Coaching is in Mike Vellucci’s blood.
After spending three years serving as Carolina’s assistant general manager, Vellucci was named Charlotte’s head coach last summer. In his introductory press conference he joked about almost instantly slipping back into coaching mode during a quick stint on the Charlotte bench.
“I filled in for two games [as an assistant coach with the Checkers in 2016-17] and I was on the bench and I said that I wasn’t going to say anything for the first period,” said Vellucci. “But five minutes into it I barked at the ref a little bit and felt pretty good.”
It should come as no surprise then that the full-time transition back into coaching went pretty smoothly for Vellucci.
“It was like riding a bike,” he said. “When you coach for 25 years, no matter if you take off a day or 10 years, there was nothing that changed. I enjoyed it.”
Vellucci helmed the Plymouth Whalers for 14 years, turning them into a powerhouse that made the playoffs in each of his seasons as head coach. He made it clear he wanted to keep that perfect run going with his first coaching job in the pros and pushed the Checkers to make that a reality.
“I really appreciated the way Mike handled everything,” said forward Zack Stortini. “He’s such a great coach, a great person. Guys love playing for him. He got the most out of us, he squeezed every last drop he could out of everybody.”
When Vellucci took the coaching job in Charlotte, he brought a strong familiarity with him, not just of the personnel on the ice – many of whom he had a hand in drafting, but in the overarching goal of an AHL team. Vellucci valued the development side and the winning side, something evidenced by the team’s success in both aspects.
“He’s been awesome,” said team captain Patrick Brown. “The communication has been great. He ran great practices. He was able to make adjustments during the game when we needed to and that’s great to see out of a coach. It was really great to have him.”
For Vellucci, the thrill of getting back behind the bench was immeasurable.
“I loved it,” he said. “I had a lot of fun this year. The guys were great, they listened. We had a great relationship from coach to players. We worked well together. The fans were great, the atmosphere was awesome, the front office was great to work with, Michael Kahn is an outstanding owner and he gives the players everything they need to accomplish what their goals were. It was a great year and it’s been very fulfilling.”
Not wanting a distraction from his team’s Calder Cup run, Vellucci – who has another year left on his contract – had yet to have any conversations about what the future holds regarding Carolina’s front-office shuffle. But there was one definitive takeaway from his successful first season in Charlotte.
“I am now a coach.”