The Toledo Storm should have its all-star representative and its second-leading scorer back to help defend its ECHL North Division championship.
The organization is expected to bring back all-star defenseman Gerry Burke and right winger Chris Blight this season.
Blight tallied 29 goals and dished out 32 assists in the regular season last year as a rookie, then produced 12 more points in the playoffs (4 G, 8 A).
"Chris had a great first season, especially the second half," said Storm coach Nick Vitucci, who also serves as the organization's director of player personnel. "He was kind of the odd man out early, but he was one of our best players and excelled in the second half."
Burke played in 68 games, netting eight goals along with 17 assists. He led all Storm defensemen in points (25). Burke also won the ECHL All-Star Game Accuracy Shooting Contest.
Vitucci called Burke "a very determined hockey player" and compared him to former Storm captain P.J. Martin. The rookie also tallied a pair of goals and a pair of assists in the postseason.
"Gerry was another one of those first-year players that showed tremendous poise on 'D.' That is hard to do," the coach said. "He contributed in all aspects. I put him out there in all the key situations. He played on the power play and penalty kill. I expect him to be one of the top two defensemen all year."
Vitucci is also bringing back fellow defenseman Ryan Reid. Reid was acquired from Gwinnett early last season and was a bastion on the Storm blue line, playing in 66 of 72 regular-season games. He recorded 12 points (3 G, 9 A) during the regular season and added five assists during the Storm's playoff run.
"He was dependable, reliable," Vitucci said. "Every team wants guys like Ryan Reid. He also showed tremendous poise and we expect him to excel this season.
"Those two [defensemen] are two of the biggest reasons why we went where we did last season," Vitucci said of his team's run to the American Conference finals.
In January, Blight scored a hat trick against Johnstown and was runner-up for honors as player of the month. In March, he was rookie of the month after posting 20 points (7 G, 13 A). He teamed with fellow rookie Bracken Kearns and veteran Mike James to form the Storm's most productive line.
"He was a big part of that Kid Line," Vitucci said.
The coach said his hockey team "will be very strong" with the return of many of the core players from last year. Training camp opens on Oct. 7 and the season-opener is Oct. 20.
"We had a pretty young hockey team last year and a lot of those guys are back," Vitucci said.
"Players always seem to make bigger strides from year one to year two. All three of them were college players and they should be more prepared for the longer season. They'll all have one year of professional hockey under their belts."
- Mark Monroe