A season with a long playoff run is a blur, yet Mike Vellucci can easily pinpoint the most validating moment he experienced during a coach-of-the-year campaign.
Guiding the Plymouth Whalers, whose plethora of 11 NHL draft picks beget the frequent description that they were an AHL team, still presented its own set of challenges. In a season interrupted by a world junior championship held 11 time zones away and a lockout-delayed NHL campaign, Vellucci's bench strength was often in flux. Egos had to managed and no doubt massaged. There was potential for the Whalers to be more formidable on paper than on the ice, but they won the West Division title with a 42-17-5-4 record, including a post-Christmas mark of 28-6-0-1. That finish was a big part of why Vellucci on Wednesday was named the Matt Leyden Trophy recipient for the second time in his 12-year head coaching tenure in Plymouth.
The way the Whalers meshed was confirmed by how they worked together to get centre Vince Trocheck, a trade-deadline add from rival Saginaw, the scoring title.
"They were so much fun to coach," Vellucci said of his Whalers, whose playoff dream was dashed with a five-game Western Conference final loss to the London Knights. "If anybody was at that last game when we were playing Windsor and Vince Trocheck was going for the scoring title and we had already sewn up where we were going to be for the playoffs, every single guy on that ice was trying to get Vince the puck to get the three points he needed [to edge Sarnia's Charlie Sarault 109-108]. It was great to see all guys, no jealousy whatsoever, trying to help Vince get that award. It was so great as a coach to see them realize it's a team game, not an individual. To be honest, that was my favourite moment of the year.Read More »from Mike Vellucci, OHL coach of the year, relishes how Plymouth Whalers banded together for another award