By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – The search is over for the Green Bay Gamblers.
The organization announced the hiring of Mike Leone April 26 as the new head coach/general manager – the eighth in team history.
Leone was introduced to members of the media at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
“I want to thank everyone involved for getting me here,” Leone said. “When I first started coaching, Green Bay was a place I wanted to be. The opportunity came, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be here. I know there’s a responsibility – this team means a lot to the Green Bay community. I promise I’ll give everything to the team and organization.”
Leone joins the Gamblers from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program where he served as an assistant coach for the past three seasons.
Additionally, he served as an assistant coach at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship.
“(Leone) brings everything we’re looking for in a new head coach,” Gamblers President Jeff Mitchell said. “He’s well respected in the hockey world and is a proven winner, with ties to two former successful Gamblers coaches.”
Leone played for former Gamblers Head Coach Jon Cooper, now the head coach of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, for three seasons in the North American Hockey League in Texarkana and St. Louis (2005-08).
Leone also played for former Gamblers Head Coach Derek Lalonde while playing for the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL (2014-16).
“Cooper and Lalonde both told me to be myself,” Leone said. “They both stressed being a great teammate and playing for something more than myself – the greater good of the team.”
Leone said when he saw Mitchell had called on the phone, he was nervous.
“I was literally pacing around the rink because I was so nervous to call back,” he said. “I tried to be myself (during the interview).”
The 34-year-old Leone brings previous coaching experience as well.
He was an assistant coach at Bowling Green State University (2018-19) as well as with the ECHL’s Quad City Mallard (2017-18).
“I like to coach hard, fast and smart hockey,” Leone said. “You need players who can get up and down the ice. We need players who can make plays, but I also believe in defending and checking.”
The Dearborn, Michigan, native skated three seasons at Western Michigan University before embarking on a four-year professional career.
In addition to playing for the Walleye, Leone played for the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings.
He also played one season with Villard-de-Lans in France.
Leone said he’s in the process of assessing the current roster and preparing for the 2022 United States Hockey League Draft May 2-3.
“With being at Team USA for the last three seasons, we played Green Bay a lot,” he said. “There are (current) pieces to the team that are huge who we’ll lean on next season. There are also holes to be filled. There might have to be hard conversations with players who might not fit what we’re looking for. We want to have good kids who want to be here.”
Leone said he’s a relationship-based coach.
“If you can ask anyone that’s ever played for me, it starts with the relationship,” he said. “You have to care for players. Today’s players are different than when I grew up. If we can develop a relationship with a player, the sky is the limit. Of course, there will be standards set, too – there’s a certain way we’ll practice and play, and that’s non-negotiable. Communication is the key to developing good habits.”
Leone said he’s not sure he always knew he wanted to coach.
“I wasn’t the greatest player,” he laughed. “For example, when I played in Toledo, Lalonde told me I’d be in and out of the lineup but I’d be on a winning team. I was a healthy scratch for 10 games in a row – winning mattered to me.”
Leone said he has a few assistant coaches in mind, but he didn’t delve into names.
“I have to hire the best people available,” he said. “I like to delegate duties and surround myself with people I trust.”
Leone said one area he doesn’t know much about is goaltending.
“I will for sure hire a goalie coach – I don’t speak goalie,” he laughed. “I just want someone to deal with the goalie. It’s important if they have a tough night, someone is there to talk with them. I just know when they stop the puck.”
The Gamblers recently ended their season in last place in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs.