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Published: Sunday, 10/14/2012

Opening night still exciting for Vitucci

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Although Walleye coach Nick Vitucci has been involved in 25 ECHL season-openers, he said he still gets just as nervous for the first game of the season as he did as a rookie goalie in 1988.

Vitucci, who has been involved with the ECHL as a player and coach since the league began in 1988-89, said the openers are equally exciting and stressful.

“It's a little more stressful than when you were a player,” Vitucci said.

“Now you're worried about line combinations, and the penalty kill and power play [units]. We're anxious.”

Vitucci, who returns for his fourth season as head coach of the Walleye, started his pro career for the Carolina Thunderbirds. He finished up as an ECHL hall of famer in 2001 and is the record holder for games (479) and wins (265).

Vitucci, who coached the Toledo Storm from 2004-07, is now the longest tenured coach in Toledo hockey history with a 236-205-40 record.

This week Vitucci was focused on getting a roster that finally came together on Tuesday to gel.

“We're trying to get it all together here,” Vitucci said. “We're getting systems in place and getting everyone on-board.”

But Vitucci said the players that were late additions were sent down from the team's American Hockey League affiliates, which emphasize a puck-control offense. Joey Martin, Andrej Nestrasil, and Willie Coetzee also were among players that suited up for Toledo in previous seasons.

“The systems we run are similar to those they run in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo,” Vitucci said.

Vitucci's task also will be to improve his club's special teams. The Walleye ranked 19th in the power play (14.9 percent) and were 14th on the penalty kill (80.8).

RUFENACH HONORED: Toledo Walleye defenseman Bryan Rufenach, who died this summer in an accident in Switzerland, was honored before the game.

Highlights of Rufenach playing for the team were shown on the video board. His family was then presented with his framed No. 21 jersey and were given a standing ovation by the capacity crowd.

Rufenach, a rising prospect in the Detroit Red Wings system, was electrocuted after touching an overhead power line at a train station in Grindelwald, Switzerland. He had been backpacking across Europe with a friend.

Rufenach played in 54 games and scored 13 goals for Toledo last season. He started his pro career in Toledo in 2010-11.

No player will wear Rufenach's jersey number this season, and the players will wear a No. 21 sticker on their helmets. The team also has a framed jersey and photos in the locker room.

ROWE ROWS ON: Toledo forward Randy Rowe played in his 562nd ECHL game on Saturday.

Rowe ranks 18th in ECHL history with 222 career goals. Rowe, 32, was named to the All-Decade Team in 2010.

Rowe, who played for Toledo 2010-11, said he likes the veteran make-up of the team and the stability it provides.

“When I was younger, if I knew I had five or six guys that would be there all year and have my back, it made me a little more confident,” Rowe said. “It's all about being comfortable in your surroundings.”



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