A perfect storm turned into the perfect fit for Walleye forward Nino Musitelli.
After the NHL lockout ended in January, Toledo lost a host of players to promotions to the American Hockey League. As Walleye coach Nick Vitucci searched for replacements, Musitelli lost his spot with his team in the Central Hockey League.
Musitelli had played with Toledo defenseman Cody Lampl in junior hockey. Lampl suggested to Vitucci that Musitelli may be a good fit with the Walleye.
Vitucci signed Musitelli on Jan. 15.
“It was perfect,” Musitelli said. “It's a fresh start for me. This team and the coaching staff is great. I am a great fit here. It's a good place for me.”
The connection paid immediate dividends when Musitelli scored a goal and had an assist in his first game with Toledo to help the Walleye snap a four-game losing streak on Jan. 18. Musitelli also scored the game-winning goal the next night against Evansville.
Musitelli, a 27-year-old native of Macomb, Mich., said he wanted to make a good initial impression.
“For me to make a statement, I have to score goals or get assists,” Musitelli said. “Personally I am the type of player that wants to get points in the most unselfish way. I'm a smaller player [5-foot-8, 180 pounds], so I have to go out and play hard every shift.”
Musitelli had a goal and two assists in Toledo's 6-3 win over Fort Wayne at the Huntington Center on Sunday. The victory allowed the team to earn six out of eight points during a stretch of four games in five days.
Toledo has collected at least one point in 12 of its last 14 games and is 10-2-2 over that span. The Walleye (29-18-6) moved to within four points of first-place Cincinnati in the ECHL North Division.
“That was a huge two points for us, especially after the overtime losses we had on Friday and Saturday,” Musitelli said.
His goal came with 16:51 left and put Toledo up 3-2.
“It was great to see Nino step up,” Vitucci said.
Musitelli has collected 11 points, including eight assists, in his 14 games with the Walleye.
“Anytime you can contribute to team success, it's always a good feeling,” he said.
Musitelli said playing in front of family and friends has been an added bonus.
“It's only about [a two-hour] drive to come down here,” Musitelli said. “I have such a big and supportive family. So it helps so much.”
After playing for a major midget team in Detroit, Musitelli played four years at Miami University. He scored 21 goals and had 37 assists in 133 games with the RedHawks.
He turned professional and played his first season with the Dayton Bombers of the ECHL. He led Dayton in scoring in 2008-09 with 50 points in 62 games. Musitelli played for a team in Allen, Texas in the CHL for the next two seasons.
He had 70 points in 59 games last season, including 34 goals, for Allen.
“I'm getting paid to do something I love and that's a good feeling,” Musitelli said.
He believes the Walleye, who have three home games this weekend, have all the weapons to make a run at a championship.
“I've played on a lot of teams and to be successful you have to have close guys on and off the ice,” Musitelli said. “This team has no outcasts. We are always together and that translates into the game. It makes you want to play for each other. Everyone is on the same page and everyone wants to win.”