When pro hockey returns to Toledo in October, the new Walleye team will revive a classic rivalry with an old International Hockey League foe. Just as Toledo returns to play in the ECHL after a two-year hiatus, the Kalamazoo Wings also have joined the Double-A league. The Toledo's Goaldiggers of the 1970s and '80s battled the K-Wings in many fierce IHL contests.
When pro hockey returns to Toledo in October, the new Walleye team will revive a classic rivalry with an old International Hockey League foe.
Just as Toledo returns to play in the ECHL after a two-year hiatus, the Kalamazoo Wings also have joined the Double-A league. The Toledo's Goaldiggers of the 1970s and '80s battled the K-Wings in many fierce IHL contests.
The addition of Kalamazoo softens the blow of the loss of Dayton, another former rival. The Bombers were forced to cease operations in March after 18 years in the ECHL because of dwindling ticket sales.
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci played and coached for the Storm when it clashed with the Bombers.
"Losing Dayton was a blow. They've been a great rivalry," Vitucci said. "But we just picked up another one dating back to the Goaldiggers and the IHL days with Kalamazoo coming into the league."
Kalamazoo will be a member of the ECHL North Division in the American Conference along with Toledo, Cincinnati, Johnstown, Wheeling and Elmira (N.Y.).
The Walleye is set to take to the ice in a new $105 million, 8,000-seat arena in downtown in less than four months.
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna said both Toledo and Kalamazoo have long hockey
"We are proud to welcome
Kalamazoo to the ECHL," McKenna said. "This will allow K-Wings fans to renew rivalries with Cincinnati and Toledo."
The league's board of governors unanimously approved the expansion membership application on June 6.
Kalamazoo has had a pro hockey team since 1974-75 including the last two seasons in the new
IHL, a reincarnation of the Triple-A league that ceased operations in 2001 after more than 50 years.
Vitucci said the Walleye organization is eager to celebrate Toledo's 50-plus seasons of pro hockey.
"We will be embracing that history," he said.
Vitucci said he is a member of a historic society that the team has put together to celebrate the past.
"We've been talking with former players and gathering old hockey memora-
bilia," he said. "At some point those are things we'd like to display in the arena."
He said former Storm owner Tim Gladieux has agreed to donate many items, including the 11 championship banners that hung from the Sports Arena rafters.
"It's just a matter of getting a feel for the arena and deciding where the best places will be to display those items," he said. "We've been in touch with others who want to donate items. For a hockey memorabilia guy like myself, it's been fun."
Vitucci said the display will include the first skate sharpener ever used at the Sports Arena. The old Zamboni, believed to have been built in the 1950s, also has been packed away in storage for possible display.
Vitucci said the team is gathering ideas from other stadiums.
"We don't know if it will be a museum or big showcases. We may not know until a year or two into it," Vitucci said. "At Fifth Third Field, the Mud Hens [officials] waited until after the first couple of years until they put things up. They wanted to get a good feel. They will use the same blueprint."
But he promised the Mercurys, Buckeyes, Blades, Hornets, Goaldiggers and Storm all will be represented.
SIGNINGS, AFFLIATIONS: Vitucci, who also is the director of operations for the Walleye, said July 2 is the first day he can sign players.
"Right now I'm mostly on the phone talking with agents and parents," he said. "It's a little too early to know. But I've had some conversations with names people would recognize around here."
A new affiliation agreement with an NHL team also will affect the shaping of the roster.
Vitucci said Walleye
officials have spoken with the Detroit Red Wings and "a few other teams as well."
Toledo has had past
affiliations with the Red Wings during the Storm's 16-year run. The team often would send players up to Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"The Red Wings wanted to wait until they were done with the Stanley Cup playoffs," Vitucci said. "We've had some early conversations. But they're getting ready for the draft now."
Vitucci said he expects a decision will be made by mid-July.
"It certainly makes sense," Vitucci said. "It's been a great, great relationship for us over the years. Hopefully this can continue."
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press on Friday that Detroit will have an affiliation agreement next season with Toledo. Holland also said one of the organization's young goaltenders would play in Toledo next season.
TICKETS: Club seats, full season tickets plans and partial ticket plans are still available.
The organization also is offering "arena mini-plan ticket packs." The packages are a combination of tickets for the new hockey and football teams. The Toledo Bullfrogs, an arenafootball2 team, begins play in spring of 2010.
Tickets are available by phone at 419-725-WALL or online at www.toledowalleye.com.
"Anticipation is a little more serious in Toledo because it's a new team and because we did not have hockey here for a while," Vitucci said.
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