Wild.com's Dan Myers chats with first-year Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde about a number of topics, including his first half season Des Moines, Iowa's winning ways away from home and Alex Tuch playing in the AHL All-Star Game:
Dan Myers: You've reached the All-Star break in your first season as a head coach in the American Hockey League. What has the first half been like for you and how are you liking it?
Derek Lalonde: I'm loving it. Obviously, the winning, especially going into the break, makes life a lot better. It's easier to enjoy it a lot more. But I knew when I took this on, it was no different than when I took Toledo on. This was going to be difficult and this was going to be a hard task. If it's something you can accomplish, it's very, very rewarding. And so far it has been that. I love the level of competition, I love the organization. Beyond trusting [Wild General Manager] Chuck Fletcher and [Wild Assistant General Manager] Brent Flahr, I like them. When they come down, they're very supportive and light-hearted. [Development coach] Richard Park, [Wild Director of Player Development] Brad Bombardir and [hockey operations advisor] Andrew Brunette, who's here on weekends, have all been extremely supportive, they're helpful and they're fun to be around.
DM: You've won seven straight games away from home to end the first half. What has been working so well for you on the road lately?
DL: I just think a focus on playing the game right, our team defense. The buy-in has been incredible. There's no doubt this comes from the room; any time you have a commitment to playing the game right, coaches can coach all they want but it has to come from the room. It's been really interesting and fun. We got so depleted with our lineup; [Jordan] Schroeder goes up [to the NHL] and rightfully so, Zac Dalpe goes down with an injury, Grayson goes down with injury and Alex Tuch goes down with an injury, Mikey Reilly gets called up. And I think our team just knew we had to commit to team defense to be successful and that's what they've done.
DM: Iowa won a total of 24 games last season (76 games) but already has 22 this season (46 games so far). Obviously, you weren't there a year ago, but as this season has gone on, have you seen a noticeable change in the team and the community?
DL: Success has been hard to come by around here. This recent success has been very fun. Not only fun in the room, but just to see media locally and some of the support staff, from our front-desk people and others who have been through some hard times. We still have a long, long ways to go, but it's been a fun little stretch.
DM: You mentioned before how you have had to weather some injuries and call-ups this season. Depth has been an issue there in the past. How pleased have you been with the players' ability to adopt a 'next man up' mentality?
DL: Everyone goes through it in this league; I don't care who you are, you're gonna go through it at least once or twice. It's the nature of the American Hockey League. Whoever finds that way to get through that attrition [succeeds]. We talk about it, we talk about winning and circumstance and next guy up. I've talked about our depth all year. I've liked our depth and it's really been tested of late. You get in those situations and you never know how your team is going to react, but they've done great. That's a good sign going forward.
DM: Alex Tuch is Iowa's representative at the AHL All-Star Game. Points were tougher to come by early in the season but his production, coming back from an injury, was outstanding last week. Even when pucks weren't going in the net early in the season, you had said he was playing well. Is this a good reward for him?
DL: Yeah, and he was outstanding this weekend (three goals, plus-5 in two games at Rockford). Some of these guys have never experienced an injury before and he's had so much success in his career. You don't want to say everything has come easy for him, but his track record says it has come pretty easy, he's that talented. He's injured [right after Christmas], was out for two weeks and he comes back, gets one game in and scores the game-winning goal. Then he's out for three weeks again. The difference this time, though, was he didn't have any practice time. Last time he went through injury, just the way our schedule worked out, he had some significant practices before he played. This time, he hasn't been able to practice. I didn't know what to expect and he was unbelievable. He looked like when Alex is at his best. When he possesses the puck the whole game, he's a threat offensively; he's making plays on the rush. He was our best player on the weekend.