The Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program brought high-level youth hockey to central Ohio 15 years ago. Coming off a season which saw numerous on-ice milestones for alums, BlueJackets.com is taking a look at the success of the program this week with a series of stories about where the program has been and where it's going.
The coaching bug has clearly taken a bite out of Trent Vogelhuber.
The first central Ohio native to be chosen in the NHL draft and the first member of the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets to embark upon a pro career, he saw his playing career come to an end last fall when he accepted a job as assistant coach for the AHL's Cleveland Monsters.
And Sunday, rather than take the ice with his former teammates during the AAA program's alumni game, Vogelhuber was behind the bench for the annual showcase event.
That might have had as much to do with the balky knee that severely hindered his pro career as wanting to strike his now-familiar pose behind the bench, but no one can deny the Dublin native has taken to coaching like a duck to water.
He immediately jumped in to fill a spot when hired last October and served on the staff of John Madden as the Blue Jackets' top farm team made it to the second round of the AHL playoffs. And he'll return behind the Cleveland bench this year on the staff of new Monsters head man Mike Eaves.
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"It was unexpected, so it took me a little bit of time to grasp that and accept the new role, but I really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would," the 31-year-old Vogelhuber said of his first year behind the bench. "I don't feel like I'm retired because I'm still around the group and around the locker room every day and I'm on the ice.
"I am still able to be competitive in trying to get a team to win. I'm still a part of that so it's good, and I really enjoyed that more than I thought I would even though I'm not playing."
And, as he added, the body feels way better as well. While knee surgeries were unfortunately a constant part of his playing career, Vogelhuber had a long, distinguished run in the sport from the time he was a member of the first group of AAA Blue Jackets when the program was established in 2004.
From there, he went on to play at the NAHL and USHL levels in juniors, and in 2007, he was the first central Ohio native to be chosen in the NHL draft when the Blue Jackets chose him in the seventh round of the 2007 event.
He went on to play college hockey at Miami (Ohio), skating on the 2009 team that made it all the way to the NCAA championship game. After a four-year career with the RedHawks, Vogelhuber spent seven years playing hockey at the AHL level, five of those in the Blue Jackets organization including 2016 when the Monsters won the Calder Cup.
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He had rejoined the Monsters as a player last fall but didn't see action, and when the team needed an in-season replacement for assistant coach Carey Krug, it was only natural for Vogelhuber to make the move.
With a degree from Miami, he wasn't sure if staying in hockey would be for him upon retirement, but it's fair to say things worked out.
"It was just a great opportunity to be a part of the hometown organization that has so many great people in it that I've come to know over the course of my career," Vogelhuber said. "It was nice. There was a lot of familiar faces not only in the dressing room but in the front office and in the coaching room. Once I sat down and thought about it and accepted not playing anymore, it was a no-brainer."
If there's one lesson Vogelhuber, a grinder as a player who got by on hard work and effort as well as the occasional ability to score a goal, has learned thus far in his new role behind the bench instead of on it, it's the importance of projecting an air of leadership.
"I'd say the biggest thing is you have to be confident and very sure of yourself because everyone else follows suit," he said. "Players have a lot of questions, and you really need to be confident in yourself that you know what you're talking about. You might doubt yourself here and there, but if you're confident in it, at least they follow suit and everybody is on the same page."
Stepping in to coach at the AHL level is a bit of a tricky balancing act. Some of the players Vogelhuber was coaching a year ago were older than he was, yet many of the team's top young prospects were also on the roster and learning how to adapt to the pro level.
As a result, making sure everyone is on the same page is one of the staff's major goals. To do that, Vogelhuber is able to draw upon lessons from his playing career to make sure the message gets through.
"At the end of the day, all my decisions on how I want to coach come down to what I liked as a player and what you like, how you want to be spoken to, how you want a team to be ran," he said. "At the end of the day, that's what I think -- how would I want this meeting to go? How would I want this decision to be made? That's kind of the biggest decision maker for me is just I'm so close to the game and know exactly what I liked and what I didn't like."