Wild.com's Dan Myers chats with first-year Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde about a number of topics, including Lalonde's adjustment to the American Hockey League and the progress being made by Alex Tuch in the latest installment of Down on the Farm.
Wild.com: What has your adjustment to the AHL been like?
Derek Lalonde: "There's a learning curve. [Joel] Eriksson Ek gets called up [Oct. 22]. [Assistant coach] David Cunniff, who's been through this for years, saying 'We're going to struggle tonight,' I didn't know what he was talking about. It's hard for those guys; there's a 19-year old kid getting called up over six or seven guys in the room. I think those are things that I'm adjusting to that you probably have to experience them to realize them. We went out and laid an egg and I'm beside myself and David is calming me down, telling me it's not right or wrong, but that he's seen this happen a lot. Those are some experiences, learning for myself."
W: You didn't have Eriksson Ek for long in Iowa, but what was it like working with him?
DL: "I'm not surprised [he's playing well for Minnesota]. I had him in Traverse City at the Prospects Tournament also, so there was four games there, all through training camp. I'm not surprised. I saw the hockey sense. Young players, you look at a guy like Alex Tuch who is so elite with his offensive ability, they have learn to play a two-way game, it's the last thing that rounds out their development. Joel is interesting because he already had the two-way game. So I'm not surprised he's having the start he has. I'm excited to see it because he's been fun to watch."
W: How have you managed the roster uncertainty, with injuries and call-ups affecting what you're doing down there almost on a nightly basis?
DL: "I think it's a reality. You try and mentally have the guys adjust to it, and [the game Oct. 29 against the Milwaukee Admirals] was a perfect example. Basically, in a 24-hour span, we lose Downing, Graovac and Bertschy, three of our top-six forwards, I don't care who you are or what team you are, what level, it's really hard to absorb losing three of your top six. But I asked our guys, and I told them, 'These are the types of games in our league that you have to overcome.' We did that. ... If you're going to get ahead in this league, these are the types of things that everybody goes through. It's who handles it the best that decides who ends up on top."
W: How excited are you to work with a guy like Teemu Pulkkinen? Both coming from the Detroit organization, you are familiar with what he can do.
DL: "It helped that there was a little comfort there, coming from the Red Wings and knowing him a little bit. [Detroit coach] Jeff Blashill and I are probably similar in a lot of ways, and I think there will be a comfort level, just in drills, some of the drills we do, I know he was already comfortable. Just having that familiarity helps. It's just hard to produce at this level, and the one thing I've preached to him is, I've seen him be an elite player. The one thing that Coach Blashill would talk to him all the time about was he's a winger and he loves to score goals, and that's what we've talked about. He'll have an opportunity to do it with us. He progressed correctly, he dominated the American Hockey League and progressed to the NHL, but the last year or so, it's been really hard for him to get in a rhythm. He's in and out of the lineup, playing seven minutes in one game and not in the next, playing 14 minutes the next, it's very hard for a guy like that to get in a rhythm. My plan with him is to get him in a rhythm, for however long he is with us, let's get him in a rhythm and playing a lot of minutes."
W: How has Alex Tuch looked as he has progressed in his first season of professional hockey?
DL: "Good. I know people probably want to see him score more and I actually sat with Alex ... and watched some video. He's improving the areas he needs to. He's probably been our best plus-minus player when it comes to chances for and chances against. I think that's a very good sign. The puck will start going in for him, but he's starting to do a lot of the little things correctly."