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Published: Thursday, 8/2/2012

Walleye, Wings extend deal

Organizations to continue affiliation through 2014 season

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Toledo Walleye will continue to work closely with the top coaches and scouts in the Detroit Red Wings system after the organizations agreed to extend their affiliation agreement on Wednesday.

The Red Wings have been Toledo's NHL parent club since the Walleye's first season in 2009-10.

The organizations signed a two-year extension on Wednesday, and the new deal continues through the 2013-14 season.

Former Red Wings players Chris Osgood and Jiri Fischer made frequent stops at Toledo's practices and games last season.

Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said having the input of those Red Wings officials is invaluable.

"We're fortunate that they are very hands on," Vitucci said. "They send representatives to see how their players are doing and see how others are doing as well. We've had [Red Wings goalie coach] Jim Bedard down here a lot. They help run practices, and we can learn a lot from them."

Toledo will once again serve as Detroit's AA affiliate. The Walleye will exchange players with the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Toledo's ECHL team was named the Storm when the organizations first aligned in 1991.

"It's been a special relationship for a long time," said Vitucci, who also played for and coached the Storm. "Obviously, overall it's a great organization. It's a privilege to work with them."

Detroit has sent two of its young goalie prospects to gain experience in Toledo. Thomas McCollum and Jordan Pearce have spent significant time developing in Toledo. Both young netminders have posted 19 wins while in a Walleye uniform.

Pearce and McCollum are the only players in the history of the Walleye franchise to be called up to the NHL. Pearce, who started his pro career in Toledo in 2009-10, was called up to Detroit last March. McCollum, who was Detroit's first-round draft choice in 2008, played for the Red Wings in a game against St. Louis on March 30, 2011.

Other players in the Wings' system that have played big roles for the Walleye include: forwards Willie Coetzee (9 goals, 11 assists), and Adam Estoclet (7 G, 16 A) and defenseman Sebastien Piche (17 G, 44 A).

"Some of the players they've sent us have been fantastic," Vitucci said. "It's a great opportunity to work with a lot of young and special hockey players."

Last season, forward Andrej Nestrasil, a third round pick of the Red Wings in 2009, played in 51 games with Toledo. Nestrasil had 29 points (7 G, 22 A) and was the team's fourth-leading scorer.

Ryan Martin, Detroit's assistant general manager of hockey administration, called the Walleye "a world class organization."

"We are proud to continue our partnership with one of the premier organizations in the ECHL," Martin said. "The city of Toledo is a great community for our players to live in, and the Walleye fans are among the most passionate in hockey. The Walleye coaches will continue to play an integral role in helping develop some of the Red Wings' prospects and prepare them for the next step in their careers."

Walleye general manager Joe Napoli said the Red Wings are one of the most respected franchises in the NHL.

"I'm really happy to have the relationship continue through 2014," Napoli said. "We have a long history with the Red Wings, and they have been a great partner. "

Vitucci said he and assistant coach Dan Watson also will attempt to implement the same systems that the Red Wings run.

"They are more of a puck possession team," Vitucci said. "They don't dump and chase. They carry it in and generate scoring opportunities that way. Now that works when you have a [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg. As the season nears we'll have to see which players we get under contract and the talent level we have."

The Walleye will once again have dual affiliations with NHL clubs. Last week, Toledo extended its agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Call-ups to Toledo's affiliates and other AHL teams had a detrimental effect on the Walleye last year. The Walleye finished last in the North Division with a 28-38-6 record.

But Vitucci said the role of an ECHL team is to develop players.

"Players move within the affiliation," Vitucci said. "We help give them the opportunity to develop and get to the next level."

Martin said Detroit is committed to helping Toledo build a competitive team.

"We are committed to helping Toledo … cultivate a winning environment," Martin said.

Vitucci said he is in the process of signing players. The team's training camp opens on Oct. 2.

The Walleye will open the season on Saturday, Oct. 13, at home against Kalamazoo.

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



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