Thursday, November 13, 2008

Whalers try to salvage season with Vellucci

The winningest coach in the history of the Plymouth Whalers is behind the bench again.

Plymouth president and general manager Mike Vellucci announced that Greg Stefan has resigned as head coach of the Whalers and will take a job as a special assignments scout for the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, reporting to Hurricanes’ general manager Jim Rutherford. Vellucci will move back behind the Whalers bench as head coach for a second term.

Vellucci, who continues as the president and general manager of the Whalers, practiced with his team Monday. Plymouth associate coach Joe Stefan and assistant coach Brian Sommariva remain with the team in their current positions.

Nobody worked harder than Stefan. On most bus trips after road games – win or lose – Stefan watched video of the game, from the time he boarded the bus until the time the team reached the border.

Expect that trend will continue with Joe Stefan and Sommariva.

Vellucci wasted no time taking over the coaching reins, running his first practice within an hour of announcing the shift within the organization.

"We're definitely struggling and it has been disappointing," Vellucci said. "We're five games under .500. We're going to give it some time to turn around. We'll make a few changes to get back to the level we should be at. I think we have a lot of talent, but we haven't been playing very hard. We want to get back to what I call Whalers hockey – aggressive and entertaining."

No matter who is coaching, the onus is on the Whaler players to turn the team’s start around.

Plymouth comes into Friday’s game against Saginaw and Saturday’s game against London without captain Chris Terry, who has mononucleosis. Terry is expected to miss two weeks and will not play for the Ontario Hockey League in the upcoming 2008 ADT Canada-Russia challenge.

“We’re not going to sit around and mope about our situation,” said veteran forward Joe Gaynor. “We’ll go step-by-step and look at it a game at a time. This weekend, we’re going into it with the goal of winning both games. We’re practicing hard this week and that’s our intention.”

Gaynor got a chance to play at the beginning of last season under Vellucci and became an integral part of the Whalers’ forward group under Stefan, often playing with Vern Cooper. He sees no change in his role over the near future.

“Mike’s been watching a lot of the games and I don’t think my role is going to change much,” Gaynor said. “Hopefully, I’ll still be on the PK and try to keep the pucks out of the net. I’ll do whatever I can for our team. Whatever role he needs me to play, I’ll play it.”

Plymouth is going through a stretch of games where the sticks are being squeezed, offensive opportunities are being missed and any defensive mistake seems to end up in the back of the net.

“Guys have felt we haven’t got the bounces over the last few games,” Gaynor agreed. “That’s kind of an excuse, but it happens. Eventually, the luck will go our way and we’ll bust out. I feel like things will change and we’ll start getting those bounces.”

The Whalers – now led by Vellucci – have the opportunity to work for those bounces and turn things around.

Gaynor photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

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