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Toledo Arena Sports Inc. hired its hockey team's first employee, about 20 months before the yet-to-be-named club plays its first game.
Nick Vitucci, the last coach for the now defunct Toledo Storm and an ECHL hall of famer, will coach the city's new professional hockey team when it opens play after a two-year hiatus in October of 2009.
Toledo Arena Sports, the not-for-profit organization created by the Toledo Mud Hens to own the hockey and arena football franchises in Lucas County's new multipurpose arena, will officially announce Vitucci's hiring at an 11 a.m. news conference today.
Vitucci, 40, took over as coach for the Storm during the 2003-04 season and maintained that role until the team played its final game last season, compiling a 140-104-18 record. He directed the Storm to the Kelly Cup playoffs three times, was named the ECHL's coach of the year in 2004-05, and reached the American Conference finals in 2005-06.
The coach, his wife, Dawn, and their 8-year-old son, Keegan, still live in Toledo. He said he received several offers to coach in the ECHL and other pro leagues this year, but didn't want to move away.
"I was humbled by a quite a few of those offers from other clubs, but this is where I want to be," Vitucci said. "My wife and I met here, we were married here, I had a couple good years playing goal here."
Vitucci, currently a scout for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, was hired by Toledo Arena Sports but has yet to sign a contract. He said he and Toledo Arena Sports general manager Joe Napoli would get to a contract "whenever one is needed."
Napoli said Toledo Arena Sports had no hesitation to sign Vitucci to a deal. The organization previously hired him as a consultant for input into the arena being constructed downtown.
"If a contract was something that gave him a certain level of comfort, we would have no issue with that," Napoli said.
As a scout for the Hurricanes, Vitucci attends ECHL, NCAA and junior league games to search for talent - which benefits both Carolina and Toledo's new franchise. One of Vitucci's chief roles here will be to recruit and sign talent, and his time spent as a scout will give him a grasp on which players to attract to Toledo.
Napoli said he would be open to Vitucci continuing his role with the Hurricanes next season.
"I'm open to anything that can benefit our club," Napoli said.
Vitucci was a goaltender for the Storm from 1993-95 and has won five ECHL championships, including one in Toledo. He won four as a player (1989, 1990, 1994 and 1996) and one as an assistant coach (2002).
Vitucci's name appears throughout the ECHL's record book, and holds career records for goaltenders in wins (265), games played (479), minutes played (27,291) and consecutive 20-win seasons (tied for first with seven). He was named to the ECHL 15th anniversary team in 2003, and was inducted into the league's hall of fame last month.
Briefly an assistant coach with the Storm before taking over for Steve Harrison in the middle of the 2003-04 season, Vitucci developed a history with the old Sports Arena on the city's east side.
While he said he will miss the old building - which was demolished last year - Vitucci said playing in a new, state-of-the-art arena in downtown will have its perks.
"The sports arena was outdated and it had to go," Vitucci said. "Playing in a new arena where the ice isn't too small and we don't have to have different systems for home and away games - yeah, I think that will help us bring in better players."
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