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Published: Thursday, 6/30/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Chicago retains Walleye as minor-league affiliate

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Toledo Walleye renewed their affiliation agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday.

The Walleye have had the same developmental contract with the NHL team in each of the organization's first two years of existence. Toledo will once again serve as the primary ECHL affiliate of the Blackhawks for the upcoming season.

Under terms of the agreement, Chicago will assign contracted players to the Walleye. Toledo will help develop prospects and will work with Chicago's American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

Joe Napoli, president and general manager of the Walleye, said the association with the Blackhawks has been mutually beneficial.

"We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with the Chicago Blackhawks," he said.

Mark Bernard, the Blackhawks' general manager of minor league affiliations, said his organization is "thrilled" to be affiliated with the Walleye. Toledo will be Chicago's "Double-A" team while Rockford is its "Triple-A" team, which is one level below the NHL club.

"The entire Toledo organization has been first class over the previous two seasons," Bernard said "[Coach Nick Vitucci] has and will continue to do an excellent job developing our young prospects in an environment that is second to none at the ECHL level."

Players within the Blackhawks' system that suited up for the Walleye last season included forwards Peter Leblanc, Andy Bohmbach, Zack Torquato, and Chris DiDomenico. Defensemen Scott Fletcher and Simon Danis-Pepin, and goalie Joe Palmer also saw time in Toledo.

Bohmbach led the team in scoring with 72 points in 65 games. The rookie, who played at the University of Wisconsin, scored 28 goals and had 44 assists. Bohmbach averaged 1.1 points per game and led all ECHL first-year players in points. He was named to the All-ECHL rookie team at the end of the season.

Fellow rookie Leblanc, who was a seventh round draft pick by Chicago in 2006, started his career in Toledo last season. But Leblanc quickly earned a spot with Rockford in the AHL. Leblanc had been named Toledo's representative in the ECHL all star game before being called up to Rockford for the remainder of the season. He had eight goals and 14 assists in 22 games for the Walleye. He went on to post 30 points (12 G, 18 A) in 57 games for Rockford.

Leblanc recently signed a contract with the Blackhawks and is expected to spend next season in Rockford.

Pepin, a hulking blue-liner, was a second round pick by Chicago in 2006. The 6-foot-7 and 221 pound Pepin split last season between Rockford and Toledo. In 33 games for the Walleye, Pepin had three goals and nine assists. He also had 35 penalty minutes and a plus-minus rating of minus-12.

Palmer appeared in 28 games for Toledo and posted a 10-14-1 record. Palmer, who was drafted by Chicago in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, played four years at Ohio State.

Torquato had 11 goals and 33 assists for the Walleye in 54 games. He appeared in 12 games for Rockford.

DiDomenico scored nine goals to go along with 16 assists for Toledo last year.

Fletcher led the team in penalty minutes with 179 in 57 games.

Former Walleye goalie Alec Richards, who started his pro career in Toledo in 2009-10, was with the IceHogs for a full season last year.

Bernard and Vitucci, who are both former ECHL goaltenders, were teammates in Hampton Roads. Bernard also played for the Toledo Storm and was an assistant coach here in 2002-03.

"Mark Bernard has been a pleasure to work with as we continue to develop future AHL and NHL talent," Napoli said.

The Walleye will open their third season at the Huntington Center on Oct. 15 against the Chicago Express, an ECHL expansion team.

For ticket information, call 419-725-WALL or go to toledo walleye.com.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.



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