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The Malik Report

Walleye’s new coach discusses turnaround plans; clarifying the Whalers attendance ultimatum

The next pair of articles aren't necessarily Wings-related (for harder-hitting news, take a gander at Tomas Tatar's Facebook-posted video of Tatar preparing for the World Cup, the 5-times-updated morning post, Tatar's battle with Gustav Nyquist for TSN's Play of the Year award, etc.) in the strictest sense of the term, but they do matter to Wings fans.

The ECHL's Toledo Walleye chose to drop their dual affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Red Wings to provide more personnel stability, but the Walleye remain both a developmental affiliate of the Wings and a team that needs to get more out of its ECHL-playing personnel.

As such, they chose to hire Derek Lalonde, who previously coached the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers and several NCAA Division I colleges prior to taking his current position, and Lalonde discussed his coaching philosophy and plans for the Walleye with the Toledo Free Press's Sanya Ali:

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 and Ali's conversation continues at length, and given that Vitucci remains with the team as its director of hockey operations, I'm assuming that assistant coach Dan Watson will be retained as well.

Regarding developmental hockey news of a different kind, Peter Karmanos' comments regarding possibly moving the OHL's Plymouth Whalers, should their attendance not improve, shocked more than a few people in Metro Detroit.

Yahoo Sports' Neate Sager asked new Whalers general manager Mark Craig to clarify the team's situation, and Craig said the following....

"I think Pete was sending us the message more than anything else," says Craig, who has jumped back into junior hockey after a long and successful career in the automotive industry. "Certainly we do know that he can't continue this forever. We've got a job to do. We've got to sell a small-market team in a large market. We've done a good job of that over the years, but I think he wants us to get better. And Pete, that's what he does, he drives it.

"I've known Mr. Karmanos for 30 years, and his commitment to Detroit-area hockey and to junior hockey is renowned," says the 61-year-old Craig, who ran the Windsor Compuware Spitfires in the 1980s when Karmanos owned the club on the other side of the Detroit River. "He was the first one to move his business downtown and build a brand-new building in the centre of town. He's so Detroit.

"Some of it's been misconstrued. I think the goal, and I think what Pete was trying to do, is take this new management team that's been put in place and make sure we understand that for his commitment, and his financial commitment to continue, we'll need to find a way to continue to drive junior hockey in this town and make the Whalers a bigger part of it."

...

"We have this base group, first of all, that are rabid," Craig says. "They're here every night. They do it all. What we need to do is take those fans who show up for a game or two games and get them back. I'm a firm believer that in all sports, that when people start to identify with the players is when they start to come back. Our players are young kids driving for a dream, they play with the passion. Some of what we need to do is sell what these kids are striving for. A lot of that is getting people to know them. A lot of that is getting people here 3-4-5 times, and once they relate to the kids, and that's when it will become an every-Friday-night thing for them."

And the Whalers' former coach and GM, Mike Velucci, also weighed in on the attendance situation:

"He [Karmanos] has put a lot of money and time and sweat into it," says Vellucci, who became assistant GM and director of hockey operations of the Karmanos-owned Carolina Hurricanes in April but has retained the title of being the Whalers' governor during this transition period. "It gets to the point of where, 'how much more does he want to do it?' " That's all it was.

"It's in Plymouth, it's going to be in Plymouth," adds Vellucci. "We want to sell more tickets. We need more fan support. The league is getting bigger and bigger every year and we're a small-market team where we used to be a big-market team. That's the point Mr. Karmanos tried to make. We need to try to get up into the middle of the OHL as far as the market goes."

Sager continues and discusses the Whalers' personnel with Craig.

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Comments

Primis's avatar

Hopeflly Lalonde recruits better than Vitucci did.  Too often Vitucci seemed to want hard-nosed, gritty guys that couldn’t really play, and the ECHL is too young and fast a league to get away with that with any success.

Posted by Primis on 06/06/14 at 02:04 PM ET

WingedRider's avatar

Any chance Wings are one of 6 bidding for this guy?? Never heard of him until today

“McKenzie: And there’s another free agent we should keep our eye on who most people haven’t heard of: a 22-year-old Czech by the name of Jiri Sekac.. He went through the NHL Drafts and never got picked up. He was once cut by the Peterborough Petes but he had a strong year in the KHL playing for the Prague team. Right now he has more than a dozen firm offers on a max entry-level deal for two years. He’s expected over the next couple of days to make up his mind as to which team. This is a guy who is in great demand. He’s a 6’2, 190 pound left winger who many believe is ready to step in NHL-ready.”

Posted by WingedRider from Saskatoon, SK on 06/06/14 at 09:45 PM ET

WingedRider's avatar

Any chance Wings are one of 6 bidding for this guy??

Make that over a dozen teams, need to check my glasses!!

Posted by WingedRider from Saskatoon, SK on 06/06/14 at 09:47 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.