By Leif Skodnick
Special To ECHL.com
Toledo Storm head coach Nick Vitucci knows how important a goaltender can be to a team in the ECHL. After all, Vitucci spent 13 seasons between the pipes in the ECHL playing for Carolina, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Hampton Roads, Toledo, Charlotte and Greenville and setting career records in virtually every important category as well as backstopping four teams to ECHL Championships.
So this past off-season, Vitucci signed former Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Scott Fankhouser to a contract, hoping he would lead the Storm back to the top of the standings.
But the signing of one solid goaltender in Fankhouser led to Vitucci having one of the stronger goaltending tandems in the ECHL.
When the Detroit Red Wings were holding their rookie camp and were looking for a place for goaltending prospect Logan Koopmans to play, Toledo immediately came to mind.
“When we were in Traverse City [Michigan] for the Red Wings prospect tournament this year, Ken Holland asked me who my other goaltender was,” said Vitucci. “When I told him it was Fankhouser, he was excited to put Logan with a guy like Scott, who is such a hard worker on and off the ice. Ken knew that Logan would be able to learn from that experience and it was a great situation for him in Detroit’s mindset.”
Recalled to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League on Saturday, Koopmans, who had just finished his junior career with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, was selected in the fifth round (166th overall) by Detroit in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
Playing in Toledo is giving Koopmans, who is under contract to the Red Wings, the chance to learn the professional game from a coach and a veteran goaltender that between them have 20 seasons of professional hockey experience.
“It’s nice because there’s always somebody there to tell you what to work on. When Nick says something, it’s something that you listen to,” said Koopmans, who was the goaltender of record for all of Lethbridge’s 27 wins in 2003-04. “He and Scottie, they give me some pointers. It’s great having Scottie here, when he gives me something [to think about] I listen.“
Having played, won, and lost more ECHL games than any other goaltender, Vitucci tries to give Koopmans constructive advice on his game.
“It’s a different style and technique from when I played, as far as that goes,” says Vitucci, who won two Kelly Cups and two Riley Cups as a player. “He’s very athletic and positions himself well for the first shot, and he has the athleticism to recover for rebounds. I like his game as far as stopping the puck. With regards to handling the puck, he could improve his decision making, but that is something that comes with experience.”
As well as having two outstanding goaltenders to mentor him, Koopmans is also getting the unique experience of playing in the Toledo Sports Arena where rowdy fans are extremely close to the game.
“It’s different. It’s old-time hockey. It’s easy to get up for games because the fans are right there and it’s loud,” said Koopmans of the arena where fans sit on old-style wooden seats while badgering on-ice officials with bullhorns. “It’s a big advantage on our part to know we have the fans behind us.
“It’s definitely a change, but I’m happy to be a professional,” said the 21-year-old rookie. “It’s a different game, you can’t rely on just talent, and you have to be ready to go every night.”
The other aspect to the Toledo Sports Arena is smaller ice surface than can produce wild bounces and where play progresses at a faster speed.
“You have to be on your toes. You always have to be ready and expect everything,” said Koopmans of the 180-foot by 80-foot Toledo Sports Arena rink. “The shots you get are higher quality, and because everything is closer, a shot from the blue line comes like a shot from the slot.”
So far, Vitucci is pleased with the young goaltenders’ progress.
“He’s done a great job. We brought in a seasoned veteran like Fankhouser with the intention of him being the number one guy, but as the season has progressed and Logan has played some games, we feel that we can go with either one on any given night,” said Vitucci, who has guided the Storm into the hunt for a Kelly Cup Playoff berth in the competitive Northern Division of the National Conference. “There have been spurts where Logan has put three or four good games together and we’ve been able to come back with Fankie for three or four. It’s a good healthy relationship, they’re battling for the net but they get along well off the ice.”
Koopmans is keeping his personal goals simple.
“I’m just trying to have a good season and be consistent,” said Koopmans. “Our team goal is to reach the playoffs, I just want to get us to the playoffs and go a little ways.”
Vitucci, who is looking to win his second Kelly Cup as a coach, sees a bright future for Koopmans.
“I feel that he can get to the NHL and I know that’s why he was signed,” said Vitucci, who was an assistant coach with Greenville when it won the Kelly Cup in 2002. “It’s why [Detroit goalie coach] Jim Bedard has been down with us. I know Koopmans is high on the Red Wings depth chart in that respect.”