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Wood delighted by return to Trenton

Friday, 09.07.2007 / 10:00 AM / ECHL Report

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Scott Bertoli, who played with the Trenton Titans from the franchise’s inception in 1999 until this past season and its all-time leading scorer, is retiring.

Bertoli's retirement ends an era 

If the nickname change wasn’t enough to assure the changing of the guard in Trenton hockey, this definitely will.

NHL.com has learned that Scott Bertoli, who played with the Trenton Titans from the franchise’s inception in 1999 until this past season and its all-time leading scorer, is retiring.

Bertoli, 30, is coming off a career year with the Titans. Under first-year coach and former teammate Rick Kowalsky, Bertoli had 31 goals and 48 assists in 64 games. He added another five points in five postseason contests.

But life has changed for Bertoli, who was married this summer. The Princeton University graduate was recently named the Assistant Athletic Director at Princeton Day School, where he will once again coach the boy’s hockey team. In the end, No. 19 – which hopefully will be raised to the rafters of Sovereign Bank Arena this season – was provided with an opportunity to take the next step in his life.

“I kind of went back and forth all summer,” Bertoli said about playing this upcoming season. “I was passively looking for various job opportunities and was kind of reaching out to parents and friends in the area. This kind of just came up about a week and a half before my wedding, and it was perfect. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve enjoyed coaching here, and there’re a lot of great people here.”

Over the course of eight seasons in Trenton, Bertoli appeared in 507 regular-season games, and another 67 postseason contests. Dubbed “The Franchise” several years ago, Bertoli is Trenton’s all-time leading scorer with 182 goals and 344 assists. With his good friend Mike Haviland behind the bench, Bertoli and the Titans captured the franchise’s lone Kelly Cup championship in 2005. Kowalsky was the captain of that memorable squad. During that magical playoff run, Bertoli tallied 24 points in 20 games.

“Nothing even comes close to that,” Bertoli said. “Just the whole process … you always hear that the journey is greater than the destination. That whole process, going through those four rounds for those two and a half months with those guys was something I’ll never forget. I don’t think any one of those guys that were in that locker room will ever forget that. To finally win at the end was the icing on the cake and it was something you felt like needed to happen to top off a remarkable year.”

Perhaps that’s what made this decision so tough for Bertoli – the fact that he was personally coming off a remarkable year. In the end, though, the job at PDS outweighed the long bus rides through the night. After almost a month on the job, Bertoli is feeling better about his decision each day.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Bertoli said. “I’ve been here for two and a half weeks, and I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve met a lot of good people. I’ve been given a lot of responsibility, and I’ve kind of relished that. I like the fact that I’ve got a set schedule and I’ve got weekends and holidays off. I don’t have to travel on a bus from Toledo to Dayton in the middle of the night.”

Kowalsky, who now must find a veteran that fits Bertoli’s mold (good luck), was understanding of Bertoli’s decision. The pair discussed Bertoli’s future at the end of last season and kept in touch throughout the summer.

“Sometimes it’s tough to leave the game, but does he need to wait until he’s all banged up and has a career-ending injury, or a year when he scores 10 goals and the fans are on him?” said Kowalsky, who retired after winning the 2005 championship. “Why wait for that? I think he would have played or was seriously considering playing, but with the opportunity that presented itself, it was a good time for him to get out. I think he was ready to leave if the right situation away from hockey came up, and it did.”

So, with Trenton switching its nickname from Titans to Devils this season, is it fitting that Bertoli is leaving the game with the same sweater he wore when he first entered the ECHL in 1999?

“In a certain way, he’s irreplaceable,” Kowalsky said. “But we knew it was a possibility, and we will move on. It’s kind of ironic that he’s retiring as a Titan and never gets to be a Devil. Maybe for some fans, it will put some closure on the whole Titans thing. He was ‘Mr. Titan’, so I guess it is fitting. It’s a new chapter for hockey in Trenton.”

“At the end of the day, I would have been playing for the same people, the same fans, the same building,” Bertoli said. “It might have been a little weird the first couple of times putting the jersey on. But at the end of the day, it would have been for the same reasons.”

As for regrets about his career, Bertoli did come up with a legitimate one -- the fact that he was basically ignored by AHL squads for the majority of his career. In eight professional seasons, Bertoli made just 13 appearances at the Triple-A level. Nine of those during the 2005-06 season, when Haviland brought him to Norfolk just one year after the pair won an ECHL title.

“I would have liked more opportunities to play in the American League,” said Bertoli, who tallied five points in those nine games with Norfolk. “When Havie gave me that opportunity, I think, more than anything, I proved to myself that I could have played at that level for an extended period of time. For whatever reasons, it didn’t work out. But I think I could have played there and been successful there.”

But not a single person could argue with the success Bertoli experienced in New Jersey’s capital city. He was a leader on the ice and in the locker room. He was a captain. He was a voice of reason. He was loved by both his teammates and the fans. All the above reasons and more are why his No. 19 should never be worn in Trenton again.

“That’s something that they’ll talk about or we’ll talk about for the upcoming season,” Kowalsky said. “Obviously, you’d like to honor him because he’s been here since Day One. I’m sure that will be something that will be discussed.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the new ownership, but that stuff doesn’t really motivate me,” Bertoli said. “It’s nice, but I played for my teammates and the fans. I don’t know. Whatever they decide to do, if they decide to do anything at all, obviously I’ll be very grateful for that.”

