New Walleye coach plans to revamp teamWritten by Sanya Ali | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Derek Lalonde wants to usher in an era of development, unity and triumph for the Toledo Walleye.
“We want to have a culture in this locker room that, whenever you come into this locker room, you’re expected to give everything you can for Toledo on that given night,” Lalonde said.
The Walleye announced June 2 that Lalonde would take over the head coaching spot vacated by Nick Vitucci in February.
Vitucci, now director of hockey operations for the Walleye, said he feels confident in his successor.
“We’re thrilled we were able to land [Lalonde],” Vitucci said. “The criteria we set up as far as what we wanted in our coach, he fit every part of it.”
Those criteria, Vitucci said, included a track record of success, championship victories, a position as top coach at a talented junior league and knowledge of Toledo’s league.
Lalonde said winning is his goal, but first and foremost he wants to foster a sense of community and teamwork.
“It’s all about that balance of development, but winning is also development,” Lalonde said. “Any competitive hockey player at this level, they still want to be coached, they still want to be communicated to and they want to win. If you can achieve the communication, the teaching, the structure for development, usually the winning follows.”
Lalonde grew up close to the Canadian border in upstate New York, where he said each hockey game was a unifying event.
“Having a good experience growing up, where hockey was second nature to everyone, you grew a passion for it,” Lalonde said.
Lalonde took his passion and went on to play for SUNY Cortland, where he was goaltender from 1991-95. He was also a physical education major at the school.
“It’s probably exactly where I belonged, talent-wise,” Lalonde said. “I went there for all the right reasons: the opportunity for a good hockey experience and the education I wanted.”
Lalonde got his first assistant coaching job two months after graduation. He coached at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (1995-98) where he was also a graduate assistant and master’s student.
“When you first start coaching, the last thing on your mind is ever making a living because the money is not there as a young coach,” Lalonde said. “You do it for the right reasons: You have a passion and the excitement for it.”
Lalonde has since been assistant coach at the University of Denver (2006-11), Ferris State University (2002-06), Hamilton College (2000-02) and Lebanon Valley College (1998-00). He said many of the head coaches he worked under influenced his coaching style.
“Bob Daniels at Ferris State University, George Gwozdecky at the University of Denver — these guys were perfect mentors for my growth,” Lalonde said. “I took a little bit of who they both were and kind of blended that into who I am.”
Lalonde most recently coached and acted as general manager for the Green Bay Gamblers. He led the team to a record of 111-54-14, including regular season and playoff championships in 2011-12.
“Being the head coach and general manager at that level, you wear so many hats,” Lalonde said. “It’s very overwhelming at times. It prepares you for anything.”
Lalonde also coached the U.S. Under-19 National Team, which earned gold at the World Junior A Challenge in November.
“First, for the U.S. hockey federation to choose me was a great honor,” Lalonde said. “Then, having that two-week short, intense tournament of putting a team together [and] getting that team to buy into a common goal.”
Lalonde chose Toledo because of the success of the Mud Hens brand as well as the Walleye’s association with the Detroit Red Wings, who Lalonde said showed they “cared a lot” about the team.
Lalonde said he is excited to bring his family to Toledo. Wife Melissa is a Cleveland native and Lalonde said her parents still live there.
Melissa and their children, Alex, Luke and Abby, attended the news conference as well as a Mud Hens game last weekend, which Lalonde said “really helped in the transition.”
Lalonde said he hopes he can follow in the footsteps of Vitucci, because the former coach exemplifies what Lalonde deems most important in the coaching profession.
“[Vitucci is] a very genuine person and he is a person who does things right,” Lalonde said. “That’s who you want to be in Toledo when advisers call, when kids call, when they look at Toledo. They do things the right way. I want that to be my legacy and to have that continued legacy of Toledo.”
Tags: coach, Derek Lalonde, Ferris State University, Hamilton College, head coach, hockey, Lebanon Valley College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Nick Vittuci, SUNY Cortland, Toledo Walleye, University of Denver, Walleye