probably deserved a different fate.

Vitucci: "We had everything we needed to have a successful year. We had skill, speed, toughness, defense and great goaltending."

GRADE: QUARTER & PLAYOFFS/YEAR

Saevig: B/B. The threat of the Storm's departure would have been much easier for fans to take at the end of last season. If for no other reason than what was accomplished on the ice this year, the Storm deserves another shot on goal.

Vitucci: A-/A. "I'm proud to be part of this team."

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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