By Brian Compton
Their leading scorer has just nine points. They have outscored their opponents by a 26-24 margin and are averaging less than three goals per game.
Yet, nine games into the season, the Toledo Storm finds itself in a first-place tie with the Trenton Titans in the North Division at 7-2-0, the Storm’s best start in four years. Coach Nick Vitucci’s club, which already has five one-goal victories, is doing just enough to skate away with two points on a consistent basis. Toledo’s other two victories were decided by two goals.
So, if someone told Vitucci prior to the start of the season that his club would only have 26 goals scored in nine games, yet sit atop the division, what would Toledo’s head coach say to that person?
“I’d take it in a heartbeat,” Vitucci said. “We’ve been in a lot of tight games and we’ve run into some pretty good goaltending and some stingy defense. There’s probably a couple of games where we were lucky to win, but there were probably a couple of games that we deserved to win, but didn’t. Overall, we’re happy with where we are right now.”
While Vitucci would surely like to see his squad create some breathing room once in a while, he also believes that winning in the fashion that Toledo has thus far this season will only bring his club closer together.
“I think it’s the sign of a good team,” Vitucci said. “Last year, we had a lot of come-from-behind victories and we have a lot of players back. I like the mix we have. Everybody’s getting along great. I love the chemistry of our hockey club.”
But now comes a true test for the Storm, which unfortunately must play without captain Jason Maleyko for the next month. Maleyko, who was placed on the 30-day injured reserve list this week after suffering a broken finger in Toledo’s third game of the season, is unquestionably one of the best defensemen in the ECHL. He is expected to miss another three to four weeks, according to Vitucci.
“Obviously, it hurts,” Vitucci said. “He’s our captain and one of our leaders back there. He just got hit into the boards awkwardly. But he’s been skating with us every day so he will be in excellent condition when he comes back.”
“It was just a fluke injury,” Maleyko said. “It was just a normal hit, but it kind of got caught going into the boards. It’s not too bad. I’m just trying to stay in shape right now.”