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Toledo Walleye, Red Wings’ ECHL affiliate, makes a coaching change

The Toledo Blade's Rachel Lenzi recently revealed that the Red Wings' ECHL affiliate, the Toledo Walleye, is considering ending its status as having dual affiliations with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks because the lack of roster continuity (the Wings and Hawks can assign as many as 6 players from their respective AHL affiliates to Toledo) have absolutely wreaked havoc upon the team's ability to ice any sort of consistent roster.

The Walleye sit at the very bottom of the ECHL's Eastern Conference with a 16-31-3-and-1 record, and their 36 points are six better than the bottom-feeding Las Vegas Wranglers.

Between the Red Wings, Grand Rapids Griffins, Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs' respective injury issues, the team has all but literally needed to install a revolving door outside its locker room, but when you're 16-and-35, heads are going to roll. As a result, the following press release came as no surprise:

Nick Vitucci steps down as Walleye head coach

Toledo Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci is stepping down from the position he has held for almost five years. He has given his resignation, which is effective immediately, to team President and General Manager Joe Napoli.

“I have enjoyed my time coaching the Walleye,” Vitucci said. “It has been extremely fulfilling to start a new team and to mentor young hockey players who have a passion for the game, but I feel that it’s time for some new leadership and a new approach. This will always be a highlight in my career.”

“Nick has been a valuable team builder, mentor and colleague,” Napoli said. “I have been honored to work with him as head coach in developing the Toledo Walleye. But he’s ready to try other options and I – we – support him in his decision. Nick’s decision to make this move now, gives us the appropriate window to find a coaching replacement in time for recruiting and preparing for next season. I am happy to say that he will remain with the Walleye organization. His future role, which is yet to be finalized, will capitalize on his nearly 25 years of professional hockey experience.”

Toledo Walleye Assistant Coach Dan Watson, will assume the coaching position for the remainder of the season. He has been with the Toledo Walleye since its inception.

(UPDATE: Quotes from Tuesday afternoon's press conference)

  • Nick Vitucci, on decision to step down as head coach: We’ve (Joe Napoli) been talking about it for the past couple of weeks. We (the team) have been struggling to find the right path. The organization deserves more than what we’ve given them. I believe in this organization and what it stands for and if stepping down is the best thing, that’s what I want to do.
  • Vitucci, on Dan Watson taking over as head coach: Dan Watson is more than prepared to lead the team. Until my new role is totally defined, I will do whatever I can do to help Dan succeed.
  • Vitucci, on his future: I am really excited about what lies ahead. When I first came to this decision, I had a heavy heart.  But as the days went by my heart has become lighter and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming challenges.
  • Dan Watson, on his coaching philosophy: I have a little bit different philosophy. Every coach who takes the lead comes in with a little different philosophy. I come from the defensive side. I want a strong defensive team that also plays fast.

The Toledo Blade also posted a video of Vitucci's comments:

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Primis's avatar

The problem is not dual-affiliation.  Other dual-affiliation teams have succeeded in the ECHL just fine recently.  The Kalamazoo Wings currently share dual affiliation with Vancouver and St. Louis, and are leading Toledo’s division in fact.  IIRC the Florida Everblades won a Kelly Cup with dual affiliation, and South Carolina’s Kelly Cup Final run against Alaska a couple years ago was dual affiliation as well.

The problem is Vitucci’s in-game coaching was suspect, and he’s been a terrible “recruiter”, which is basically what you do to land the non-affiliated players in minor pro.  He never has put together a very good team.

Since coming back from hiatus in 2009, Toledo has been a first round exit twice, has missed the playoff outright twice, and are the worst team by a landslide currently in the Eastern Conference and going to miss the playoffs yet again, with only 36 pts in 51 games.  The only team in the ECHL worse is Las Vegas, which has had distractions to the point where the literally have lost their hone venue and were searching for a new one.

The change was overdue.  Toledo has not been a successful stepping stone for either DET or CHI players, and also has not been a “winning program”.

Posted by Primis on 02/25/14 at 09:26 PM ET

SYF's avatar

The only team in the ECHL worse is Las Vegas, which has had distractions to the point where the literally have lost their hone venue and were searching for a new one.

Posted by Primis on 02/25/14 at 08:26 PM ET

And would you believe it:  LV’s in the playoffs because the San Francisco Bulls are no longer playing?

I think Ryan Mougenel who has had to shuffle his lineup like a card dealer and make the best of a continuously rotating lineup and STILL managed to get the team into the Kelly Cup Finals would be a good look-see.

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 02/26/14 at 12:43 PM ET

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