THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo
New Toledo Walleye coach Derek Lalonde emphasized the need to balance player development with the responsibility of winning hockey games during a news conference announcing his hiring on Monday.
Lalonde, who was the coach and general manager of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League for the last three seasons, said he hopes to “build a culture of success.”
“We expect great things,” Lalonde said. “From the get-go it was the same message. It felt right. I don't think there is a better place in the [ECHL].”
In three seasons at Green Bay, Lalonde compiled a 114-56-14 record and led the Gamblers to a championship in 2011-12.
Lalonde said his entire coaching career has revolved around player development.
“At the same time we have to be responsible to win hockey games,” Lalonde said. “To find that balance between development and winning is hard to do. But people who are good in this league find that balance. That will be our goal.”
Lalonde said he is prepared to deal with the challenge of roster movements through demotions and promotions with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids.
■ Age: 41
■ Hometown: Brasher Falls, N.Y.
■ Family: Wife, Melissa; sons, Alex (8) and Luke (5); daughter Abby (3).
■ Playing career: Goaltender at Cortland State (1991-95); team MVP senior year.
■ Coaching career: Head coach at Green Bay (United States Hockey League, 2011-14); assistant at the University of Denver (2006-11); Ferris State University (2002-06), Hamilton College (2000-02), Lebanon Valley College (1998-00), and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (1995-1998).
“Roster turnover in the [ECHL] is very difficult,” he said. “It will be my goal to manage that. If players are on the way up or down … when they step into that Toledo locker room the expectation will be for them to win for the Toledo Walleye.”
Lalonde, a native of Brasher Falls, N.Y., said he appreciates that the Walleye organization “trusts the history of Toledo hockey to me.”
He said he looks forward to turning around the fortunes of the franchise that went 21-44-7 and finished last in the Eastern Conference.
“This a team that was going through a transition and was still able to draw 7,000 to 8,000 [fans]. That was amazing to me,” Lalonde said. “I get goosebumps with what this could be. We will attract players that want to be here. It's exciting coming to a place where the fans really care.”
Lalonde, 41, was joined at the news conference by his wife Melissa, and his sons Alex, 8, and Luke 5, and daughter Abby, 3.
Joe Napoli, the team's president and general manager, said Lalonde stood out from a long list of candidates that came from “all over the world.” Napoli said an initial selection of 16 candidates with experience in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, and at the junior level was narrowed to a short list of six and finally to two. Salaries for coaches in the ECHL range from $45,000-$75,000.
“What excited us about Derek is his fire and passion,” Napoli said. “But what really impressed us was his in-depth knowledge and his ability to motivate players.”
Lalonde said his team will be “hard through the middle,” will defend well, and be uptempo.
“We will give our guys room to be creative but also be responsible [defensively],” Lalonde said.
Lalonde said he has a style that players love to play in.
“Traditionally I'm a big transition guy,” Lalonde said. “That is where a lot of offense is created. We will defend well.”
Lalonde said he had “a moment” with Walleye captain Kyle Rogers in the locker room prior to the news conference.
“We are going to get things going here and establish that winning culture. I can tell he's excited about it,” Lalonde said.
Rogers, who has played four seasons with the Walleye, is the team's all-time leader in games (278) and points (160).
“When I first saw him, we both had big smiles,” Rogers said. “It's something new for everyone. He told me what his goals are, and I told him I'd love to help him out. He has the right tools and has great intention for this organization.”
In his first season with Green Bay, Lalonde led the team to a league championship and was named the USHL coach of the year. The USHL is an amateur hockey league with players who are all under the age of 20. Lalonde also has college coaching experience as an assistant.
Lalonde replaces interim Walleye coach Dan Watson, who was named head coach in February after the team had posted a 16-31-3 record. Watson had served as an assistant under Nick Vitucci, the team's only coach in its first five seasons.
Napoli said Lalonde will determine who his assistant coach will be, but he also said Watson will be considered. “We would like to see Dan Watson on that interview list,” he said.
Vitucci, who remains the team's director of hockey operations, will assist Lalonde. The pair will evaluate the players on the current roster prior to the start of free agent signings that begin on June 15.
“He has a confident swagger and a vision and a plan to achieve it,” Vitucci said. “He's on the upswing.”
Vitucci said he was impressed with Lalonde's knowledge of the history of hockey in Toledo.
“Part of why he was so impressive was the work that he did before he even set a foot in this city,” Vitucci said. “He had reached out to coaches at our level. He was up to speed on quite a bit.”
Lalonde said his team will be physical.
“You will play hard and stick up for your teammates,” he said. “Now the day and age of bench-clearing brawls is long and gone. But playing hard and sticking up for teammates and doing things to motivate your team is a reality.”
He said in his second year at Green Bay his team had the second fewest minor penalties but had the second-most fighting majors.
“We were a disciplined team that stuck up for each other,” he said. “That is what we will have here.”