101 wins in two seasons.
Dan Watson has set the bar high when it comes to winning as a head coach in the ECHL. That’s exactly how he wants it.
“We have established a culture of winning here in Toledo, and it all starts with recruiting,” says Watson. “We want players who have been successful at the college or junior level with excellent leadership skills and great character, who want to get better on and off the ice.”
According to Watson, former players are often his best recruiters. “People we talk to will call former Toledo players and ask them about their time here. We really try to make sure every Walleye player is having the best experience possible. We also take care of visiting teams as best we can to show everyone we have a professional operation here in Toledo.”
Watson says his best recruiting tool is the tremendous fan support. “Guys like to play in front of a sold-out crowd, and we have plenty of those here in Toledo. A player thrives in that type of atmosphere and we have a true home ice advantage thanks to our fans.”
After seven seasons as an assistant/associate head coach, Dan Watson’s time as the head coach of the Toledo Walleye not only includes those 101 regular season wins, but also three playoff series victories, and being the recipient of the 2016-17 John Brophy Award as ECHL Coach of the Year.
While Watson’s job is to get players ready to move up the pro hockey ladder, he also knows opportunity may soon be knocking at the AHL level. “I’m in a great spot right now. I’m 38 years old with two seasons as an ECHL head coach under my belt. I’m still young as a hockey coach goes and I want to build my head coaching resume. My belief is the right thing will come at the right time.”
Having success over his first two seasons as a head coach is stoking Watson’s passion and desire to put something else on that head coaching resume: winning a Kelly Cup championship.
So how is Dan Watson different in year three vs. year one? “I’d have to say I’m better at dealing with that ‘antsy’ feeling before games, as well as growing on the mental side of coaching and being able to adapt my teaching and coaching techniques.”
For Watson, consistency is a key ingredient for success. “From day one at training camp we need everyone to buy into the system and strive to do their best every single day,” says Watson. “We truly put a focus on preparing to win the next game.”
With players like Simon Denis and Kyle Bonis signing deals to play overseas, Watson says he wants players to be successful after leaving Toledo, whether it’s playing overseas, moving up the pro ranks (AHL and NHL), or finding a new career when they retire. “What I want the guys to take away from the Toledo experience are the daily habits: being dedicated, relentless and try your very best every day.”
Watson knows his third season will be somewhat different than the previous two seasons due to roster turnover. “We’ll have some familiar faces returning this upcoming season, but every year is different and I’m looking forward to the challenge of building another winning team.”
With Watson being able to spend some quality time with his family, he understands the demands of his profession. “This is a year-round job, no doubt about it. Even while on vacation I have to be able to break free for a phone call or two to make sure I’m staying on top of the situation with players I’m trying to recruit.”
“We have our Walleye Youth Camp coming up at the end of July,” says Watson. “Then it’ll be time for the NHL prospect tournament, the start of NHL and AHL training camps, and then our Walleye training camp in early October.”
The Toledo Walleye will begin their 10th season on Friday, October 12 at Greenville, and will play their first five games on the road. The 2018-19 Home Opener at the Huntington Center is set for Saturday, October 27 against Ft. Wayne.