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Pens name AHL coach to dual GM role; Ben Lovejoy retires

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A couple of notes: Mike Velucci tacks on a new job title, and an old two-time champion hangs up his skates for good

2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

One of Bill Guerin’s roles was the general manager of the AHL Penguins out in Wilkes-Barre. With Guerin now in his new job as general manager of the Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh obviously had to fill that old role. They didn’t look far tabbing current AHL head coach Mike Velucci to also be the AHL GM.

From Velucci’s comments on Thursday, it sounds like the gig is coming more out of need than future professional aspiration.

“I came here as a coach,” Vellucci said. “I came to work for Billy. I won a championship in the American League. I want to do it again, but eventually, I want to coach in the National Hockey League. This wasn’t a thing that I sought out or wanted or was a must. It was an opportunity that came up with (general manager Jim Rutherford) the last day or two here.”

But Velucci is no stranger to having a dual role coach/GM duties, the past two years he’s had both jobs with the AHL Charlotte Checkers. Prior to that, Velucci performed both jobs at the same time with the OHL Plymouth Whalers for 14 years from 2001-14.

As written on penguins.com

“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.”

...

”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.”

So we’ll see how it goes. All the players for next season have been signed, so it’s not like the AHL GM has that much to do. No one will be closer to the team or situation than Velucci so surely if he thinks he needs to get any trades or adjustments made, he’s got a great and close relationship with Rutherford and certainly you would expect those guys to be able and work well together.

***

Former Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy announced that his playing career has completed in a typically humorous fashion:

Lovejoy’s career was a huge success story — he signed with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent in 2007, the first real time they hit gold with a college free agent. They would continue this over the years with guys like Conor Sheary, Casey DeSmith and Zach Aston-Reese, but Lovejoy really opened that pipeline and thinking to recoup all the draft picks traded by trying to sign older prospects that slipped through the cracks.

Lovejoy played in Wilkes-Barre for basically the next three seasons, though he did make a cameo appearance with two regular season games in Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup season of 2008-09, where he also was a “black ace” practice player with the NHL club through those playoffs. His name is not on the Stanley Cup for 2009 though.

He spent parts of the next three seasons with the NHL Pens prior to being traded in February 2013 to Anaheim for a fifth round pick as Pittsburgh loaded up with other defensemen like Mark Eaton and Douglas Murray for an ill-fated playoff run (whoops!)

After a little more than two years later, GM Ray Shero was out but Lovejoy was back in Pittsburgh when Rutherford acquired the veteran defender in March 2015 for Simon Despres. That trade seemed questionable to acquire an older player with a lower ceiling for a younger player with more potential, but it paid off in spades.

Lovejoy played with Olli Maatta in the Pens’ 2016 Cup run, scoring two goals and adding four assists in 24 games for the fourth Pittsburgh Stanley Cup.

One of the most memorable moments was a clearly amped up Lovejoy giving a pre-game interview with NBC prior to Game 4 against the Capitals. Washington was the Presidents Trophy winner, but Pittsburgh was the league’s best team late in the year, and was up 3-1 in the series after that game was played, a series they of course would go onto win.

Unfortunately they’ve scrubbed the speech from the youtubes, but it was a thing of beauty with each word spoken with more passion and more pointedly than the last.

“Since Christmas teams have been trying to combat our speed by punching us in the mouth. We’ve been taking it, and we’re going to keep on taking it and force them to turn with our speed.”

It was the perfect encapsulation of the Mike Sullivan “Just play” mantra of that time which brought two straight Cups.

Basking in the championship glow, Lovejoy’s contract (which paid him $1.1 million annually) ended in summer 2016, perfect timing. He was able to cash in, drawing a $8 million contract for three years ($2.667m per) with the New Jersey Devils, fittingly enough to be reunited with his first ever pro GM in Shero.

It didn’t really work out for the Devils who didn’t do much during Lovejoy’s stint and ended up trading him as a deadline rental this past spring to Dallas. When Dallas’ season ended in the second round of the playoffs it meant the end of Lovejoy’s contract, and as it turns out the end of his playing days too.

Lovejoy appeared in 184 games with the Pens, and 544 in his NHL career. He also was in 76 playoff games with an even half of them (38) played as a Penguin.