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Toledo Walleye coach Nick Vitucci relishes the opportunity to mentor top prospects in the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks' organization.
Vitucci said he is honored to work with a club that has recently produced young NHL phenoms Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Walleye serve as a minor league affiliate for the Blackhawks as well as the dominant Detroit Red Wings, which gives Vitucci the chance to work with some top young players.
"We are so fortunate that we have two fantastic affiliations," Vitucci said. "They respect our level and they feel confident to send their draft picks and players that have been marked as the future to this organization. It is humbling."
Earlier this month, the Walleye extended agreements with both Chicago and Detroit. Toledo serves as the ECHL affiliate, shuttling players back and forth to the Blackhawks' American Hockey League team in Rockford (Ill.) to the Red Wings' AHL club in Grand Rapids (Mich.).
Blackhawk officials requested that Vitucci work with some of their players at a prospects camp last week.
"I helped coach the teams on the ice and it's an honor to be asked to do that," Vitucci said.
Vitucci also will work with young players in the Red Wings' system this summer.
"It's the same with Detroit. The people in Grand Rapids are great to deal with," he said.
The Walleye also had dual affiliations with the NHL teams last season. Toledo has served as the Red Wings' Double-A farm team in the ECHL for 17 seasons. The Storm, Toledo's former ECHL team, had a similar agreement for 15 seasons.
This is the third season Toledo has had an affiliation with Chicago.
Last season, one of the Red Wings' farmhands served as one of the Walleye's main goaltenders. Rookie Jordan Pearce played in 52 games for Toledo. Pearce, who played at Notre Dame, had a 15-16-2 record and 3.62 goals against average.
Fellow rookie goalie, Alec Richards, is a Chicago prospect who played in 42 games for Toledo last season. Richards had a 17-12-5 record with a 3.35 GAA.
The Walleye's leading scorer last season, rookie Maxime Tanguay, was picked in the third round by the Blackhawks in the 2007 draft. Tanguay scored 25 goals and had 44 assists.
Vitucci said he is uncertain which prospects will filter down to Toledo and his roster will be a work in progress until training camp opens in October. But he said he is sure the relationship will prove once again to be mutually beneficial.
"I've heard different stories of affiliates that don't nearly work as well," Vitucci said.
But he said working with two of the NHL's "Original Six" teams has been a thrill.
Vitucci recently signed a contract to return to lead the Walleye in their second season. He said he is excited to continue the work started last season when Toledo qualified for the playoffs.
"Being part of a brand new franchise is a dream come true," Vitucci said. "It's a great group of people to work with. It's thrilling."
Vitucci, a native of Welland, Ontario, will be starting his fourth full season as a head coach in Toledo after coaching the Storm for three and a half seasons. In early December last year, Vitucci won his 150th regular season game. He has spent his entire head coaching career in Toledo and has an overall record of 175-134-28.
"Toledo has been a home for a long time now," Vitucci said. "This is a city I love. With a terrific organization in place, I believe we can be successful for years to come. We expect big things in year two."
TICKETS: The Walleye announced that tickets for the "Opening Night Bash," which will include a dinner buffet, will go on sale on Friday. A new "Hat Trick" ticket also will be available Friday. For more information call 419-725-9255 or go to toledowalleye.com.
The home opener is
Oct. 16 against Wheeling.
Contact Mark Monroe at: