The talent level at the Toledo Walleye's free agent tryout camp last weekend greatly exceeded the expectations of coach Nick Vitucci.
This was the third year the organization has held the event that attracts pro hockey hopefuls from across the country. But this year's camp at the Huntington Center featured a few prospects that could actually make the Walleye roster when it is set at the team's main training camp in October.
"There were about 15 guys that certainly would not look out of place at the [main] training camp," Vitucci said. "There were really only a handful of guys that really looked out of place. That has gone down a lot from the previous two years."
A total of 72 players auditioned for the team during practices and scrimmages on Saturday and Sunday.
Vitucci said he will know by the weekend which players he will invite to the Walleye's main training camp that begins Sept. 30.
"There will be a minimum of five," Vitucci said.
The coach said he is comparing his notes with info compiled by scouts at the camp.
"We can pinpoint it down to 15 pretty easily," Vitucci said. "But you won't know how they will play against a better talent base until you see it."
Each of the players paid $275 to compete for a roster spot. They received a jersey and ice time at the Huntington Center.
Vitucci said he receives thousands of emails throughout the year from players wishing to try out for Toledo's ECHL team.
But he said the cutoff for the camp is 72 players due to logistics. Fielding four teams consisting of 10 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies is the maximum a two-day camp can accommodate.
"It was first come, first serve," Vitucci said.
He said it would be impossible to screen the candidates. Some have played in obscure leagues or high school leagues or even overseas.
Earning a spot on the Walleye roster has proven difficult for players that participated in previous camps. Right winger Anthony Iaquinto was the only player from last year's tryout to suit up for Toledo. He ended up playing in one game. Vitucci said for most of the players it was a once-in-a-lifetime shot at pursuing their dreams of playing pro hockey.
"It's something on their bucket list or something they always wanted to try one time," Vitucci said. "I give them credit. I'm sure some of them got out there and realized they were in way over their head. But they stuck it out."
Vitucci said most of the players made a weekend getaway out of the experience.
"Everyone I heard from said they were thrilled with the camp and to have the opportunity to play in the Huntington Center," he said. "A lot of them went to the local establishments. A bunch of them hit the Mud Hens' game. I'm sure it's something they will remember."