-- Brian Compton

After two solid years in Trenton, Stephen Wood was ready to make more of a full-time move to the American Hockey League.

The 26-year-old defenseman, who won a championship with the Titans in his rookie season back in 2005, nearly returned to New Jersey’s capital city for a third season in 2006. But when the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen presented that elusive opportunity, Wood signed on with the hopes he’d land at the Triple-A level permanently.

Things didn’t quite work out in Peoria, as Wood notched two assists in only 16 games. He spent a large chunk of the season with the Alaska Aces (8-16-14 in 25 regular-season games) and also saw some time with AHL Bridgeport. In the end, Wood spent more time at baggage claim than he did on the power play. He admitted the constant movement affected his play.

“It’s hard to settle in and it’s hard to just create that consistency that a player wants,” Wood said. “I never really had that consistency with the way my contract was. I kind of took a risk on playing in Peoria, because if I do get sent down I’m heading to Alaska. It was a tough year. I know I can play at the AHL level. I think it affected my decision on where I wanted to be the next year. I don’t want to be jumping around the United States like I did this year.”

Not long after his season ended, Wood called a former teammate. He asked Trenton Devils head coach Rick Kowalsky if he needed a defenseman. Kowalsky was thrilled and quickly contacted his bosses up the New Jersey Turnpike. After a discussion with Kowalsky and Lowell Devils GM Chris Lamoriello, it was determined that not only will Wood bolster Trenton’s blue line, but the Cambridge, Mass., native will participate at Lowell’s training camp.

“I called him pretty early after the season,” Wood said of Kowalsky. “I talk to him every now and then just to say hello. I wanted to tell him that if I do play in the ECHL, I want to play in Trenton. He said; ‘That’s great. We want you here.’ We just kind of went from there and talked a few times over the summer.”

Now, should Wood get the chance to play at the AHL level, he can do so in front of family and friends. Wood’s biggest opportunity to play in the AHL came during the 2005-06 campaign, when he went 2-9-11 in 28 games for the Philadelphia Phantoms. His background was enough to convince Devils management to bring Wood on board. Kowalsky fully expects the solid two-way defenseman to see some time in the AHL this season.

“There’s interest from Lowell’s standpoint,” said Kowalsky, who captained that 2005 Trenton squad to the Kelly Cup. “He’s definitely going to get good look up there. It’s going to be up to him. There’s no question he’s going to be my top defenseman down here. If he plays well and takes advantage of his opportunities, he’s going to get a chance.”

Even if Wood does spend a large portion of this season in the ECHL, it’s still going to be an important year for him. When he is in Trenton, Wood will be asked not only to make a dent on the stat sheet, but in the locker room, too. It will be a new challenge, but one Kowalsky expects Wood will be able to handle.

“This could be a breakthrough year for him,” Kowalsky said. “I’m going to rely on him from a leadership standpoint because we’re going to be young. I don’t know if he’s ever been put in that position, but I think he will be this year.”

One has to believe that Wood learned some of the traits it takes to be a leader simply by playing the 2004-05 season alongside Kowalsky. But Kowalsky won’t be the only familiar face behind the bench in Trenton. Vince Williams, who was one of Wood’s defense partners during that magical season, is returning for a second season as Trenton’s assistant coach. Between the friends he’ll rejoin in Trenton and the chance to play in his home state, Wood has plenty of reasons to smile from ear to ear.

“Killer was almost a third coach as a captain and an older guy,” Wood said. “I think it’ll be a little weirder with ‘Vinny Dubs’ behind me. (But) I’m excited. I’m going to camp with Lowell and I grew up from Massachusetts, so to have a chance to play there at some point during the year, it’s exciting. I had two great years in Trenton, so it’ll be exciting to get back into the swing of things there.”

And when he does, he will bring with him that experience of winning a championship. Come playoff time, Kowalsky will be soothed by the fact that his top defenseman has been through the trenches before.

“That just gives you that experience in the room,” Kowalsky said. “You can’t put a price on that, especially with a young team.”

Around the ECHL -- Alaska signed veteran center Kimbi Daniels. … Rookie center Drew Davis has been invited to Victoria’s training camp. The Salmon Kings also signed rookie center Martin Thibeault and veteran forward Robin Gomez. … Pensacola has hired Chad Weprin to be the team’s athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach. … South Carolina signed rookie forward Bryan Esner. … Left wing Adam Huxler re-signed with the Stockton Thunder. He finished fourth in the league with 241 penalty minutes last season. … The Florida Everblades announced they will retire the numbers worn by Reggie Berg (10) and Tom Buckley (14) prior to the season opener against Mississippi on Oct. 19. … Speaking of Mississippi, the Sea Wolves inked rookie defenseman Pat Oliveto and forward Justin Cross. … Fresno agreed to terms with rookie left wings Hunter Tremblay and Daniel Torres. The latter is the younger brother of Edmonton Oilers power forward Raffi Torres. … Dayton signed rookie defenseman Tom Sawatske.

Brian Compton can be e-mailed at: bdcompton@hotmail.com.

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