Nick Vitucci, center, talks about the affiliation agreement as Jim Nill, of the Red Wings, left, and Joe Napoli of the Walleye stand by at the Lucas County Arena.
Toledo's ties with professional sports teams in Detroit strengthened Monday when the Walleye signed a one-year agreement with the Red Wings.
The Walleye will serve as the Red Wings' Double-A affiliate, developing the NHL franchise's young players. The agreement is similar to the one that the Mud
Hens have with the Detroit Tigers.
"It's one big family here," said Jim Nill, the Red Wings assistant general manager. "We have a good relationship with the Mud Hens on the Tigers side. The Tigers and the Red Wings are a perfect fit for the Mud Hens and the Walleye. I just think it's a great situation."
Walleye general manager Joe Napoli announced the official contract at a press conference at the Lucas County Arena.
"Our relationship with the Tigers has never been better," Napoli said. "They are phenomenal people to work with. We like to think they had something nice to say about us to the Wings. When you look at the Red Wings and look at their reputation, their franchise is considered to be the best."
The Mud Hens have served as the Tigers' Triple-A franchise since 1987.
"Our reputation on the baseball side has really helped us out," Napoli said.
Napoli said he has the utmost respect for Mike Ilitch, who owns both the Tigers and Red Wings.
"The Ilitchs went out and hired great people," Napoli said. "They let them do their jobs. We have very high hopes. Much like the Mud Hens, we want the Walleye to be the minor league hockey franchise that sets the standard."
Nill said he expects up to four Red Wing prospects to be playing at any given time for the Walleye at the ECHL level. Toledo will be exchanging players back and forth from Grand Rapids, Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate.
"Toledo is an hour from Detroit and three hours from Grand Rapids. You're not disconnected," he said. "Our goalie coach Jim Bedard will be down here. Our scouts will be down here watching players. The ECHL is for the player that is just coming out of juniors or college and they need a little more seasoning."
Napoli said Walleye coach Nick Vitucci was instrumental in completing the agreement.
"We're absolutely thrilled to be affiliated with the Red Wings," Napoli said. "They have 83 years of hockey and 11 Stanley Cups. That says it all."
Vitucci said the Detroit organization represents dignity, pride, success, and professionalism.
"This gives us immediate credibility," he said.
Nill said he was impressed when he toured the new downtown arena yesterday.
"I'm overwhelmed. This is as good a venue as there is in all of minor league hockey," he said.
Nill said although it is only a one-year deal, he expects the organizations to work together for a long time to come.
"We need to be flexible because of the new CBA [NHL's collective bargaining agreement]," Nill said. "But we will have a relationship for many, many years to come."
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