WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Typically at this time of year, hockey takes up a majority of Mike Vellucci’s day.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ head coach goes to the rink to structure and execute a practice, he has meetings with players and his staff, and then once he goes home, he turns on his television or laptop to find hockey games to watch until he calls it a night.
Of course, with both the National Hockey League and American Hockey League seasons suspended for the time being, there aren’t any practices to organize or any games to watch.
Removed from his routine in such sudden fashion, Vellucci spent a handful of days adrift until his got back to doing what he does best: coaching.
“After day three or four, I started asking myself, ‘What video can I do?’” Vellucci said. “So I’ve been watching a lot of game video. I put together all of our power-play goals from this season. I downloaded some old NHL games too, watching those and clipping things that we like or things that we can do.”
Vellucci added that he’s in constant communication with his two assistant coaches, J.D. Forrest and Jarrod Skalde, and the group has been reviewing these clips for potential tweaks and additions to the Penguins’ system in the future.
Furthermore, it hasn’t just been his fellow coaches that he’s been in contact with. Part of a coach’s job is managing his players’ morale and personalities throughout a season, and the current stoppage hasn’t changed that either.
Back on Thursday, Mar. 12, Vellucci walked into the locker room and could tell something was off. The team was coming off of a big overtime win at Lehigh Valley, but that was also the night that the NBA suspended its season. The NHL and AHL were expected to follow suit with an announcement soon, and Vellucci said the looming uncertainty had cast a shadow in the room.
“You could see it on everyone’s faces,” he remembered. Recognizing the distraction, Vellucci and the team’s leadership corps decided to cancel their practice.
Later that same day, hockey was put on hold. But Vellucci has continued to communicate with his players just like he did that Thursday morning. Except now, he does it with phone calls and texts instead of in his office.
“I haven’t talked to them about hockey, really. That’s not on their minds,” Vellucci said. “They’re concerned with what’s going on in the world, keeping their families safe. So when I talk to them, we’re talking more about life.”
And life has significantly changed for everyone, not just those in the sports industry. Vellucci, who is back home in Detroit with his wife and son, said that their health and safety is at the forefront of his mind on a daily basis. However, he still can’t help but reflect on how drastically his situation has changed since last year, when he was gearing up for what became a championship-winning run in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“Last year, I think our last game was June 9,” he said. “This year, everything came to a screeching halt in March, and we don’t know what’s next. I’ve been coaching for 27 years, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Even in the unprecedented circumstances that this pandemic has presented, Vellucci remains hard at work, ensuring that he’ll be ultra-prepared for whenever the puck drops again.