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Published: Thursday, 6/21/2012

Vitucci wants a grittier Walleye

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Nick Vitucci Nick Vitucci
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As Walleye coach Nick Vitucci scouts prospects this off season, he has his eye on a certain type of player.

Vitucci, who also serves as the team's director of operations, said he's looking for players that are hardworking and tenacious.

"We need to add a little more sandpaper and grit to this hockey club," Vitucci said. "We're making a conscious effort to bring in players with better work ethic."

Vitucci said he plans to bring about eight to 10 players back from last year's team.

He also said major changes will be made to the roster after Toledo finished with a 28-38-6 record and remained in last place in the ECHL North Division.

"We want a grittier style," he said.

Last week, the ECHL announced season-ending rosters. Each team is entitled to reserve rights to a maximum of eight players from the list by extending a contract offer no later than July 1. No more than four can be veterans.

Those on Toledo's roster were: Derek Brochu, Dustin Carlson, Paul Cianfrini, Cam Cooper, Riley Emmerson, Todd Griffith, Matt Krug, Cody Lampl, Joey Martin, Brian Matte, Steve Miller, Nick Oslund, Kyle Page, Phil Rauch, Harrison Reed, Kyle Rogers, and Joey Ryan.

Vitucci said there are contract deals in place for five of those players, pending league approval.

The only player that was not part of the team last season was Lampl, a defenseman who was acquired to complete a trade with the Utah Grizzlies.

Vitucci said many of his players traveled to Lindsay, Ont. on Saturday to pay their respects to teammate Bryan Rufenach, who died suddenly on June 4.

Rufenach was electrocuted while with a childhood friend on a backpacking tour through Europe. The funeral was held last Saturday.

"There is no way you can prepare for something like that," Vitucci said. "It's a very hard time for his family and friends."

ECHL ADDITIONS: Vitucci said he is excited about the addition of two expansion teams to the Walleye's ECHL North Division.

Fort Wayne and Evansville will join Toledo, Cincinnati, and Kalamazoo next year in the North Division.

The Fort Wayne Komets built a rivalry with Toledo teams in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Certainly it's an old rivalry and a lot of people have great memories from that," Vitucci said.

"I think it will be exciting we can renew that."

The Fort Wayne franchise celebrated its 60th season of pro hockey in 2011-12, when the Komets played in the Central Hockey League. The team led the league in attendance with 7,770 fans per game last season.

Fort Wayne is about a two-hour drive from Toledo. The teams face off 11 times next season.

"That would be great to see people travel back and forth from building to building," Vitucci said. "Fort Wayne is a storied franchise. The travel will be great."

Vitucci is less enthusiastic about the seven-hour drive his team will have to make to play the Evansville IceMen. The teams also play 11 times.

"It's a good hike away. But I've heard nothing but good things about the organization," Vitucci said. "The facility there is newer."

Vitucci said overall he is pleased with the details of the 2012-13 schedule, which was released last month.

Toledo opens its season at home on Oct. 13 against Kalamazoo, the defending division champs. The Walleye host ECHL champion Florida on Dec. 16. Toledo travels to Florida to play the Everblades in three straight games from Jan. 9-12.

"I thought they did a great job with it," he said. "I think they're keeping everyone happy with the travel. There has to be flow to the road schedule. That's a hard thing to do.

"You don't want teams bouncing around the country like a ping-pong ball."

AFFILIATIONS AGREEMENTS: Vitucci said discussions with Toledo's American Hockey League franchises are on going.

The organization had AHL agreements with Grand Rapids and Rockford last season.

Walleye officials have had discussions with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings (Grand Rapids) and Chicago Blackhawks (Rockford) regarding the renewal of the agreements.

"Stay tuned," Vitucci said.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.



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