Coach Lalonde aims to forge winning season with WalleyeWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Walleye head coach Derek Lalonde wants to win and wasted no time making his expectations clear at the team’s first practice Oct. 3.
“Some of the guys were taken aback on day one by how difficult and how fast practice was, but we want that to be the norm and the culture here,” Lalonde said.
“The bottom line is we’re going to win; we have to win. This organization is ready for a winner. They made some changes, me being a big part of that change, to be successful on the ice. I know this is a development league and there’s many players going up and down, but when you’re in the locker room of the Walleye, you’ll be expected to do everything you can to win that night.”
His goal is to make the playoffs.
“We haven’t seen the playoffs much — only once here in the last few years — but I think that’s a realistic goal with how competitive and how tough this league is and considering we’re kind of starting new with only two returners from last year,” Lalonde said.
“I want to work on just playing fast, playing quick and competing. We designed this team with character, team-first type of guys and that has certainly come to fruition in the first few days of practice.”
The only expected returners are Kyle Rogers and Tyler Elbrecht. Cody Lampl, who played with the Walleye two years ago, is also back in Toledo after spending a season in the American Hockey League.
Dan Watson, former Walleye assistant coach who served as interim head coach after Nick Vitucci stepped down earlier this year, was named associate head coach. Vitucci is now director of hockey operations.
“It’s been huge having him,” Lalonde said of Watson. “I knew he was good, but he’s probably exceeded my expectations on how much we have synergy between each other.”
Lampl, 28, supports Lalonde’s efforts to “lay the groundwork for a winning culture.”
“The preparation he’s made in terms of systems and recruiting and just all-around effort he’s already put into this program I think has already caught all of our eyes,” Lampl said. “That saying, ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’? He’s got a plan.”
Lampl sees its tempo and speed as the team’s biggest strengths.
“We want to push the pace and we have the players to do so,” Lampl said. “We have very skilled forwards and, as a defenseman, that’s always a great thing to just be able to get the puck to them and let them do what they are supposed to do. We should be able to outskate teams and our pace should be relentless throughout the game. Anytime we can play fast is going to be a positive for us.”
Fans should like the team’s style as well, Lampl said.
“I think all fans really want to see here is effort — guys who played hard every shift and really outworked their opponent — and I think effort will translate into wins and everybody will go home happy,” he said.
Three Walleye hopefuls — Chris Knowlton, 24, Josh Holmstrom, 25, and Tom Serratore, 25 — aren’t new teammates. They played together as teens on teams in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We were pretty good buddies back then, so it’s kind of funny to get back together,” Knowlton said. “We kept in touch and knew [coming to Toledo] was a possibility, but then when it actually happened and all three of us signed here, we were pretty excited.
“It’s nice to be together again.”
Following their travel team days, Knowlton went on to play for University of Denver, Holstrom for University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Serratore for University of Minnesota.
“We’ve been separated for six, seven years, but we still kind of know how each other plays with that chemistry we built as kids,” Serratore said. “It’d be cool to play with each other this year, if we could get a Colorado Springs line going or something.”
Knowlton’s older brother, Pat, formerly played for the Walleye.
“[He told me], ‘You’ve just got to go in there and work your hardest. Anything can happen in these camps, but as long as you just keep working hard, that’s all you can really control,’” Knowlton said. “There’s a ton of good players out here so I’m just trying to work as hard as I can and prove that I belong.”
Knowlton already knew Lalonde as the assistant coach at University of Denver.
“He’s a great coach,” Knowlton said. “I’m really excited. I enjoyed playing for him at school and can’t wait to play for him here.”
Serratore’s father coaches hockey at the U.S. Air Force Academy and his uncle coaches hockey for Bemidji State University in Minnesota. His twin brother played DIII hockey in Minnesota.
“I know [Lalonde is] a good coach because my father spoke highly of him and my coaches at the University of Minnesota had nothing but good things to say,” Serratore said. “Obviously he expects a lot, but we want to have a good year this year so I think the buy-in and the dedication is really something to build after.”
Lampl said everyone is excited for the regular-season opener Oct. 18.
“When you get a brand-new group of guys and all you’ve been doing is training, you want that first game to get here as fast as possible,” Lampl said. “You’re only as good as your last game and we haven’t gotten to play one yet, so we’re excited.”
Seven new teams were approved Oct. 7 to join the ECHL this season as the Central Division: Allen (Texas) Americans, Brampton (Ontario) Beast, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City (Moline, Illinois) Mallards, Rapid City (South Dakota) Rush, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder.
The top four teams in each division during the regular season will qualify for the playoffs. All four rounds of the playoffs will be played in a best-of-seven format. Updates to the playing schedule will be released soon.