Derek Lalonde: Why he’s ‘anxious’ on eve of first camp with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

TRAVERSE CITY — Derek Lalonde has spent so much time preparing for his first camp as head coach of the Detroit Red Wings that Thursday’s start can’t come fast enough.

He described himself as “very excited” Wednesday, then admitted that “anxious is probably the better word for it. I probably went over our first couple days too many times. Now it’s just going out there and translating it and working on it.”

Lalonde and assistant coaches Bob Boughner and Alex Westlund are among the many new faces brought in by Steve Yzerman in his fourth year as general manager. Along with Alex Tanguay, the only bench coach left from Jeff Blashill’s tenure, the group has been busy preparing changes when the Wings take the ice Thursday at Centre Ice Arena.

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“In today’s day and age, with being able to do so much virtually, I think we got well out in front of this,” Lalonde said. “Even probably a month ago, talking with Steve, I thought we were a little further ahead of where I expected. We did a once-a-week Zoom with staff, and then we got together 10 days prior to camp. We’re in a good spot. Hopefully it translates to a good start of camp. We’ll have emphasis of team defense. a lot of the first couple days you’ll see will be play without the puck and improving in some of those areas that we struggled last year. We were one of the worst teams in any defensive category last year, so that’s a good starting point. A lot of that is team effort, everybody on the ice pulling the same way. Keep the puck out of your net. A lot of camp early on will be our play away from the puck.

“Special teams will be a big part of it. We’ll introduce that Day 3 or 4, leading into our Red and White Game and having those types of repetitions before exhibition.”

Wednesday saw players undergo physicals. The camp roster featured 40 forwards, 21 defensemen and eight goaltenders, who will break into three groups the first three days. Sunday features the Red and White Game, and after Monday’s practice the Wings will return to Detroit for an eight-game exhibition slate. The Wings open their preseason slate on Tuesday against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

“We kind of projected a Detroit roster, projected a (Grand Rapids) roster,” Lalonde said. “You’ll see some guys jumping around a lot throughout the first couple days. Not a lot of theme to who’s where — it’s more about team structure, more about chemistry with guys playing with each other. We’re going to have a ton of time with eight games. That’s a lot, exhibition-wise, in the NHL.”

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In addition to Lalonde, there are new faces in forwards David Perron and Dominik Kubalik, defensemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Määttä and goaltender Vile Husso. (Forwards Andrew Copp and Robby Fabbri and defensemen Jake Walman and Mark Pysyk are healing from injuries.) Camp will present the first opportunity to see explore lines and pairings, and special teams units.

Lalonde was part of a winning program with the Tampa Bay Lightning: His first season as an assistant, 2018-19, overlapped with Yzerman stepping back as GM in his last year with the organization. The apprenticeship under Bolts head coach Jon Cooper was part of the appeal when Yzerman made Lalonde his first hire as head coach of the Wings.

“He’s come from or been a part of a team that’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals three years in a row, worked with great players,” Yzerman said. “The system that Tampa played is very effective. I expect he’s learned a lot and is able to take that into the next three seasons. I think he’s prepared to do this job.  I think one of his greatest attributes would be his communication skills with everybody that he has to touch or to work with. Players most importantly, but management, staff, even the media.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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