In Jay Mellette’s own estimation, he had an amazing job – with a circus. The opportunity to cultivate a culture from the beginning was the calling card that compelled him to make a career move – into the ranks of professional hockey.
Mellette was the director of performance medicine for Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group when another Las Vegas-based group presented an intriguing proposal. “It was a two-fold trigger,” Mellette says. “George McPhee and Murray Craven … I heard them and I believed we would do something special here.”
McPhee and Craven are the general manager and senior vice president of the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights. That special effort resulted in the Knights’ reaching the Stanley Cup final in their first year of existence. Mellette is the director of sports performance and athletic trainer for the team. He went from an environment of 20 teams and 1,300 athletes at Cirque du Soleil to a refined and scaled-down process for the Knights.
For Mellette, a Daytona Beach native, the opportunity with the Knights provided both a clean slate and a quick education. “There was not a hockey presence in my youth,” Mellette says. “I didn’t know the biomechanics of hockey. There was a big learning curve. I spent a lot of time understanding the demands of the (player) movement on ice. How do I prepare them to be ready for that through their off-ice work?”
Mellette answered that question through his own planning and thanks to the daily preparation done by players. “When you are working with a player, he is coming with his past experiences and beliefs, not only about his health, but his performance,” Mellette says. “You also have to be ferociously curious. How do you manage risk, performance and wellness of your athletes? Respecting that and integrating it for the athletes is a subtle but important skill set.”