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Lalonde ready to resume role in Stockton

by Brian Compton

Forward Mike Lalonde will return to play for the Stockton Thunder this season after spending a year in the Netherlands with the Tilburg Trappers.
After enjoying back-to-back solid seasons with the Stockton Thunder, Mike Lalonde was ready for a change.

The former ECHL All-Star decided to sign on with the Tilburg Trappers in the Netherlands League. While he stayed the entire season, playing in Europe just wasn’t for him.

Now he’s back in Stockton.

“I’m very excited,” Lalonde said. “I did a lot of moving around, and I just wanted to get settled up somewhere and get somewhat of a life started.”

Lalonde certainly made an impact overseas, as he pulverized the competition with 43 goals and 49 assists in just 34 games. Simply put, he was just too good.

“It was kind of what I expected,” Lalonde said. “There’re not too many high-end ECHL guys over there. There are some decent players there, there’s no doubt about that. The competition’s not terrible, but it’s below the ECHL level for sure. Going in, I kind of had an idea of that – that I might be able to do something like that.

“I kind of challenged myself the most that I could every game. I knew the situation I was in.”

Lalonde stayed in contact with Stockton coach Chris Cichocki throughout the season, and talk of his return certainly entered their conversations. Once the season ended and Lalonde was back in North America, Cichocki phoned Lalonde to gauge his interest in returning to the Thunder.

“I talked to him last winter, just to make sure that he was all set there and wasn’t wanting to come back,” Cichocki said. “To his credit – and that’s the type of person he is – he made a commitment to the team that he was on and he fulfilled his commitment. But I think he had thoughts of coming back. I knew he was really contemplating coming back for this season, and he was one of the first recruiting calls I made this spring.”

Lalonde admitted his relationship with Cichocki and the entire Stockton organization was too hard to ignore.

“I kind of got tired of moving around and I ran it by him what maybe we could do,” Lalonde said. “Chris had told me that anytime I wanted a job with him, it’s there for me. He’s the first person I called when I was trying to get something more long-term. He’s someone that I can trust and they can trust me. I think we’ve built that up.”

Lalonde – who scored 52 goals over the course of two seasons with the Thunder – said the decision to return was relatively easy, given the way he was treated in Stockton the first time around. Combine that with Stockton’s affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers, and you have a perfect match.

“The organization is top-notch,” Lalonde said. “They provide you with whatever you need and they treat you with great respect. I know that doesn’t go the same with everybody. I’m sure people have bad things to say about every place, but what made me want to come back was Chris Cichocki and the Oilers’ organization. They play a style of game that I fit well in. Not only that, the organization treats you very well. You’re almost treated too good.”

Given the number of prospects the Oilers will be sending the Thunder in October – it could be a half-dozen or more – Lalonde, 27, will be relied on to provide leadership on and off the ice.

Cichocki believes he has the right man for the job.

“He’s going to be a leader,” Cichocki said. “I’m going to look to him to be real big in the locker room and set a great example on the ice, which he did in his first two years here. He’ll be real good in the locker room and on the bench as well. To have some stability in your room and doing things the way you want them done, it’s huge. He knows what I expect and he’ll be good in that respect – to show the younger guys what it’s about to be a pro.”

Lalonde is eager to accept that role.

In his one season in Europe, Mike Lalonde scored 92 points (43 goals, 49 assists) in just 34 games.
“I understand I’m an older guy,” he said. “The last time I was there, for whatever reason, the younger guys looked up to guys like me. It’s nice, but if you’re making it to the American League or the NHL or any level, you were a leader at some point. We all are. But hopefully I’ll be able to step into a bigger role like that.”

First things first, though. Given the quality and quantity of talent in the ECHL, things won’t be nearly as easy for Lalonde as they were in the Netherlands. Lalonde is cognizant of that fact and already has begun preparations for the 2008-09 season.

“I’ve actually been thinking about that,” Lalonde said. “But I stick by with what I have. The start of every season, everybody kinds of second-guesses themselves a little bit. You just work a little extra harder. I think the last few years I’ve really learned to train a lot harder and a lot better. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to do that when I was 17, 18. I think the training gives you the confidence in the summer to sort of put yourself in a position where you can go out and be confident on the ice. I’m looking forward to starting skating real soon and getting ready to play.”

While he would be content playing in Stockton, a fast start could be noticed by Oilers’ brass. Should he be handed an opportunity to play some games in Springfield, Lalonde said he’d be willing to give the American Hockey League a shot. Lalonde was not called up in either of his two seasons with the Thunder.

“I’m going to go play my game,” Lalonde said. “I’m not signed with the Oilers, but they’re familiar with my game. I got along with a lot of their coaches that came down. They respected what I did, and Chris respects what I do. But if there’s a shot (in the AHL) for me to take, I’m definitely not going to back down. But I’ve got to remember there’s younger guys with a chance, too. If someone’s willing to give me a shot, it’s something I’d be more than willing to take up.

Nonetheless, he understands the road blocks that could be in front of him.

“The type of player that I am, I’m supposed to be a scorer. There’s guys younger and more available – draft picks and such – that teams get a hold of and bring up in their system. I understand it completely that maybe someone younger can get my job done. Of course, everyone wants to move up, but I’m kind of in reality. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a shot. It’s fine by me. I just enjoy playing.”

Cichocki believes Lalonde has what it takes to be an AHL player.

“I think so,” the Thunder coach said. “I’ll do everything in my power to help him earn a promotion.”

Around the ECHL –
The Fresno Falcons will retire the jersey of forward Mike Mathers in a pre-game ceremony opening night. Most of Mathers’ time with Fresno was spent in the West Coast Hockey League, but he ended his career with the Falcons during their first season in the ECHL (2003-04). Mathers scored more than 20 goals on five occasions. … The Idaho Steelheads signed rookie defenseman Kyle Radke, who just finished his collegiate career with the University of North Dakota. … The Florida Everblades signed forward Kevin Baker, who will be rejoining coach Malcolm Cameron after spending last season together with the Texas Wildcatters. … The Alaska Aces signed brothers Colin and Brett Hemingway. … The Cincinnati Cyclones acquired defenseman Joe Grimaldi from the Gwinnett Gladiators for future considerations. … Rod Pasma was promoted to the ECHL’s Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations.

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