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Free agents do their best to catch attention of Walleye

08/12/2014, 12:00am EDT
By MARK MONROE BLADE SPORTS WRITER
80 hope to impress Walleye

Goaltender Jordan Crudo of Tulsa, Okla., blocks a shot of Garrett Torres by Chicago at the Walleye’s free-agent camp as 80 players showed their skills at Huntington Center. Prospect paid $275 for a chance to impress the team. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

In a process that proved difficult, five eager prospects looking to play hockey professionally stood out among 80 hopefuls to Walleye coach Derek Lalonde this weekend.

The aspiring pros looked to get discovered at the Walleye's annual free agent camp Saturday and Sunday at Huntington Center. Two forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie performed well enough to receive an invitation to the team's main camp in October.

PHOTO GALLERY: Toledo Walleye free agent camp

“There were some very good resumes,” Lalonde said. “I was intrigued by some of the kids. It was not easy picking out just five.”

The team held its sixth annual free-agent tryout camp and the players participated in ice training, practices, and scrimmages led by Lalonde and assistant coach Dan Watson.

The prospects paid $275 for the chance to impress the Walleye coaching staff. The players had three ice sessions. Players were responsible for their own lodging and meals.

The camp has sold out quickly every year.

“The talent level was better than I anticipated,” Lalonde said. “The camp has a reputation for being one of the better free-agent camps around.”

A total of 25 players that have come to the free-agent camp since 2009 have been invited back to the team's main camp. A handful have suited up for the Walleye during the regular season.

Lalonde said the five singled out may not make the roster but will be on a very short list of players he will call if the team is shorthanded during the season.

“We have familiarity with these guys now. It's an easy call up if we need them,” he said.

The coaching staff has reached out to the five prospects, but will not publicly name the players yet. The Walleye's main camp opens Oct. 2 and the team may fill roster slots with other players from the free-agent camp.

Lalonde said the camp attracted players from all over the country as well as some Europeans. The players varied in age range and skill level. But most were between 21 and 23 years old. Lalonde said there was not a huge gap in talent.

Last year four forwards Nick DeMarchi, Dustin Parks, Nikita Poliakov, and Myles McCauley were invited to attend the main camp. Poliakov scored the lone goal in one of Toledo's preseason games at Kalamazoo last October. However, none saw playing time in the regular season.

Nick Vitucci, the team's director of hockey operations, has held the event every year since the Walleye's inaugural season in 2009-10. The former Walleye coach said this year's crop of talent was the best yet.

Vitucci said he was “discovered” at a similar camp. Vitucci, a former goaltender who played for 13 years, caught the attention of scouts at an International Hockey League camp in Peoria, Ill., in 1987. He was signed by the Carolina Thunderbirds the following year.

“They come in from all over the place,” Vitucci said. “We're looking for that diamond in the rough to play for our team the entire year. The ultimate goal would be to identify someone that can be a regular contributor.”

One prospect who attended the camp in 2012 eventually earned a spot on the roster. Sylvania native Tyler Pilmore played in eight games over the last two seasons with the Walleye. Pilmore, a forward who played in six games last season, has since retired.

One former camper went on to score a goal for the Walleye. Anthony Iaquinto, a right winger from Brighton, Mich., played in two games in 2010-11 for Toledo after being discovered at the camp.

The coaching staff discovered forward Anthony Perdicaro during the first season of the camp. Perdicaro played in 10 games for Toledo in 2009-10 and scored a goal. He has gone on to a productive five-year playing career in the ECHL and Central Hockey League.

CHARITY EVENT: The Walleye coaches and players will participate in the fourth annual Andrew Gulch Memorial Golf Outing to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association on Aug. 23 at Bedford Hills Golf Club.

Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. and a shotgun start is at 1:30 p.m.

The hockey-themed golf outing will feature current Walleye players, and former Toledo Storm/​Goaldiggers players who will join a foursome. These groups will compete in "Hockey Challenges." The event also includes an 18-hole scramble, family mini-golf event, dinner, and silent auction.

For more information go to facebook.com/​AndrewGulchMemorial.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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