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Backchecking: Nick Vitucci

Nick Vitucci has been head coach of the ECHL's Toledo Walleye since the 2009-10 season. (Photo courtesy the Toledo Walleye)

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Nick Vitucci has been head coach of the ECHL's Toledo Walleye since the 2009-10 season. (Photo courtesy the Toledo Walleye)

By Brian Liu

There have only been 10 NHL goaltenders to score a goal, making it one of the rarest feats in sports. To hit an open net from 200 feet away, everything has to go just right – the opposition net has to be vacated in favor of an extra attacker, the goalie needs time to shoot, sublime accuracy and the temerity to tempt fate (and the gods of icing).

Nick Vitucci was blessed with none of those circumstances when he scored his own goalie goal, but then again, Vitucci’s goal is unique: He is the only goaltender in a professional league to have scored on his counterpart.
During a 1996 ECHL game between the Charlotte Checkers and Louisville RiverFrogs, the Checkers were hemmed in their own end when Vitucci cleared the puck down ice. RiverFrogs goalie Alain Morissette skated to his faceoff dot to play the puck, but as he reached it, saw a Checkers player coming in. Morissette turned to shoot the puck around his net, but he missed, scoring on his empty net. “I was standing 200 feet away with my stick in the air,” Vitucci said, “because I knew it was mine.”

Vitucci started playing hockey in grade school and quickly knew he wanted to do it for a career. He played goalie because he loved the masks – it didn’t hurt that Vitucci’s favorite players were Detroit Red Wings goalie Andy Brown, who he had met at a nearby racing track, and Maple Leafs stopper Mike Palmateer. A diehard Leafs fan, Vitucci made it all the way to the Ontario League in 1985 with Palmateer’s former team, the Toronto Marlboros, but he didn’t shine. In two years in the OHL, Vitucci posted goals-against averages of 5.39 and 5.20.

Despite never making it in the NHL past training camp, he toiled for 12 years in the minors, with stops in the American League, International League and even the now-defunct Roller Hockey International. However, Vitucci is probably best known for his career in the ECHL, having been involved with the league every year since its inception.

When he retired in 2001, Vitucci held most ECHL goaltending records, along with a record five Kelly Cup titles (one as coach) and two finals MVPs. When the league unveiled its Hall of Fame in 2008, the goalie joined league founder Henry Brabham, the ECHL’s first commissioner, Patrick Kelly and defenseman Chris Valicevic as part of the inaugural class.

Vitucci is now the coach of the ECHL's Toledo Walleye. The 44-year-old still has a passion for the game, as evidenced by his basement, a veritable shrine to hockey. The walls are covered in pucks, while mountains of old hockey equipment, some in its original packaging, fill the room. “I probably have about 4,000 pucks,” he said. “I’ve got equipment dating back to the ’50s. It’s neat seeing people come down for the first time and go, ‘Oh my god, I had that when I was a kid.’ ”

If it has anything to do with hockey, it belongs in Vitucci’s basement – hockey board games, action figures, or collectibles. Goalie masks, his first hockey love, are especially prominent among the display. For a hockey-crazed Canadian from Welland, Ont., it’s been a magical career.

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“If I had to re-script all over and someone said you could do the exact same thing, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I exceeded my natural ability for sure and I was fortunate to have a job that was a game I loved for 13 years.”

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