Whalers Alum John Vigilante Named Head Coach of Compuware

Photo – Top by Pete Krupsky – John Vigilante pauses during a Compuware workout.  Right by Mark Hicks – Damian Surma in action with the Whalers during the 2000 OHL Finals.  Bottom by Walt Dmoch – John Vigilante in action in 2005-06 with the Whalers.

PLYMOUTH – The smile is always there.

But when Compuware and Plymouth Whalers alum John Vigilante comes to Compuware Arena these days, he comes in with a purpose and his ever-persistent smile.

Vigilante is the new head coach of the Compuware Midget Majors of the Compuware Youth Program.  The team is already hard at work in preparation for the upcoming 2014-15 season.

“We’re happy to have Vig on board,” said Mike Henry, Compuware Youth Hockey Director.  “His track record as a player speaks for itself.  John has a passion for the game, played for Compuware and the Whalers and has a ton of experience and success that adds a lot to the program.

“He’s been a good player for the program, but is a better person.”

Vigilante, 29, has taken to his new job hard on the forecheck – not unlike his playing days with the Whalers from 2002-06.

“One season ends, we take a week off, and then get right back into things again,” Vigilante said recently. “It’s a new chapter (in my life), but I can’t wait to get started.”

A heart ailment ended Vigilante’s playing days during the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye training camp at the beginning of this season.

Vigilante has enlisted help from his immediate family and the Extended Whalers family.  Vigilante’s brother, Mike, is an assistant along with fellow Whalers alum Damian Surma (37), who recently retired from playing.

The other Compuware Midget Major coaches include Jim Nesich and Nick Michels.                   

Vigilante is a life-long rink rat who worked hockey schools with his brother, Mike, for years.

“I’ve picked up a few drills and things from the past. I’ve been fortunate to play for a lot of good coaches,” Vigilante said. “So you take a few things you’ve learned from them and build on it.  I’ve done this before, working my brothers’ schools and various camps for a while.  So it seems to be a smooth transition so far. We want to keep it going.”

The Compuware Midget Majors work with players who want to play in the Ontario Hockey League, but have other options as well – including NCAA Division I and other college hockey teams, the National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor and opportunities in professional hockey and in Europe.

A glance at the resumes of John Vigilante, Mike Vigilante, Damian Surma, Jim Nesich and Nick Michels indicates they’ve seen a lot and done a lot in the hockey business.  They’re ready to pass that experience on to the Compuware Midget Majors.

“We have a real good, diverse staff, with my brother (Mike Vigilante), me and Damian, Jim Nesich and Nick – a lot of players (with experience) and a lot of games played on the staff that took different routes in hockey,” Vigilante said.  “I had one coach tell me, ’If you’re good enough to make it to the next level, it doesn’t matter what path you take, you’re going to make it to a higher level.’   So that’s a message I’m going to tell our kids.”

It all starts with hard work.  Watch a dry-land training session with Vigilante and his team and you’ll see just that.

“Something I want to stress to our kids is if you want to get to play for the Whalers one day, or if you want to play for the University of Michigan – or potentially for a National Hockey League team one day – you have to put in the time and you have to put in the work,” Vigilante said.  “It started for me right here (at Compuware Arena).  I’m very excited to spread that message on to our players and try to help them get to where they want to go in this game.”

After playing for the Compuware ‘85’s youth team, Vigilante was selected by the Whalers in the 11th round (209th overall) of the 2001 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.  A solid, consistent player for the Whalers, Vigilante is seventh of the Whalers all-time career scoring list with 93 goals and 153 assists for 246 points in 253 games.

Vigilante was the Whalers’ team captain in 2005-06.

Surma is not far behind Vigilante on the Whalers’ all-time career scoring list with 105 goals and 120 assists for 225 points in 241 games – 10th on Plymouth’s all-time list.

Vigilante was asked how current Plymouth GM/Head Coach Mike Vellucci influenced him.

“Mike Vellucci was always pushing us to be the best we could be through a strong work ethic,” Vigilante said. “That’s something I’m going to make our team strive towards – the harder you work, the more you compete. The more (work) you put in on a daily basis, you’re going to get more out, both on and off the ice.”

Like Vellucci, Vigilante is going to try to help his players, on and ice the ice.

“I’m going to try to be a positive voice in their lives,” he said.  “You may have to yell a few times when things are going wrong, but (as a staff) we’re going to try to spread the messages we learned along the way.”

Players at the Midget Major level of the game play and practice with passion – something that Vigilante appreciates.

“It all starts with most of the players in the OHL and most of my players – there’s a love of the game,” Vigilante said.  “They love to be on the ice, to play the game and love to work at the game.  There are going to be stretches where things aren’t going well around the rink, but you always have to go back and have a little fun with the game, too.”

Parents and players interested in the Compuware Midget Major Program can email John Vigilante at

Find out more about the Compuware Youth program here.


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