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Wild Tabs Lalonde As New Iowa Head Coach

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Derek Lalonde helped lead the largest single-season point turnaround in the history of the East Coast Hockey League in 2014-15.

His next project will be helping to continue to right the ship of the Iowa Wild.

On Monday, the Wild announced that Lalonde will take over as the new head coach of its American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.

In 2014-15, with Lalonde behind the bench, the Toledo Walleye, the ECHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, had a 58-point improvement, the largest swing in the history of the ECHL.

With Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher, and Assistant General Manager and Iowa GM Brent Flahr, expecting more from their American League affiliate, Lalonde has been tabbed as the guy to lead the charge.

"I've just had a couple of conversations with Derek, and I know I spoke to Mike Babcock about it, who raved about him," Fletcher said. "[Lalonde] had a chance to watch Mike and Jeff Blashill closely, and has had tremendous success wherever he's gone. The people who have spoken about him, he seems to win at every level."

The Iowa job became open after John Torchetti, the former head coach of Iowa, was promoted to an interim head-coaching role in Minnesota in February.

That left David Cunniff, an assistant on Torchetti's Iowa staff, as the interim head coach for the Wild's minor league team. At the seasons' conclusion, Torchetti accepted an assistant coaching role with the Red Wings.

"Once Torch informed us he was moving on, we made it a pretty quick process," Flahr said. "Derek was a name that we had and kept on the side-burner. David Cuniff who did a good job for us down the stretch there, after a little bit of research, those were our only two candidates, really."

Lalonde's resume, besides helping lead the dramatic turnaround in Toledo, includes a stop in the United States Hockey League with the Green Bay Gamblers, where he compiled a 114-56-0 record over three seasons, and won a championship in 2012.

He spent three years as an assistant coach at Ferris State, and five years as an assistant on the University of Denver's staff, where he coached both Jason Zucker and Gustav Olofsson.

"They certainly had a lot of great things to say about him as well," Fletcher said. "I know we're very confident that he'll do a great job for us."

It's all part of the process to continue to improve an Iowa franchise that, according to Fletcher, will have its best wave of incoming players of the past three or four years.

"I think we lost 28 one-goal games, and we seemed to lost 2-1, and 3-2 when did lose, or win 2-1, or 3-2 when we did win," Fletcher said. "We didn't have a lot of margin for error."

Where Iowa struggled to score a season ago, finishing last in the American League in goals-for, Fletcher said the likes of forwards Sam Anas, Mario Lucia, Alex Tuch, Adam Gilmour, and Chase Lang will bolster its forward group.

"We'll have a lot more depth, and a lot more youth, and a lot more skill," Fletcher said. "We'll have the opportunity to sign some guys in early July too to help that program, but it will be a better program. The talent is better, and we'll have the opportunity to win more games."

Another wild card in that mix is 2015 first round pick Joel Eriksson Ek.

A 19-year-old who just finished playing a professional season Farjetads BK Karlstad in Sweden's professional league, Fletcher said he would like to assess Eriksson Ek's status after seeing him in training camp.

"It's a hard league for 19-year-old players, but he's a tremendous prospect, so he might be able to make our team," Fletcher said. "When you have players that are that competitive and that smart sometimes they can surprise you.

In Lalonde, Flahr said the Wild has a coach who will help bridge the gap between Iowa and Minnesota.

"He understands the process in the American League," Flahr said. "It's about development, and at the same time, winning. He's obviously very excited to be down there now. He gets his chance, and he should really help us."

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