By Dan Saevig
The Toledo Blade
TOLEDO, Ohio – The Storm has officially been saved.
During a conference call Wednesday with the ECHL’s Board of Governor, Toledo majority owner Tim Gladieux formally withdrew his request to the league that the team suspend operations for the 2005-06 season, crediting the success of a month-long “Save the Storm” season-ticket drive that has resulted in 1,200 subscribers.
The total is 400 shy of the drive’s goal – a number team officials say would allow the club to break even financially – but greater than 2004-05’s total of 750.
The organization cited a dwindling season-ticket base when it announced plans to mothball the franchise on March 30.
“I think it would be very hard for us to come back to the community and not operate after what I feel was one of the most successful season-ticket campaigns in the history of the ECHL,” Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller (pictured) said. “Last year at this time, we were sitting on 500 season tickets. Today, we’re at 1,200. That gives us a lot of time until our first game in October to reach our goal and, hopefully, surpass it.”
The Storm has renewed 81 percent of its season ticket holders from last season. Miller is confident the number will increase, as will the involvement of others, now that the team has confirmed its intentions.
“We have a lot of people that wouldn’t commit to season tickets,” Miller said. “They weren’t sure the team was going to operate and they wouldn’t put their money down. I believe we will get a windfall of season tickets.” While the front office works to build its base of support, Storm coach Nick Vitucci can focus on rebuilding a club that finished with a record of 41-26-5, good for fourth place in the North Division. Toledo lost its opening round playoff series to Reading, three games to one.
“You don’t even know how happy I am that it’s over,” said Vitucci, who has spent much of the past few weeks calling season-ticket-holders, encouraging them to renew. “It’s been tough calling agents until the last couple of days when I saw the writing on the wall.”
The coach – who will need a new contract to replace the one that expires June 30 – said he would like to have as many as 12 players return. Two that won’t are forward Steve Slonina, who had 19 points in 51 games, and defenseman Doug Andress, who totaled 14 points in 44 starts. They are the future considerations from the March 15 deal that saw winger Mike James come to Toledo from Johnstown.
Vitucci, the ECHL’s reigning coach of the year, is hoping to have the nucleus of his holdovers signed by July 1.
“The better players are going to wait to see what’s out there,” Vitucci said. “I’ve always said, the guy I sign in May is not the guy I want to play for me in October.”