Defenseman Ryan Stokes was not quite ready to hang up his skates and join the family trade as a boilermaker.
Stokes, the first captain in Toledo Walleye history, has opted instead to play at least one more season in the ECHL. Stokes, a veteran of 362 professional games, is expected to re-sign with Toledo Thursday. Stokes scored a career-high six goals for the Walleye last season.
"I'm really excited," Stokes said. "It was good for me there last year. The fans were great and the rink is phenomenal."
Stokes, 27, said he seriously weighed the option of ending his six-year pro career to join the family business as a boilermaker.
"I was on the fence," Stokes said. "But I've decided to do some schooling toward that trade while still playing hockey. I'll see how well it goes. This could possibly be my last year. I just don't want to hang them up yet."
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said bringing Stokes back wasn't a tough decision.
"That's huge for us. It's a big signing," Vitucci said. "I like the way he carries himself with his leadership."
Toledo sorely missed Stokes' steadying influence when he was called up multiple times to the American Hockey League last season. Vitucci said he was surprise Stokes did not catch on with an AHL team this year.
"We missed him more than we missed anyone in the second half of the season," Vitucci said.
Stokes spent more time in the AHL than in Toledo.
"I think my plan this year is to stay and help Toledo try to win a championship," Stokes said.
The Walleye's 2010-11 roster continues to round into shape. With the season opener 50 days away, Vitucci has now brought back seven players that led the Walleye to an ECHL playoff berth in their inaugural season.
The other returning players include forwards Mike Hedden, Adam Keefe, Dominic Osman, Sal Peralta, and Scooter Smith and defenseman Kyle Page.
Vitucci said all seven returnees have good leadership and determination.
"I want to have a good core of players who know me as a coach and I know them as the right kind of players," he said.
In six pro seasons, Stokes has appeared in 362 contests with 268 of those in the AHL. He has scored 14 career goals, while adding 48 assists and 705 penalty minutes.
During last season, the Corruna, Ontario native skated in 32 contests with the Walleye and was a plus-13. In 39 AHL games between Toronto, Grand Rapids, and Providence, Stokes collected four assists and finished plus-5.
Stokes said his hometown is about an hour and 45 minutes from Toledo. He said all of the traveling last season was difficult on him and his wife Randi.
"She's followed me for six years as a pro. It's time for me to get back [home]," he said.
Stokes said his experience and leadership skills led to last year's captaincy.
"I was proud to wear the 'C,'" Stokes said. "It was huge. It gave me inspiration and confidence. I'm looking forward to leading the team … showing the young players how to be a pro."
For most of his career Stokes was a steady, stay-at-home defenseman. But in recent years he has been carrying the puck a lot more.
"I was a late bloomer," Stokes said. "The offensive part is picking up. I've had a lot more opportunities on the power play. I've been shooting the puck and it's been going in."
Yet he said he remains willing to block shots and drop the gloves.
"I just want to play and enjoy myself," Stokes said. "If we do really well and have fun, maybe I will come back."
Oct. 1 is the first day the ECHL allows teams to take to the ice. Vitucci said his players will report for camp on Sept. 30.
The season opener is Friday, Oct. 15 at Wheeling. The team's home opener will be Saturday, Oct. 16 against Wheeling at the Huntington Center. Tickets are on sale now at 419-725-WALL.
"We will have a good team with toughness, skill, and leadership," Vitucci said.
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