When Derek Lalonde got hired by the Iowa Wild, there were many people scratching their heads. Not so much in wondering why Iowa would want Lalonde as their coach, but more why would Lalonde leave a great situation like he had in Toledo with the Walleye to go to a team that was limited success in the AHL?? One could only assume that not only did Lalonde like the promotion, he welcomed the challenge of trying to elevate a that has festered in the basement of the AHL standings, while also employing a system that will work not only on the AHL level, but in the NHL as well.
So far, so great for Lalonde’s vision.
On Saturday night, the Iowa Wild won their 29th games of the season, thus setting a franchise record for wins in a season with 16 games left to play. They sit in 4th place in the Central Division, four points up on Cleveland, though Cleveland has two games in hand. This is after a trade deadline which saw Iowa’s leading scorer Teemu Pulkkinen get dealt, along with secondary scoring center Grayson Downing, as well as Zac Dalpe being lost to waivers. Couple that with injuries and call-ups, the Iowa roster has taken a licking, but keeps on ticking.
While they’re not the most offensive team in the league (ranking 26th in the league in goals-for), the defense has been superb for Iowa, ranking 9th in goals-against with 158 goals given up on the season. That has put a lot of the spotlight on Alex Stalock and Steve Michalek, both of whom have performed admirably. Yet, defense has always been the calling card for a Lalonde coached team. In his short time as a head coach, Lalonde’s teams have only one given up more than 200 goals-against, and that was the 2012-13 Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL.
However, the modus operandi of Lalonde seems to be that when he takes over a team, he makes them better. While he took over a rather successful Green Bay Gamblers team in 2011-12, he was able to make them better by winning six more games than the year before, while also helping them win a championship in the same year. When he took over the Toledo Walleye, he helped that team get out of the one-year lurch by more than doubling the team’s win total in a year (21 wins in 2013-14, 50 in 2014-15), while also helping the team capture their first Brabham Cup for most points in the regular season in the ECHL. The model continue to work in Iowa, as I stated before, with the team eclipsing their top mark for wins in a season with 16 games to spare.
As Iowa play in the ultra-competitive Central Division, it remains to be seen whether or not the playoff streak of Lalonde’s continues (he has made the playoffs in all five seasons he’s been a head coach), the success that Laldone has already had with Iowa is showing by locking down the defensive side that Iowa has had in its existence (235 GA in 2013-14, 245 GA in 2014-15, 225 GA in 2015-16), while also make this team a winning commodity. Players have bought into his system, also getting help from Minnesota in stocking their AHL affiliate with solid talent with experience in the AHL to help the team climb out of the basement of the league. The fans have seen it, too, as Iowa has cracked the 6,000-person average attendance mark as the time of this writing, proving that winning helps attendance.
Chuck Fletcher has also helped Iowa by helping the team stock up with some AHL veterans (Pat Cannone, Jeff Hoggan), as well as bright, young talent (Alex Tuch, Sam Anas, Mario Lucia) to help Lalonde’s success. The last time a Minnesota AHL team had this much success was in 2012-13 when the Houston Aeros had the likes of Justin Fontaine, Charlie Coyle, Marco Scandella, and Jason Zucker on their squad– all of whom made the jump to become regulars in the NHL. With the NHL parent club caring for the AHL squad, it helps immensely in the AHL squad trying to have success on top of development.
The future is bright for Lalonde, especially if this turnaround ends in a playoff run for Iowa. While there’s always the issue of what could happen if an NHL goes after the AHL “Flavor of the Month Coach” as they have in the past with Dallas Eakins and Jared Bednar (though the situations weren’t keen to success for either), the success Lalonde has had in the past at every level should help his cause a little bit, so long as his players buy into his system as they have before, however– only time will tell if that long-term vision becomes maintained success.