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Vellucci proved dual role can be successful

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Mike Vellucci has been on the job for less than two months for the Penguins organization, but he's already received a promotion.

Vellucci, 52, was hired at the end of June to be the new head coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. On Thursday, he was named the team's new general manager as well.

"The dual role is perfect," Vellucci said. "I know I have to develop, but at the same time I have to win because that's a big part of developing. I've proven over the last couple of years that it can be successful if it's done the right way. I'm happy to be here in Pittsburgh working with the guys up top to make our prospects better players.

"I'm excited for the opportunity."

Vellucci has certainly proven that the dual role can be successful. Last year in a similar capacity, Vellucci led the Charlotte Checkers - Carolina's American Hockey League affiliate - to a Calder Cup championship. He also filled a similar role for 14 years with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League from 2001-14. That Plymouth team was run by current Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who hired Vellucci.

"What brought me here was the job that Jim Rutherford has done for so many years," Vellucci told reporters in Wilkes-Barre last weekend. "He hired me at my first job 27 years ago. Great facility. It's an opportunity to have a great team. And they're winners. I wanted to be around winners. It was an easy decision in the end."

A key component to his role in Charlotte was overseeing player development and scouting. And he believes there is a major advantage to serving as GM and head coach.

"Sometimes when you're coaching all you care about is wins," he said. "You don't really care about anything else. But in a dual role I have to do both. I may be mad at a player, but I know I have to develop him and it's my job to stay on it. As just a coach you sometimes lose that attention to development."

Vellucci has been in a developmental role with the Hurricanes as assistant general manager and director of hockey operations for the past five years. But in the last two seasons he stepped behind the bench for the Checkers and led them to a 97-43-8-4 record, including a league-best 51-17-7-1 last year while winning the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as AHL Coach of the Year.

Vellucci, who said his career goal is to become a head coach in the NHL, is excited to work with the group of players the Penguins have assembled in their farm team.

"I like the young guys. There are a lot of new young guys coming in that are good players," he said. "And we have some experienced defensemen. I'm excited to work with anyone here. I'm here to develop and win. I think you can do both. You have to do both as far as the organization. We want to develop winners and develop guys that will do whatever it takes to win."

Vellucci will mimic the coaching style of Mike Sullivan and the NHL club to ensure a smooth transition between both clubs. Still, Vellucci has his own style of handling players.

"I don't want to call myself a players' coach because I'm very demanding and hard on them," he said. "But players have a voice with me. They can express themselves on and off the ice, what they do and don't like and we can adjust from there. Like everybody, we want to play fast, we want to be aggressive and we want to score goals. It's pretty identical from what 'Sully' demands from his players up top."

Vellucci, a Farmington, Michigan native, took the Calder Cup to his hometown two weeks ago. That moment was the closing of his last chapter, and he's ready to start writing a new one.

"But it's over. I'm moving on," Vellucci said last weekend. "In my mind that was the last thing. I'm really happy to be a Penguin."

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