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Published: Sunday, 8/11/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Free-agent camp grows for Walleye

Diamonds in rough get chance to shine

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Walleye defenseman Phil Oreskovic, left, coaches Team Blue during the team's annual free-agent camp. A total of 80 hopefuls are working out for the squad. Walleye defenseman Phil Oreskovic, left, coaches Team Blue during the team's annual free-agent camp. A total of 80 hopefuls are working out for the squad.
BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge

Matt Trautlein knows he's a long shot to make the Toledo Walleye roster but the young defenseman still hopes to open some eyes at the team's annual free-agent camp.

Trautlein of Waterville is among 80 hopefuls participating in the ECHL team's two-day tryout session this weekend. This is the fifth year the team has hosted the free-agent camp at the Huntington Center.

Trautlein, a 2012 graduate of Anthony Wayne High School, also attended the camp last summer.

“The main goal is to get to noticed and open up some opportunities,” Trautlein said. “I want people to see what I can do.”

The players participate in on ice training, practices, and scrimmages led by Walleye coach Nick Vitucci.

“We created this to find a diamond in the rough,” Vitucci said. “We try to provide them with professional-style practices and games.”

One of those hopefuls who attended the camp last August eventually earned a spot on the Walleye roster. Sylvania native Tyler Pilmore made his pro debut in Toledo and skated in two games for the Walleye last season. He signed a one-year contract to play for his hometown team again this season.

“I knew nothing about him until this time last year when he came to our free-agent camp,” Vitucci said. “We ended up inviting him back to our main camp. He went back to college and then we got him right at the end of last year.”

Trautlein is one of 13 players at this year's camp that also are from the Toledo area.

“I've been getting advice from former coaches that say I have potential to get to next level and this is an opportunity to get looked at,” he said.

Matt Trautlein, right, of Waterville, battles Shane Shiring of Pittsburgh at the Walleye's free-agent camp. Trautlein played at Anthony Wayne High School. Matt Trautlein, right, of Waterville, battles Shane Shiring of Pittsburgh at the Walleye's free-agent camp. Trautlein played at Anthony Wayne High School.
BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge

The camp is open to anyone who pays the fee on a first come, first serve basis. The campers are from all other the U.S. and other countries including Canada, Hungary, Slovakia, and Sweden.

Some are students like Trautlein, who attends Owens Community College and hopes to play hockey at Ohio State or Bowling Green. Other professions of the campers include an Internist, a graphic designer, and a hockey instructor.

A total of 21 players that came to the free agent camp since 2009 have been invited back to the team's main camp in October.

Vitucci, a former goaltender who played for 13 years, said he was “discovered” in a similar situation. Vitucci said he was noticed at an International Hockey League camp in Peoria, Ill. in 1987. He was signed by the Carolina Thunderbirds of the ECHL the following year and went on to a hall of fame career.

“It's how I go my start in pro hockey. So it's something I haven't swayed from,” he said.

Trautlein said he was able to garner contacts from teams in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York last year. He said he absorbed some valuable tips from the Walleye coaches. He added Vitucci emailed him a few weeks after the camp, offering advice.

“He told me what my weak points and strong points were,” Trautlein said. “He told me to be more of an aggressive hitter and to not be so afraid of handling the puck. I've worked on it.”

The camp has proven to be so popular that Vitucci expanded it from 60 participants to 80. The players are now split into four teams of 20.

“It's gotten bigger and bigger every year,” he said.

CHARITY EVENT: The Walleye coaches and players will participate in the third annual Andrew Gulch Memorial Golf Outing to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association on Aug. 24 at Bedford Hills Golf Club. Registration begins at 11 a.m. and a shotgun start is at 1 p.m.

The hockey-themed golf outing will feature current Walleye players, and former Toledo Storm and Goaldiggers players that will join a foursome. The groups will compete in "hockey challenges."

Vitucci, captain Kyle Rogers, and Pilmore are scheduled to participate.

“Anytime we can support a cause in this city, we want to do that,” Vitucci said. “With the Gulch tournament, the players and coaches will be the celebrities and we will play four hours of golf. It's a great thing to be associated with.”

For more information go to 2.mda.org/agm2013.

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



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