Traverse City − The first day of head coach of the Red Wings turned out just fine for “Newsy.”
That would be the nickname for Derek Lalonde, the Wings’ new head coach.
And, yes, some of the Wings aren’t sure where “Newsy” came from.
“The first conversation, he called me and said, ‘This is Newsy,’ and I was like, who?” Dylan Larkin said. “I still don’t know what the reference is.”
Edward Lalonde − no relation to Derek − is a 1950 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who got the nickname “Newsy” because he worked at a newsprint plant in Cornwall, Ontario.
Derek Lalonde got the “Newsy” nickname from his teammates while a goaltender at SUNY-Cortland, a Division II school in upstate New York. Derek, incidentally, was born in Brasher Falls, New York, just a 20 minute drive south from Cornwall.
“I still think there’s some people to this day in Tampa (where Lalonde was an assistant coach before joining the Wings) who don’t know who Derek is, they only know me as ‘Newsy’,” Lalonde said. “I don’t mind Coach, but Coach feels very old. It feel a little more personal when guys call me Newsy.”
Lalonde guided his first practice Thursday as an NHL head coach, after several months of planning and strategizing about it endlessly.
Sure, it was a special day for Lalonde, 50, but he didn’t let himself soak in the moment.
“Not really,” Lalonde said. “You’re really busy trying to get everything checked, check off all the boxes in being prepped. I was more nervous today about everything going smoothly. You want to make a good first impression with everyone, we want to be sharp with what we’re doing as a staff which will reflect in our practice and play.
“Maybe early in the season, through the first game, first win (I’ll let the moment sink in). But maybe I’m getting really cold in my old age.”
The first practice, like a first game, is unique in that a coach has an entire summer to prepare for it. In that sense, Lalonde was pleased to get through what was a spirited and effective first practice.
“You put so much time into your summer and preparing for Day 1,” Lalonde said. “We’ve got our entire camp pretty much skeletoned out. We were fortunate enough to hire (assistant) Bob Boughner because he’s supposed to be my experience and he was pacing today, so I guess it’s still jitters no matter how long you’ve been at this. We were just excited to get this thing going and we talked this to death and preparing.
“We just wanted for it to translate on the ice.”
As with any situation with a new coach, there was a different sense of purpose Thursday, an atmosphere of a bit more alertness and trying to put the best foot forward for a new coach and his staff.
In the early stages, the new voice is getting his new message across. Everyone had a bit more jump in their step.
“There’s great communication,” said Larkin, who was in regular conversation with Lalonde through the summer on a variety of topics. “He’s very organized and he believes in what he’s preaching. He’s made a great impression on the guys.”
Forward David Perron ran into Lalonde and his staff toward the end of the summer skates at Little Caesars Arena.
“It’s still summer (at that point) and they don’t want to be too intrusive, but you can tell they’re antsy to get going and excited,” Perron said. “Last night, at the meeting, Newsy was very direct and very vocal, and brought up some of the stuff we can be better at as a team.”
That would mainly be team defense, which will be stressed in these early days of camp and during the exhibition season. The Wings are intent on improving a defense that was 31st (out of 32 teams) in the league.
“We’ll emphasize the team defense a lot,” Lalonde said. “Those numbers reflected poorly on our team defense. Everyone knows that was an issue for us, so we’re just trying to put an emphasis and really hit home what we’re trying to work on and trying to improve on.”
What Lalonde has seen thus far, through video and on the ice, is one definitive strength he has on this roster. From the defense on out, the Wings can move.
“We can skate,” Lalonde said. “There’s no doubt about that. You could dissect last year anyway you want, with the defensive deficiency numbers, the holes here and there, and (general manager) Steve (Yzerman) did a good job addressing those with free agency. But this group of guys, we feel, can skate and we are going to hopefully use that as an advantage and potentially an identity for us.
“We want to try and play fast and take advantage of that.”