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Published: Thursday, 10/15/2009

Walleye off-ice officials big part of game

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Larry Hanudel, left, and Toby Oothoudt keep track of the action during a game at the Sports Arena. Both will be among the off-ice officials who will work Walleye games at the Lucas County Arena. Larry Hanudel, left, and Toby Oothoudt keep track of the action during a game at the Sports Arena. Both will be among the off-ice officials who will work Walleye games at the Lucas County Arena.
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Their names will never appear in press clippings or box scores, and that's just how they want it.

Toby Oothoudt is the crew chief of the off-ice officials for the Toledo Walleye. Oothoudt is in charge of the goal judges, penalty box attendants, penalty keeper, game time keeper and statistician.

He said the unassuming officials are meant to be invisible.

"The jobs we do are unseen," he said. "The fans should have no awareness of us. That means we're doing our jobs. But you couldn't [host a regulation game] without us."

Oothoudt said the eight core members of his crew have a combined 160 years of experience. Some are former referees. The core was together for all 16 years of the Storm's existence [1991-2007].

"It's good to have the old crew back," said Larry Hanudel, the head statistician.

Hanudel, who has been keeping track of plus-minus and other important stats since the days of the Goaldiggers, has 27 years of experience.

"It's the only way I can get in free to watch the games," Hanudel joked. "You can't beat it."

One of their main - and often controversial - duties is awarding goals and assists. Oothoudt said oftentimes players and coaches correct them after and even sometimes during games.

"We'd have players who were in the penalty box who would lean over to [public address announcer] Bobb Vergiels and say, 'Hey I got an assist or I scored that last goal,'•" Oothoudt said.

Nearly 100 percent of the time their requests are honored.

"These guys depend on the numbers for their

careers and livelihoods," Oothoudt said. "So we try to do the best we can."

Hanudel recalled when former Storm forward Bruce McDonald was once in the penalty box when he took the phone that connects to the staff upstairs from Vergiels.

"He called up to the press box during the game," Hanudel said.

Credit for goals can be

appealed to the league for up to 48 hours after games.

"There is absolutely no 'homing' allowed,"

Oothoudt said. "We work for the ECHL."

Hanudel said he and Oothoudt have disagreed about which player scored or who should be credited with an assist.

"We always work it out," he said.

"Before we had one shot at it. Now we will have

instant replay," Oothoudt said of the new flat screen TVs at the Lucas County Arena.

Chuck Knierim, the penalty time keeper, has served as an official since the days of the Blades [1963-70]. John Kauffman, Walt Beeker, Vince Cineceros, Brian Hanudel and Dennis Waldvogel make sure players leave the penalty box at precisely the right time. They are in charge of opening the penalty box gate when the penalty expires.

Beeker, Harold Hoot, George Smith, Matt Tomkinson and Waldvogel will take turns as goal judges. Their duties are to turn on a light when a goal is deemed in the net.

Oothoudt and Larry Hanudel spend their nights in the press box along with Rachel Jesko (statistician), Gary Hoot (game clock keeper) and Ray King, who keeps track of faceoffs and hits.

"The whole crew is back. They wanted that continuity," Oothoudt said.

After games Oothoudt presents both coaches with the official game sheet to sign, which is then turned over to the referee for his approval and is forwarded to the league.

Oothoudt and his entire crew have never been compensated. In the past, the Storm organization would provide tickets.

"We do it for the love of the game," he said. "I'm a former high school coach. So this is a way to stay involved in the game at a nice level. The camaraderie is important too."

Oothoudt, whose biological father died in a World War II submarine accident three months before he was born, was raised by a Canadian stepfather.

"He loved hockey, and Gordie Howe became my hero," Oothoudt said.

The Lucas Country Arena now becomes a brand new home with all the modern amenities for Oothoudt and his staff. But it also presents challenges.

"It will be a learning experience for us too," Oothoudt said. "The communications here are completely different."

But the technological advancements can now keep pace with the frenetic speed of the game.

For example, the staff will now have shots on goal, hits and face-off results ready to give to Walleye coach Nick Vitucci instantly. Between periods Oothoudt can email or fax the vital stats to the locker room.

"Before we literally had to run them down to him from the press box," Oothoudt said.

Oothoudt said the arena is set up to run the game the way it's played today.

"They did a first-class job. No doubt about it,"

Oothoudt said. "There's not a bad seat in the building."

The core of the crew also had the honor of being presented with championship rings when the Storm won its two ECHL titles in the early 1990s.

"We're looking forward to creating a lot more memories here," Oothoudt said.



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