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Former Gamblers head coach hired by Detroit Red Wings

By Greg Bates

DETROIT – When Jon Cooper hired longtime friend Derek Lalonde as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Cooper foresaw the future.

“He said, ‘As much as I’ve accomplished in my career, I’ve never moved anyone on to become a head coach in the NHL,’” Lalonde said. “He told me, ‘You’re going to be that guy.’ He meant it, and he helped develop me these four years. We kept our eye on winning and team success, and it came to fruition.”

Lalonde, who coached the Green Bay Gamblers from 2011-14, was named the Detroit Red Wings’ new head coach June 30.

Cooper is also a Gamblers product, coaching the team from 2008-10.

The 49-year-old Lalonde is the 28th head coach in the storied history of the Red Wings — winners of 11 Stanley Cup titles.

“It’s exciting,” Lalonde told The Press Times. “It’s surreal at times, but it’s been like the rest of my career. It was never about becoming an NHL head coach or about the next step or getting to the next level – it was always about trying to be good at the job you’re at. Every step has taken care of itself where the phone kept ringing. It’s a huge responsibility because it’s the Red Wings, but it’s a huge challenge and honor.”

Lalonde became a hot commodity in the head coaching circle after the Lightning had another great season, falling in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Colorado Avalanche in six games.

The Lightning won back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2019-20 and 2020-21 with Lalonde as one of Cooper’s top assistant coaches.

Lalonde said there wasn’t a point in his career where he thought becoming an NHL head coach was an attainable goal.

“As we kept winning in Tampa, it made sense teams would look at all three of us assistant coaches,” he said. “But, the NHL is a little different – general managers love experience and rehiring coaches, and I understand that. As I become more experienced, I see the value in it. It’s tough to crack in a first-time NHL head coach, so you take it in stride. You don’t know if it’s ever going to happen, and I feel fortunate (Red Wings General Manager) Steve (Yzerman) reached out. We were on the same page throughout the entire interview process, and I was ultimately offered the job.”

During Lalonde’s three seasons as Gamblers coach and general manager, he compiled a 114-56-14 record.

During the 2011-12 season, the Gamblers won the Clark Cup and Anderson Cup championships, and Lalonde was named United States Hockey League Coach of the Year.

Lalonde said he believes his success with the Gamblers helped him get to the NHL and secure a head coaching job.

“(The Gamblers) was my first head coaching position,” he said. “I had been an assistant at the college level for years, and I knew I wanted to become a head coach in the USHL because of how challenging it is and how many hats you wear — head coach, general manager, hands-on in all structures and systems.”

Lalonde said he’s blessed it was the Gamblers.

“It’s a first-class organization from PMI ownership group down,” he said. “Not only did I learn a lot on the job, but I learned how a first-class organization was run. I was fortunate to go from there to the Toledo Walleye to the Iowa Wild and Tampa. What they all have in common were first-class organizations from ownership down.”

Lalonde is now the third current NHL head coach — along with Cooper and Buffalo Sabres’ Don Granato — who was a head coach of the Gamblers.

There are 31 NHL franchises.

Lalonde recently saw Gamblers President Jeff Mitchell at the NHL Draft, and they discussed the coaching lineage with the Gamblers.

“What other team anywhere — I’d be hard pressed to find any junior team, any professional team or any European team where they’ve had three current head coaches in the National Hockey League who are alumni as head coaches of the Green Bay Gamblers,” Lalonde said.

Lalonde said he feels getting an opportunity to coach the Red Wings is extra special because of the team’s past as an Original 6 member.

“There’s a ton of history there,” he said. “Meeting (Red Wings owner) Chris Ilitch beforehand and talking about what he’s about (was great) – even the success within their family business and how they’ve translated some of those beliefs to owning the Red Wings and the Tigers. I had an appreciation for Little Caesars Arena as an opposing coach. Then when I went through there and got a complete tour of it, the attention to detail and the branding were amazing. It speaks volumes of that organization.”

A New York native, Lalonde said he’s excited to return to the Midwest where he’s coached in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio.

Over his 11 years living in the Midwest, he said he’s planted some deep roots.

“We love the Midwest, we joke because of family,” Lalonde said. “We love Tampa. Tampa has been an unbelievable experience for us, but there’s something about being in the Midwest. As a Midwest person, that suits us well.” 

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