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Forrest Ready for the Opportunity with WBS

After four seasons as a WBS assistant coach, he is taking over behind the bench as head coach

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

J.D. Forrest had done such a tremendous job in his four seasons as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach that other teams were starting to take notice. So it made perfect sense for the Penguins to promote him to head coach after Mike Vellucci was named an assistant coach with Pittsburgh.

The Penguins are confident that Forrest's familiarity with the organization, the prospects and the style of hockey they want to play, along with his work ethic and team-first approach, will help him excel behind the bench.

"With the work that he has done over the years as an assistant, he interviewed for a couple of other head coaching jobs in the American Hockey League," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told "So he's got the experience, and he's ready."

And Forrest, who worked primarily with the defensive group and penalty kill as an assistant coach, is thrilled for the opportunity to oversee the whole team as head coach.

"I'm really excited," Forrest said. "These are difficult jobs to get. I want to thank the Penguins organization for having faith in me and giving me the opportunity to coach down here in Wilkes-Barre. It's a great deal. 

"We get a lot of important prospects, a lot of important players, and there's a long tradition of that pipeline from Wilkes-Barre to Pittsburgh. My job is to keep that going. So I can't wait to get started. I know most of the players and we've got a fantastic team. Whenever that time comes, I'm ready to get going."

Forrest, 39, has been working toward this opportunity for a while now.

After playing four years at Boston College - where he won the NCAA Championship alongside current Penguins skills professional Ty Hennes in 2001 - Forrest spent time in the AHL with Albany and Worcester, and also spent time overseas playing professionally in Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany.

As Forrest approached the end of his playing career, he reached a crossroads where he had to make a choice of playing one more year or to start coaching, because it was always something he wanted to do.

It was then that Don Granato, who was the head coach of the U.S. National Team Development Program at the time, reached out and offered Forrest an opportunity to join his staff there.

"He said if you're looking to make the jump, this is a good spot to do it," Forrest said. "And boy, was he right. Because I went there and I learned a ton from him and his staff. Then it was the '97 birth years, so I got to work with Auston Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, Charlie McAvoy - the list goes on. I mean, just a tremendous group of players for that age. So it was something I had my eye on. It's hard to stop playing, so I just had to make that choice at some point, and I had a good opportunity."

After spending the 2014-15 season with the USNTDP, Forrest served as head coach of the Red Bull Salzburg's farm team in Austria for the 2015-16 campaign before joining WBS. 

And in the years since, Forrest has gotten the chance to learn from a lot of talented people within the organization, both in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh. He particularly enjoyed the chance to work with Vellucci this past year.

"He's fantastic at managing his staff and utilizing his assistants to the fullest," Forrest said. "I think he realized he had some good people around him. We always seem to have great people in Wilkes-Barre. So I'm going to make sure that I take a page from his book on that and really let people flourish in their roles."

The other thing Vellucci did well was communicate with players and be up front and honest with them, which is the style Forrest plans in taking to his new role.

"I think players at our level, they want to be challenged," Forrest said. "And one of the biggest disservices you could do to them is not being up front with them on what they need to improve on or what they're really good at."

Forrest tries to cultivate those attributes they have that are going to get them to the next level and make sure the players have confidence in them, while helping them close the holes in their game as best he can.

"That's one of the things that I really feel good about, is how I can communicate that with the players," Forrest said. "And then hockey's a fun sport. I always had fun playing, I had a blast coaching with the last coaching staff and every coaching staff I have been a part of. So I want to make sure that the guys have that same sense of joy coming to the rink, and really look forward to it and have a good time."

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