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Published: Tuesday, 4/1/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Toledo ends affiliation with Chicago Blackhawks

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Walleye will end their affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks, a partnership Toledo has had with the NHL organization since 2009.

The announcement, which was made on Tuesday, means the Walleye will no longer exchange players with Chicago’s American Hockey League team, the Rockford IceHogs.

Toledo, which competes at the Double-A level of professional hockey in the ECHL, has served as a developmental team for Chicago's prospects.

The Walleye will remain an ECHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, an association that has existed for decades. The team will continue to exchange players with the Red Wings' AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. Toledo's ECHL team was named the Storm when the organizations first aligned in 1991.

Toledo's dual affiliations with the two NHL teams have been in place since the Walleye's inaugural season in 2009-10.

The arrangement has had a detrimental affect on Toledo’s roster this season as repeated callups proved to be difficult to overcome and the team failed to qualify for the playoffs.

“We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship these past five years with the Blackhawks,” said Joe Napoli, the Walleye's president and general manager.

The affiliation ends at the completion of this season.

The Indianapolis Fuel will become the ECHL affiliate of the Blackhawks next season. Indianapolis is the 23rd franchise to join the ECHL and will begin play in October.

“With Indianapolis joining the ECHL next season, their proximity to Chicago is an obvious affiliation fit,” Napoli said.

Mark Bernard, the Blackhawks' director of hockey administration, said the Walleye provided “a great setting to learn the professional game” for the team's prospects.

Toledo currently has one Blackhawks' player on its roster, forward Max Shalunov. There are two Red Wings' prospects on the teams roster.

Napoli told The Blade in February the team was unsure of the future of the agreement with the Blackhawks.

“The dual affiliation has pluses and its minuses, but if you’re looking at it from a reflective, unvarnished perspective, there are more minuses than pluses,” he said. “When you’re winning, you see the pluses much more clearly. When you’re losing, the minuses are just that much more apparent.”

Nick Vitucci, the team's director of hockey operations, said the team has had an abnormally high number of player transactions with its affiliates this season. Vitucci resigned as coach in February.

The inconsistency with personnel hurt the team's ability to create cohesion, officials said.

There are seven players from Chicago's farm system that appeared in a Walleye uniform this season. Five remain called up to Rockford. Forwards David Gilbert, Philippe Lefebvre, Pat Mullane, along with defensemen Joe Gleason, and Bobby Shea are with the IceHogs.

Gilbert is still Toledo's leading scorer with 35 points, including a team-high 17 goals, in 44 games.

Two other players in Chicago's system, goalie Mac Carruth and forward Byron Froese, are playing with other ECHL teams. Carruth is with the Florida Everblades and Froese is with the Cincinnati Cyclones.

Over the first three seasons, the Blackhawks sent 25 players to the Walleye.

Goalie Carter Hutton, a former Chicago prospect who played in 14 games with the Walleye in 2011-12, is now in the NHL with the Nashville Predators.

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



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