Vitucci: Walleye will be strong on offenseWritten by Toledo Free Press Staff Writers | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Holly Tuey
Hockey season is right around the corner and for Toledo Walleye fans that means a season of cheering for both new and familiar faces at the Huntington Center.
Practices started for the team Oct. 7, and head coach Nick Vitucci said the team is looking forward to the weeks ahead.
“We’re obviously very excited,” Vitucci said. “Last year was a fun year for us, getting in the playoffs. Although we lost to Cincinnati in the first round, it was an exciting round. We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart and it’s something we want to build on this coming year.”
Vitucci said the first goal for the team is to get everyone comfortable and used to the Walleye approach. With half the players new to the roster, which Vitucci said is typical, the chemistry of the team may call for some initial adjustment.
“The challenge is to get everybody as a unit of one rather than individually as 20,” Vitucci said. “That comes from finding the right players, not just talent-wise, but attitude-wise and personality-wise.”
Two of those new faces are not new to the Toledo area. Forwards Tyler Pilmore and Alden Hirschfeld are both from Sylvania. Pilmore played the last couple games of last season with the Walleye. Vitucci said he had attended the team’s free agent camp the previous year and was invited back.
“He’s just a fantastic kid,” Vitucci said. “He works his tail off every day, and he’ll bring a lot of speed and a great work ethic to our lineup.”
Hirschfeld played his first year professionally last year, split between the American Hockey League and the ECHL. Vitucci said he’s a highly skilled player with a great work ethic.
“[He’s] another really good team person that we’re looking to add in our lineup and play in all key situations,” Vitucci said.
The coach said he’s a little concerned about defense for the coming season. The Walleye lost strong player Wes O’Neill to retirement and Phil Oreskovic will miss the first few weeks of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
“There’s a question of how solid we’re going to be on that line, but we’re trying to work frantically to fix that and get the proper personnel in here,” he said.
On the other hand, Vitucci said he is very enthusiastic about the entire forward unit this season.
“I think it brings a lot of speed, a lot of skill, experience, but youthful enthusiasm, as well,” he said.
The first season exhibition game is Oct. 12. Coach Vitucci said the coaching staff uses preseason games to observe the players they still want to evaluate outside of practice.
Captains Kyle Rogers and Phil Oreskovic will be among the players to keep an eye on, as well as fan favorite Cody Lampl, Vitucci said. Fans can look forward to seeing several other returning players as well as some new faces.
“A lot [of players] fans won’t be familiar with, but they’ll get familiar with in a hurry,” Vitucci said.
Vitucci said the Walleye are fortunate to have a first-class organization and facility in Toledo, as well as support from the community.
“We have great fan support,” he said. “We’re looking forward to putting a product on the ice that they can be proud of.”
The home opener is Oct. 26 against the Wheeling Nailers. Fans can come early for the FinFest Pregame Party, which will feature a live band and a pep talk from Vitucci, or stay for a postgame party with the players.
Tags: American Hockey League, Captains Kyle Rogers and Phil Oreskovic, Cincinnati, Coach Nick Vituccie, Cody Lampl, echl, FinFest Pregame Party, Forwards Tyler Pilmore and Alden Hirschfeld, Huntington Center, Phil Oreskovic, Sylvania, Walleye, Wes O'Neill, Wheeling Nailers