Originally created 02/05/01

ECHL notebook



V2C=500 isn't some algebraic problem, just the formula of goaltending success in the East Coast Hockey League.

It's also a symbol the Greenville Grrrowl have come to love, one that has given the Augusta Lynx fits the past three years.

Grrrowl goalie Nick Vitucci added yet another milestone to his ever-expanding list of accomplishments as he played in his 500th professional game Friday night at Florida.

"It's certainly an honor to play pro hockey that long," said the 33-year-old Welland, Ontario, native, by phone from his hotel in Fort Myers, Fla., a few hours before taking the ice for Game No. 500, a 3-1 loss to the Everblades at TECO Arena.

"The thing I'm most proud of is that, as much as the league has grown over the years and the direction the league is going every year, I've been able to grow with it. It's definitely a nice number, and something I never envisioned for myself when I started my pro career."

To put the milestone into perspective for Lynx fans, consider this. Last season, Judd Lambert set a franchise record with 54 appearances, which was good for 77 percent of the team's 70 regular-season games. A goalie would have to keep that ridiculous pace for nine-plus seasons to match Vitucci's feat, which is highly unlikely, considering the average career of a minor-league netminder is around five years.

And Vitucci actually retired in 1999 after a tough first season with the Grrrowl, thinking his best days were behind him.

"Coming off that first year (1998-99) in Greenville, I had a bad year and basically thought it was over," Vitucci said. "I always took pride in giving the team a chance to win every night, and if I wasn't capable of doing that, I didn't want to play anymore. That's how I felt after the first year."

Vitucci began the 1999-2000 season behind the bench as an assistant to Grrrowl coach John Marks and was settling into retired life and life as a new father after his wife gave birth to the couple's first child, a son, in Dec., 1999.

But when the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers called up Scott Fankhouser from Greenville last season, Vitucci suited up as an emergency backup to Mike Tamburro, now with the Jackson Bandits.

After backing up for a couple of weeks, Vitucci ended up getting a start in a December game and delivered with a shutout victory.

At that point, he realized maybe there were a few more saves still left in that 5-foot-10, 180-pound body.

"Once I got the confidence back, I felt great again," Vitucci said.

In his 13 pro seasons, Vitucci has won four ECHL championships, all with different franchises. He holds virtually every league goaltending record and, through Jan. 29, his milestones include career wins (264) and games played (451).

After un-retiring last season, Vitucci finished 21-9-2 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 34 regular-season games. He then carried the Grrrowl to the Southern Conference finals, where they fell to Louisiana.

Entering his 500th game Friday, he was 13-8-1 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .902 save percentage this season.

Not bad for a guy who was cut from his first ECHL training camp with the Johnstown (Pa.) Chiefs in 1988 and was playing beer-league hockey, a 20-year-old whose dream of a career in pro hockey seemingly was dashed.

But two months later, his phone rang, and he was signed to a contract by the ECHL's Carolina Thunderbirds, a team based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

And all Vitucci did was lead the Thunderbirds to the Riley Cup as the ECHL's first champions, knocking off Erie in the semifinals and, fittingly, Johnstown in the finals. He later won championships with Greensboro (1990), Toledo (1994) and Charlotte (1996).

Above all the records and milestones, Vitucci also is one of the league's true gentlemen. That might be a hard sell in Augusta, given he wears the colors of the archenemy, but there's no denying Vitucci's impact in the ECHL.

"It's been a lot of fun, and Greenville has been great for me," Vitucci said. "The city is great, and the organization is first-class. I feel fortunate I've been able to be a part of this."

PARTING SHOTS:

Former Lynx center Russ Guzior is off to a great start with his new club.

Traded to the Arkansas RiverBlades last Monday for center Paul Vincent, Guzior scored a goal in each of his first two games with the Blades over the weekend. Playing mostly in a checking-line role, Guzior had just five goals in 40 games with the Lynx.

The 27-year-old Guzior also has been critical of the Lynx in the local newspaper.

"I'm leaving a place that was in shambles, and I couldn't be happier about being traded here," Guzior told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "To go from a last-place team to a second or third, you can't be mad. And I'm not."

He added: "They had me on the third line checking, and the only way I'd get a goal was if it was by myself. That was frustrating because you're trying to be a team player and saying maybe I'll play defensive for you. It just wasn't working out there. I didn't get any power-play time; they made me play hurt for eight or nine games. It just got to the point where I was fed up and I didn't care. This is kind of a rejuvenation for me."

Guzior was acquired in a trade with Mobile last summer for fan favorite Sam Ftorek by former Augusta coach Sam Ftorek. He played in pain for several weeks with a severe groin pull in November and early December.

"It's exciting to come into a team that wants to win," Guzior said after a 3-1 win Saturday over Baton Rouge. "Guys here are always harping on the other guys who aren't playing hard. In Augusta, it was like no big deal. It's a totally different mind-set to play with guys who are positive. Guys here want to win."

JERSEY INK:

One of the Lynx's biggest fans and corporate sponsors, local real estate agent Sam Roney, made it to the pages of The Times of Trenton, N.J., in Saturday's edition.

Roney e-mailed Times sportswriter Mark Simon, who covers the Trenton Titans, after he stated that the Titans "played down to the level of their competition," in a 2-1 shootout win over the Lynx on Jan. 24 in Trenton. In his weekly ECHL column in The Times, Simon addressed Roney's e-mail, as well as comments made by Lynx coach Jim Burton in Jan. 26 editions of The Chronicle.

The story can be accessed at The Times' Web site at www.nj.com/titans.

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or robm99@hotmail.com.